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Raves for 787 Dreamliner. Will new plane bring fun back to flying?

Don't hold your breath. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has a lot of cool features, say passengers who flew United's first commercial Dreamliner flight. But analysts say US airlines that buy it won't opt for all the amenities.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / November 5, 2012

A United Airlines Boeing 787 takes off for its first scheduled commercial flight from Houston to Chicago, with more than 200 customers on board Sunday, Nov. 4, in Houston at Bush International Airport.

Eric Kayne/Houston Chronicle/AP

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The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which United Airlines flew on Sunday from Houston to Chicago, drew rave reviews from passengers aboard the inaugural flight. But whether the aircraft eventually transforms the experience of the flying public from cramped and joyless to something verging on enjoyable depends entirely on how airlines that order it decide to outfit the plane's interior, say aviation experts. 

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To be sure, the initial chatter was glowing. Newscasts in Chicago are replaying their video of a ceremonial two-hose wash that greeted the United Airlines aircraft, as well as effusive comments from passengers about bigger windows, larger overhead bins, higher humidity in the cabin, and amenities such as touch-free faucets in the lavatories. The Chicago Tribune headline: “Passengers Love The New Boeing 787 Dreamliner.”

Industry analysts are more sober in their assessments, saying United has done less to outfit the Dreamliner than have foreign carriers such as All Nippon Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air India, and others – a sign that carriers in the US are likely to continue to put passenger comfort down the list behind the need to make money. 

“Of course, the PR opportunities for a new aircraft … end in positive reviews. A clean cabin with new seats, first-class service for everyone aboard, and bragging rights all around,” says marketing professor Ronald Hill of the Villanova School of Business in Pennsylvania, via e-mail. “However, its ultimate usage is in the hands of airline companies, who have given up, for the most part, competing on quality instead of price. While consumers truly dislike the flying experience and would often prefer a visit to the dentist, we have become addicted to seeking the lowest possible price for our travel.”

Overall, the two-aisle plane is much more fuel-efficient and less costly to maintain, while offering a new level of in-cabin comfort for passengers. Most planes are built mostly of metal, but half of the Dreamliner, including the fuselage and wings, is made of strong, light composite materials.

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