Trip Review: Inaugural United 787 Dreamliner Flight

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I’ve been interested in the Dreamliner before I ever started writing Mommy Points. I can’t tell you when I first heard of the aircraft, but the name really stuck with me. The promises of a more efficient, quieter, roomier, and modern aircraft sounded, well, Dreamy (yes, I know that is cheesy). My hometown airline, Continental Airlines, ordered the Dreamliner 787 aircraft before they became United Airlines, so I presume that was probably another reason that I paid attention to any news I would see related to the Dreamliner. I think I was a little proud that my hometown would be hosting the first 787s for a North American airline.

A few months ago it was announced that November 4th would be the first revenue flight for the United Dreamliner, and at first it was rumored/assumed that there would be some “soft opening” flights in October before the real inaugural, so I hesitated to book a seat on one of the 11/4 flights. However, after a while it started to look like 11/4 would be the big date, so I booked on the very first 787 flight that day out of Houston. Due to some delays in getting the second 787 aircraft from Boeing, some of the 11/4 flights were swapped with different aircraft, but my Houston to Chicago flight held as the very first flight.

Prior to the first revenue flight, I was there with my parents and daughter to celebrate the Dreamliner’s arrival into Houston after United took delivery from Boeing. Part of me found it to be very silly booking a ticket on a flight just because it was the first one, but part of me thought it was awesome. That part of me was correct. Other than having to wake up to a 4:15AM alarm clock for the 7:20AM departure, the rest of the morning was nothing short of exciting.

The plane was set to depart out of terminal E, and when I arrived a little after 6AM, there was already a pre-party in full effect.


There were sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and even Dreamliner cookies for the taking. It was a little early for my stomach to want anything other than Starbucks, but it was still a nice gesture for United to have that much food available!



There were cameras and media types everywhere at the pre-departure event. It was a little bit surreal, but very fun. Around 6:30AM the show really got started when United CEO Jeff Smisek arrived and said a few words about the Dreamliner.



There was a ribbon cutting ceremony, and then it was time to start the boarding process.



When they asked for Global Services members to board (the highest United elite level available by invitation only), it was almost humorous how many people immediately were in line. I boarded shortly after that in order to try and get a few pictures of the plane before it was full of passengers. They were even letting you stop to take pictures as you boarded the 787 for the first time (which probably slowed down the boarding process a bit, but it was a special kind of day). I can confirm that there is such as thing as “new airplane smell”. It is somewhat similar to “new car smell”.


Overhead Bins:

The overhead bins were one of the first things I noticed after getting on the plane. They are huge and fantastic! Not only do the larger carry-on roller bags fit without an issue, but you can even turn them sideways so that more bags can be accommodated. The bins are also up higher so that it doesn’t feel near as claustrophobic as it can when they are just inches above your head.



The Windows:

I didn’t have a window seat, so I wasn’t able to play with the dimming windows as much as I would have liked, but from what I can tell they are very snazzy. You can dim them with the push of a button, and they don’t have the pull down shade like most aircraft have. You do have to push the button several times to get them to dim all the way, and it isn’t an immediate process. While I liked the dimming shades overall, they don’t get totally dark, so they may not be quite as good for sleeping babies.


The windows themselves are 30% larger than traditional aircraft windows, and it shows. The whole aircraft cabin really felt more airy and open. My daughter will like being able to see out of the window a bit better without having to be propped up as much.


The Seats:

I was lucky enough to be able to snag a United BusinessFirst seat, and it was very similar to the BusinessFirst seat I had sat in on the way to London earlier this year. The seat lies flat with the push of a button, there is a foot rest that you can slide your purse under. I still get a kick out of being able to charge my iPhone while in flight!





I thought the seat was great, but I truthfully wasn’t in the seat that much as I was roaming around checking out the different areas of the aircraft, and since my seat was the last row of BusinessFirst, it was the perfect location to share with those in Economy who wanted a good photo op in the “fancy” seat.  Below is Paranoiatx, one of the many Flyertalkers/Milepointers that were on the flight!

