November 4 marked the date that we officially became the first airline in North America to operate a commercial flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner
. At 7:20 a.m. local time, flight 1116, tail number 904, departed Houston (IAH) for Chicago (ORD).
Balloons festooned the Dreamliner’s departure gate, which was buzzing with activity as early as 5:30 a.m., with the 200-plus passengers taking photos and enjoying cookies decorated with an image of the 787. We celebrated the historic milestone with a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the gate with Jeff Smisek, our president and CEO, Stephanie Buchanan, Vice President of our Houston hub and Gerry Laderman, Senior Vice President, Finance & Treasury.
"I want to thank my co-workers who worked so carefully and professionally to get United certified to operate the Dreamliner," said Jeff. "Many people from across the company put in a lot of work to help us induct and prepare to operate the 787, and I'm proud to share this important day with all of them."
The gate was crowded with customers eager to board our Dreamliner, as well as several employees, our social media team and members of the press. Thomas and Sally Lee are inaugural flight aficionados. They flew on the first Boeing 747 with Pan Am and the first Airbus 380 with Singapore Airlines. They took the 787’s maiden voyage with ANA and were present on November 4 for our first 787 flight. They brought the original, framed certificate from their earlier flight.
Outside the airport employees were there to catch a glimpse of the aircraft and be present on this historic day.
Brenda Douglas, our Houston Airport Service Agent Team Leader, worked the gate during the event. "Seeing an aircraft like this - if this is any indication of the future of United - the future looks bright," said Brenda. "I'm so proud to be a part of it."
IT System Principal Engineer Peter Wolodzko flew on our 787 with his wife. "I see the 787 being inducted into our fleet as a quantum leap into the future,” he said. "We're thrilled to be here for it."
Upon take off, everyone on board erupted in cheers. Once the 787 reached cruising altitude, Jeff led passengers in a champagne toast. The energy was palpable from the self-proclaimed "aviation geeks" and United enthusiasts who took this first flight. As one of our 1K customers put it, the atmosphere on board the aircraft was "electric."
Jeff sat in the Economy Plus® section of the 787. As soon as the seatbelt sign was off, he walked up and down the aisles talking to customers.
We participated in live tweeting during the flight. A Boeing representative wrote: “From all of us at #Boeing, congrats to our friends @united on their inaugural 787 flight.”
Besides remarking on the thoughtful design of the 219-seat interior down to the automated fixtures in the lavatories, it was the quiet in the cabin that customers most discussed. They noted the reduced noise coming from the engines, wings or landing gear. As the flight progressed, customers tested the dimmable windows, admired the unique shape of the wings and how they flexed when the aircraft passed through storm clouds and browsed through the many options available in our inflight entertainment system.
It wasn’t just our customers who praised the 787 experience. Our crew also complimented the new aircraft. "After working my first flight now from beginning to end, the best way to put it is, ‘wow,’” said Michelle Sendlenski, Houston Flight Attendant. “They got this thing right."
"Working this aircraft is a dream, with all the great features and technology," Michelle added.
According to Allison Brown, Senior Manager, Social Media, “This flight felt different in that everyone onboard had one mission – to experience the flight itself. It was a family of 200 folks chatting and exchanging comments about how they were enjoying themselves.”
As our 787 touched down in Chicago, passengers, members of the press and onlookers were treated to a water canon salute. Captain Jim Starley concluded the flight with the announcement, "Thank you all for flying together. We've been a part of a dream come true."