"If you want to be the world's leading airline, you need to have the world's leading airplane and we have that today in the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner," the company's president and chief executive officer said.
Smisek was on hand to watch the company's inaugural flight for the 219-seat passenger plane that is small on seats by jumbo-jet standards, but is expected to create new opportunities for airlines, due to its fuel efficiency.
With a fuselage, tail and wings of a composite material including light carbon fibers, the 787 Dreamliner is expected to burn 20 percent less fuel and make it possible for airlines to fly long-distance flights on routes that previously required jumbo jets to make them profitable, The Houston Chronicle reported Monday.
United has 25 of the 787 Dreamliners on order and Continental, in the midst of a merger with United, has another 25.
For its inaugural flight that took off early Sunday morning, Smisek was on hand to commemorate the occasion and airplane enthusiasts from around the country found their way to Houston to grab a seat on the plane just to test it out for themselves.
"It's a new design, it's new materials, it's just kind of a different airplane," TV director Scott Titelbaum said to explain why he flew in from New York for a chance to fly in the new plane.