I might have been the only one in BusinessFirst who kept going back to coach to keep trying out those seats! The coach seats didn’t feel remarkably different than the other Continental/United seats I have sat in recently, other than feeling an bit narrow, so keep that in mind if that is an issue for you (or your car seat of choice). The E+ seats are certainly adequate for me, with row 27 having about 8 miles of leg room (sadly I didn’t get a picture of that row). Row 16 (shown below) is the first row of economy, also has really good legroom.

I did notice that there is a gap between the BusinessFirst seat itself and the shell of the seat. To me, that would mean it is possible to use a CARES Harness (assuming the harness will loosen to that accommodate the size of the seat). I have a flight with my daughter scheduled to be on the Dreamliner in about three weeks, so I will test out that theory then.

The Lavatory:

The lavatory has some blue mood lighting that is present until you lock the door, and then the regular lighting comes on.


While there is nothing to really write home about in terms of the lavatory, I did like that the toilet auto-flushes with the wave of your hand. There is also a changing table that seemed larger that some of the other changing tables I have seen on-board aircraft. It would still be a pretty tight fit for a toddler, but it would certainly be adequate for an infant.


The Cabin Pressure:

One of the features that I am excited about the most for this aircraft is that it is pressurized to 6,000 feet instead of 8,000 feet. I can tell you that I had virtually no issues with my ears on this flight, contrasted with a flight on an American regional jet directly after my 787 flight. It could be a huge coincidence, but I absolutely think that the pressurization to a lower altitude helped. The air also just felt fresher. Again, some of that may be in my head, but I think some of it really is noticeable, even on a short flight.  I will absolutely look to booking on this aircraft type when possible as having issues with my ears and pressurization has become an off and on problem for me, so if this aircraft helps even a little with that then I am sold.

The noise and wings:

The Dreamliner is noticeable quieter, even when you are seated near the engines. The material United handed out said that this is due to the quieter air conditioning, noise reducing designs from inlets and fans, and noise reducing chevrons on the engine nacelles.  It isn’t a silent aircraft, but it was much quieter both on take-off, and during the flight than other aircraft I have flown on. Whatever they did worked!

Another noticeable item was the angle of the wings. They tilt up pretty significantly during take-off, seemingly to a lesser degree for the duration of the flight. You can’t really tell how dramatic it looked in-person from this photo, but it definitely caught everyone’s attention on take-off.


The In-flight Entertainment System:

I was really interested to see what kid movies and shows were available on the in-flight entertainment system. There weren’t very many kid TV shows to choose from (though they did have Phineas and Ferb), but I was impressed with the movie selection. There were over a dozen different kid films, and I was very happy to see some of my daughter’s favorites such as Cars and Brave. I didn’t watch much TV on this flight, but my seatmate said that the pause button didn’t actually pause the show for very long before it would start going again on its own.  The inflight entertainment system is complimentary and is located on the seat back of economy seats.


I wish the plane had DirecTV and WIFI. I understand it not having DirecTV since it will primarily be an international plane once it is fully up and running, but I will celebrate the day that I am finally on a United flight that has internet. That is an area what United is way behind other US carriers, even on this brand new plane.

The In-Flight Party:

Since this was an inaugural flights, there were many people up and about throughout the flight. In truth it almost felt like a MegaDo, just without quite as much alcohol. They did do a champagne toast shortly after take-off that was accompanied by a brief speech from Jeff Smisek done over the PA system.



Throughout the flight, Jeff was talking with customers and doing media interviews from the moment the fasten seat belt sign was turned off, until the moment it was turned back on before landing. He took countless photos and signed countless boarding passes (including mine). Since he was seated right behind me, I certainly couldn’t pass up that opportunity.


For those interested in such things, Jeff traveled with just a simple backpack and left his glasses on his seat throughout the flight. I guess he trusted folks not to lift an unauthorized “souvenir”. He was accompanied by United staff at all times, but he was still very approachable during the flight.


