United is the first U.S. airline to get delivery of a Dreamliner. The airline put it into service on some domestic routes earlier in November and will move the jet into international service as crews get more familiar with it and more planes arrive from the factory.
The trip, arranged by volunteers from the Milepoint.com online community, was the first paid charter in North America for the Dreamliner. Seats cost about $1,000 in coach and a couple thousand dollars in business class for flights from San Francisco to Houston to Chicago. Participants — most of them frequent-flier-mile addicts and road warriors — signed up not knowing they’d get the 787: The trip was sold as a 767-400 charter. But many guessed the new wide-body plane was a possibility.
Most clearly loved it, appreciating the rapid climb, quiet ride, high ceilings and airy cabin filled with natural light. And you just can’t beat that new airplane smell.
Others found some irritating aspects, however. United’s business-class seats are staggered by several inches and angled on the sides of the plane, for example, so passengers have to crane their necks back to talk to a seatmate. “I’d rather be on any other plane in the fleet,” said Harry Livenstein, a Mineola, N.Y., physician on the trip.
Boeing originally designed the 787 to have eight wide seats in each coach row and patented a 3-2-3 seating configuration. But a majority of airlines, including United, have opted to stuff an extra seat into each coach row. With nine across, seats are slimmed down to just 17 inches wide inside the armrests. Aisles are only 17 inches wide. That’s skinny for a plane that typically will be flying 12-hour trips across oceans. Many airlines have 17.2-inch coach seats in the Boeing 737, a plane designed for short trips. Airbus jets and many wide-body Boeings typically have 18-inch wide seats in coach.