Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is the hottest bird in aviation, and while the American-made airliner has already taken flight with passengers aboard, it has yet to land with US-flag air carrier livery along the fuselage. Japan's All Nippon Airways was the first to take delivery, with the premier pair making their way from the assembly line in September of 2011. Last year Japan Airlines made its first scheduled voyage across the Pacific in a Dreamliner of its own, and we were fortunate enough to fly roundtrip on a domestic ANA flight leaving from Tokyo a few months later. But now the 787 is making its way to an American carrier. As the first US airline to operate the plane, United Airlines is about to take delivery of its first of 50 Dreamliners, which will join the carrier's fleet to service both existing and new routes, such as Denver to Tokyo, which is set to launch in late March of next year.
We traveled to Boeing's Everett, Washington factory today for a first look at United's aircraft. While the Dreamliner looks physically identical to ANA's plane, the on-board experience is decidedly different from what we saw in Japan. Though the Dreamliner has a very similar layout to United's bigger 777, it feels roomier thanks to larger windows with dimmable shades, expanded overheard bins and higher ceilings. There's plenty more to see, though, so jump past the break for a video tour of United's new mid-size flagship, and a closer look in photos.
United Dreamliner interior
From the moment we stepped through the starboard door, we were struck by how spacious the aircraft felt. The Dreamliner's entrance feels more like a cozy foyer than the cramped corridor we've come to expect when flying everything from a regional jet to even a 747. The raised ceiling contributes to the comfortable atmosphere, as does the cool LED lighting. While ANA's 787 boasts a colorful array of LEDs, United's Dreamliner sticks to a shade of blue, which still manages to feel pretty snazzy. A touch-controlled panel at the head of the aircraft lets flight attendants adjust lighting. We entered through the second BusinessFirst cabin, which features three rows of seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, then walked toward the back through Economy Plus and then Economy, which each have seats arranged in a 3-3-3 format. The aircraft seats a total of 219 passengers, with 36 lie-flat seats in BusinessFirst, 72 Economy Plus seats and 111 for Economy.
United Dreamliner exterior
Having just rolled out of the factory earlier this week, the Dreamliner still had that "new (plane) smell," rather than the musty aroma it's likely to pick up after a few years of service. Still, it's not difficult to imagine a much more pleasant in-flight experience here, as even United's new fleet begins to age. Of course, you'll likely spend most of your time in your seat staring at the touchscreen-activated entertainment system, which is similar to those installed on United's 777 and updated 757 aircraft. We didn't get a chance to flip through the menus, as the service was still booting up when we had our walkthrough, but we hear that it's been updated slightly, with improved navigation.
If you're eager to ride the Dreamliner and don't mind hopping over to Japan, ANA's aircraft is already available to whisk you across the country. United's version is still some months away from welcoming passengers on board, so our photo tour and video walkthrough will have to suffice for now.
Zach Honig contributed to this report.