United gets first Boeing 787 Plane promises better travel experience

The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner that will be flown by United Airlines takes flight. (AP/Boeing)

U.S. travelers are going to be seeing a lot more of the 787, the ultra-lightweight jet built to reduce flier fatigue and airline fuel bills.

United this week became the first U.S. airline to get the newest Boeing plane. Flights between United hubs, including Houston and Chicago, begin Nov. 4. United joins All Nippon Airways, which starts U.S. flights on Monday, and Japan Airlines, which already flies the 787 from Boston to Tokyo.

After years of delays, Boeing Co. has begun delivering a handful of 787s every month, including two so far to Air India from its campus at Charleston International Airport.

With more than 800 sold to airlines around the world, it eventually will be a plane that travelers encounter regularly. The 787 seats 219 passengers — making it relatively small for a long-range plane but ideal on routes where it’s tough to fill a larger 777.

Boeing claims the Dreamliner will be 20 percent more fuel-efficient than comparable jets. And it promises a better travel experience, with more space, better lighting and carefully calibrated air pressure that should lead to fewer flier headaches.

United will fly its new plane from Seattle to Chicago today, and then down to Houston to begin getting it ready for passenger flights.

For now it’s flown by a small but growing number of airlines.

Japan Airlines currently flies 787s from Boston to Tokyo, and plans to add San Diego-Tokyo on Dec. 2. Japan’s All Nippon Airways was the first airline to get a 787 a year ago, and starts flights Monday between Seattle and Tokyo’s Narita airport. Flights between Narita and San Jose, Calif. begin in January.

United Airlines expects to get five 787s this year. Passengers will first see the 787 on flights between United’s U.S. hubs. Then, on Jan. 3, United begins flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo. On March 31, it starts new flights from Denver to Tokyo Narita.

Among U.S. airlines, United is going to have the 787 to itself for several years. Delta Air Lines, Charleston’s biggest carrier, has pushed its deliveries back to 2020, spokesman Anthony Black said. Around the industry, there’s widespread skepticism about whether it will ever take the planes at all.

American Airlines has a commitment — but not a signed, firm order — for 42 of the planes, slated to begin arriving in the second half of 2014.

Chilean airline LAN plans to fly 787s from Los Angeles to Lima, Per.

Inside, the jet has bigger windows and better air. The 787’s bigger windows let in more light, and its ceiling is 15 inches higher than in United’s 767s. The air is less dry than on other planes, and the cabin is pressurized to a lower altitude. That will make the air inside feel closer to the air on the ground.