Before take-off we got a chance to take pictures of the cockpit and during the flight we even got to see the pilot rest area. The flight attendant informed us that it even has memory foam! The pilot gave lots of different stats about the take-off and flight, and while I wasn’t writing down the numbers, he did say that he was very impressed about the small amount of fuel it was utilizing. He said it was unheard of for an aircraft of this size.

The did manage to find a few moments for a breakfast service, which I very much wanted by about 9AM after getting up at 4:15AM. The egg muffin tasted even better than it probably was since I was so hungry!


The Swag:

On every seat was a Dreamliner folder that included some takeaways for this inaugural flight.  It was a very nice touch and a great way to remember the monumental day.

Very soon after landing in Chicago, I had to catch an American Airlines regional jet to Baltimore (yay Avios!). It was a far cry from the inaugural flight on a brand new plane in BusinessFirst I had just finished, but it got the job done. It certainly gave me time to think about how special it was to be on the first revenue passenger flight on a Dreamliner for a North American airline. Thanks United for a great experience on the Dreamliner. I can’t wait to fly it again (and again).  The Dreamliner will be running domestic routes from Houston to Chicago, Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco for the next few months.  If your plans take you to one of those destinations, consider trying out this aircraft and see what you think.  If you do, I’d love to hear what you think!

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  1. Just some fun numbers that you said you didn’t have a chance to write down –

    Takeoff weight was 320,000lbs. Takeoff roll was 27 seconds and V1 was 140knots. At our cruising altitude of 41,000ft, we were burning about 9,000lbs of fuel an hour which is incredible.

  2. Thanks for all the info. As a United flight attendant, I haven’t even been on one yet! I read all about it on our Facebook page, but it was fun to get a passenger’s perspective. 🙂

  3. Good review! Sounds like it was a blast. I’m flying it ORD-IAH-LAX next month, your wing pic just convinced me to get one seat in row 5 just on the wing.

  4. I believe the gap between the seat and the shell is so that when to seat is reclined it has enough space to make recline to flat transition. I know that on Lufthansa business class seats which are similar there is a notice that says not to put anything behind the seat for that very reason.

  5. Just read an article on the LA Times website saying that the FAA may not approve the 787 (being composite-built) to broadcast WiFi until 2014! Was there any talk on the flight about the lack of Wi-Fi?

  6. Hi! I was wondering if you were ever able to test whether the CARES harness could be used on the Dreamliner business class seats. We’re planning a trip to Tokyo, and I’d be interested to know, it would be great not to have to bring a car seat!! Thanks so much!

      • Thank you so much! It’s too bad, I really wish we could do without the car seat on this trip, and it always feels like a bit of a waste to put a car seat in a lie flat seat 🙁

        • SD, I know how you feel. Those hard shell seats are great for some things, but sadly harnesses aren’t one of them. Hope you have a great trip!

      • Thank you so much! I’ve been reading your other posts, now I’m going to try to check out the ANA lounge in NRT, I never thought of that!

  7. Hi,

    I just got back from my trip and wanted to follow up. Before leaving, United said that CARES would not work in premium cabin flat bed seats due to seat size constraints. I brought it along with our car seat just in case. On the way out we were on a 747-400 and were actually told that our car seat was not allowed (but then later we were told that was not true), so we gate checked it and tried the CARES and that worked. On the way back, we were on the 787 and again it fit and did not interfere with the recline. I am not sure what the official answer is regarding its use, and some of it will be subject to the views of the flight attendants you get, but the CARES technically fits on those two flat bed seats.

  8. Hi, do you have any information about infant bassinets in economy class? I will be flying Melbourne to LAX and back and have read bad reviews about United’s ability to accommodate infants in bassinets on their previous 747s even when they were requested or booked ahead. We are looking at flying over the Christmas period so United Economy seems to be the only affordable option. Thanks!

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