The wait is over. United Airlines on Sunday begins scheduled passenger service of the long-delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And I'll be on the inaugural flight from Houston to Chicago.
United was originally scheduled to begin Boeing 787 passenger flights in 2011. But repeated manufacturing delays kept pushing the delivery date later. United took delivery of its first 787 on September 28. United's parent is United Continental Holdings .
On Friday, United confirmed Federal Aviation Administration certification has been successfully completed, allowing for passenger flights to begin this weekend. (Read more: United Debuts Boeing 787 Domestic Flight Schedule)
United becomes the first North American airline to operate the revolutionary aircraft made of composite materials, designed to consume 20 percent less fuel than similarly-sized aircraft.
And passengers will enjoy enhanced features including improved lighting, larger windows with automatic darkening shades, large overhead bins, lower cabin altitude and enhanced ventilation. That will allow for higher humidity settings to help reduce the effects of long-haul flying.
Flight 1116 is scheduled to depart from Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday at 7:20 a.m., with an arrival at Chicago O'Hare at 9:51 a.m. A pre-departure event at the gate will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, speeches by Jeff Smisek, United's President and CEO, and other executives and members of the crew.
In-flight, an inaugural toast is planned once the aircraft reaches cruising altitude. Once the flight arrives in Chicago, a brief post-arrival ceremony will occur before the aircraft boards a new group of passengers for its return to Houston. Later the same day, the 787 will continue to Los Angeles.
I'll be a passenger on all three scheduled flights on Sunday. So for real-time updates and pictures, be sure to follow me on Twitter. And this isn't the first time I've been on an inaugural flight with United — in 1995, I was a passenger on United's inaugural Boeing 777 flight from Denver to Chicago.
Future Delivery Delays?
United has received two of the 50 Dreamliners it has on order, with the second aircraft having just been flown to Houston on Thursday. But delivery of that second jet was delayed several days, prompting United to say its future deliveries could also be postponed, according to a report by Reuters.
"We believe this year's subsequent 787 deliveries could be delayed as well," Christen David, director of corporate communications for United, told Reuters.
But late Thursday, Boeing said is expects to deliver all of United's subsequent planes due this year on time. "We have no indication that the follow-on planes will be late," said Tim Bader, a Boeing spokesman, in the report. "We fully anticipate that delivery will be in the contracted time frame," he said.
Assuming no further delays occur, United expects to introduce additional domestic flights with the 787 before the aircraft is reassigned to flying primarily international routes. (Read more: United Airlines to Fly Denver-Tokyo Nonstop With Boeing 787)