CHICAGO -- United Airlines flew into the aviation history books yesterday, becoming the first U.S. carrier to fly paying passengers on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.
The flight - United Flight 1116 - departed Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport at 7:20 a.m. CT before touching down at 9:47 a.m. CT in Chicago.
PHOTOS | Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Aviation enthusiasts, United employees, journalists - and even a few regular passengers - were among those on the history-making flight.
Chicago resident and Today in the Sky reader Scott Shatzer was one of those aviation enthusiasts. Shatzer normally flies with American, where he's earned "Executive Platinum" elite frequent-flier status. But he says he couldn't pass up the opportunity for to fly on the USA's first domestic Dreamliner flight, regardless of the airline.
"We were so excited, we all found it a bit difficult to sleep I believe so we were up and on the hotel shuttle van at 5 a.m.," says Shatzer, who traveled with seven other Chicago-area friends to be on United's 787 inaugural.
"It felt like we were kids going to Disney World for the first time, I guess," he tells Today in the Sky
"The plane is amazing," adds Kris Van Cleave of Washington, D.C., another aviation enthusiast who traveled to Houston just to be on the inaugural flight to Chicago.
"The flight was so much fun, it had a party atmosphere," Van Cleave, a reporter at Washington's WJLA ABC affiliate Channel 7, tells Today in the Sky. "(United CEO Jeff) Smisek must have talked to every passenger on the flight, people were out of their seats the entire flight - how the cabin crew managed to serve drinks and food is beyond me, but they did it with a smile."
The plane arrived in Chicago to a raucous welcoming ceremony at O'Hare, where a media throng and crowd of United employees were on hand to witness the spectacle.
The aircraft was given a water-cannon salute - a customary greeting or send-off for inaugural flights - as the Dreamliner pulled into Chicago O'Hare for the first time ever with paying passengers.
Chris Sloan of Miami, who maintains aviation enthusiast site Airchive.com and is a contributor for Airways Magazine, described the scene as the flight neared the terminal at O'Hare.
"These salutatory moments never get old as our 787 was given a bath from both sides of the jet," Sloan says of the watery greeting. "I deplaned right behind Jeff Smisek to a line of well-wishers and press. His remarks said it all: 'Awesome! Just Awesome!' "
Meanwhile, United CEO Smisek now hopes his airline can harness the positive momentum from the Dreamliner debut. That's after United's performance has suffered this year during its integration with Continental, a sometimes disjointed effort that has alienated some of the company's top-tier fliers.
"The reality is we were not reliable in June and July," Smisek told Bloomberg News during an in-flight interview on the inaugural to Chicago. "We lost some valuable customers. We're in the process of earning them back."