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Polish airline puts off launch party for 787 Dreamliner

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Updated: February 19, 2013 1:56PM

What was supposed to be a celebration at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal — VIPs were expected, a press conference had been called and Poland’s flag was on display, as well as an exhibit of Polish aviation leaders — quickly took on a more funereal feel.

The grounding of Boeing’s Dreamliners couldn’t have come at a worse time for LOT Polish Airlines, which had planned to launch its 787 trans-Atlantic service Wednesday.

A few hours before the scheduled 9:55 p.m. departure of its inaugural Dreamliner flight from Chicago to Warsaw, LOT officials called off the trip. Their decision to ground the plane was based on a recommendation by Boeing and the FAA, said LOT’s regional sales director Frank Joost.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” said Anna Jaryszk, one of the many LOT passengers at O’Hare who had to be rebooked on a different airline. The Elk Grove Village woman was headed to Warsaw to surprise her mother on her 70th birthday Friday. “I hope I still make it,” Jaryszk said.

One of LOT’s two 787s departed from Warsaw at 5 p.m. local time Wednesday after passing a safety review in the wake of Japan grounding its fleet of Dreamliners. A LOT spokesman noted that the airline’s pair of Dreamliners, which were delivered late last year, came off the assembly line after earlier models that went to Japan. He said modifications were made to reduce some of the glitches plaguing previous versions of the plane.

LOT had been using its 787s for shorter trips within Europe but planned to reassign them on routes between Warsaw and North America, with Chicago being the first gateway to get its Dreamliner service. The twin-aisle planes make the most sense for long-haul journeys. Their lighter weight and engine technology bolsters fuel efficiency; the Dreamliner is the first mid-sized, wide-body commercial plane capable of flying big-jet distances. Typically seating around 250 passengers, 787s allow airlines to open a host of new routes that wouldn’t make economic sense with larger planes.

Dreamliners are designed to be more comfortable for passengers, too. In addition to more headroom and bigger windows, cabins are pressurized to a lower altitude and a gaseous filtration system removes contaminants and odors that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat — especially on lengthy journeys.

LOT’s 787 touched down at O’Hare close to 7:30 p.m., shortly after the FAA grounded U.S. Dreamliners.

Konrad Biedron, a University of Illinois at Chicago student, was on the flight, returning home to Chicago after visiting family in Poland.

“The flight was great,” Biedron said. “The plane was really quiet. You can barely feel that you’re flying.”

Taras Dykun of Lisle also was on board, returning from a lengthy stay in the Ukraine.

“It was shaky a little but like usual,” Dykun said, adding that he’d fly the Dreamliner again. “But after they change the batteries.”

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