-- For years, airline executives were criticized for falling in love with shiny new airplanes, to the detriment of their shareholders. United Continental Holdings Inc. CEO Jeff Smisek makes the hard-headed business case for the new Boeing 787 his company got this week. But it sure is pretty, too.

It's been a long time coming. Smisek recalled that a colleague had just had a baby girl when the plane was ordered. She's 8 now.

Smisek discussed the 787 and other topics on Thursday, a day before United was due to fly its first one to Houston to get it ready for passenger flights. His remarks are edited for length and clarity.

_ Airline CEOs have been calling this plane a game-changer because of its fuel efficiency and better experience for passengers. Is that still true?

"We're pretty confident customers will love this airplane. It's got it all. It's a beautiful cabin, big windows, more oxygen, more humidity, bigger bins. I think you could actually sleep in those bins if you wanted to, but I don't think we'll let you do that."

It's a big deal for airlines "because it is so fuel efficient, it has such long legs," he said.

With 50 planes on order, "it's going to be a pretty big part of our international fleet."

The fuel-sipping plane makes possible routes like Denver to Tokyo. "A 787 just fits that market. And there are a lot of markets that are that way," he said.

_ United struggled with customer complaints over the summer related to its integration with Continental, and just on Thursday said a key measure of passenger revenue would fall as much as 2 percent in the quarter that ends on Sunday. Has (United) solved those problems yet?

"We've put a lot of folks on that and we've got our operational mojo back. We're back above our on-time target this month, and we hope to pay an on-time bonus this month. But a couple of months of tough operations, it has an impact on your revenue."

_ Superjumbos: For years, the Boeing 747 was the biggest passenger jet in the sky. United and Delta use them to fly passengers to Asia. European and Middle Eastern competitors are upgrading to the bigger Airbus A380 or Boeing's revamped 747-8. Are new superjumbos in United's future?

"While we haven't ruled out the A380, we don't see it now as the right kind of aircraft for United," Smisek said. "I wouldn't expect to see an A380 order from us anytime soon."

Its current 747-400s "are fairly inefficient aircraft by today's technology. And so over time you'll see us replacing those. We haven't ruled out the new model 747s," but haven't decided to order it, either. Between the 787s and new Airbus A350s, he said United has a lot of large planes on order already.

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  • Lockheed 12A

  • Douglas DC-6

  • Boeing 727-200

  • McDonnell Douglas DC-9-10

  • "Polynesian Pub" on a 747, June 1972

    <em>Wikimedia: Starsovertexas </em>

  • Flight attendants, 1977

  • First officers, 1970s or 1980s

  • A male flight attendant, 1970s

  • Frank Lorenzo, left, president of Texas Air Corp., and Continental Airlines, Inc. president, George Warde, shake hands behind a model of a Continental jet following a Texas Air shareholders' meeting in Los Angeles, July 13, 1982. Shareholders overwhelmingly approved the acquisition of Continental by Texas Air at the annual meeting. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)

  • Boeing 737-200, Providence, 1990

  • Flight attendants in Tokyo, 1998

  • Boeing 747-200 B in People Express Livery

    <em>Wikimedia</em>

  • 737 in New York in 1992

    <em>Flickr/Wikimedia</em>

  • Continental McDonnell Douglas MD-81

  • Continental Airlines Chairman and CEO Gordon Bethune stands behind a model of a new concourse to be constructed by Continental at Newark International Airport during a news conference Tuesday, July 6, 1999, at the airport in Newark, N.J. Continental is adding the third concourse onto its' Terminal C to add 12 new wide-body jet gates, a baggage handling facility as well as new retail and concessions. Work is expected to begin on the Global Gateway project next month and be finished in 2002. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)

  • Personal video screens and gourmet meals are featured in Continental Airlines Business First Class on the Boeing 757 jets that will be used for a new Cleveland to London non-stop flight beginning June 30. The airline previewed the service Monday, April 19, 1999 at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

  • A Continental Airlines Boeing 777 widebody jet designed by artist Peter Max on the tarmac at Newark International Airport in Newark, N.J., Monday, Nov. 15, 1999. Max designed the painting on the jet to commemorate the official millennium celebration for New York City. The jet will enter regular scheduled service on international routes including Tokyo, London, Paris and Milan. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)

  • Continental Airlines Newark Liberty Airport 2008

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/njcherub216"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/njcherub216">njcherub216</a>:<br />Continental Airlines was once the dominant airline of Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey 2008.

  • Continental MD-80

    Sister, 14, arrives in Austin, 1970, Continental Flt

  • Traveling with Continental Airline Passports

    52 Safe Trips - May 1992 - Sep 1994

  • February 1950

    Flight Hostess With Continental Airlines

  • Continental Flight 11 Jet Ripped by Bomb Blast

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/khamilton4641"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/aol_profile_img/2880558.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/khamilton4641">khamilton4641</a>:<br />My father was the Ex-City Star referred to in this headline. He along with 44 other passengers were killed when a bomb was placed in a rear lavatory of Continental Flight 11 on May 22, 1962.

  • Moving to Houston 1984

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/unautrmond"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/unautrmond">unautrmond</a>:<br />One month old - first flight ever. Three year old - CO frequent flyer. We remember the good ol' days with Continental ...

  • Continental Airlines in Papeete, Tahiti 1988

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1603596039/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg">Janet Roubik Kinneberg</a>:<br />Continental Airplane and crew circa 1988

  • 1993 Honolulu Crew HNL-DEN

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1603596039/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg">Janet Roubik Kinneberg</a>:<br />Last flight out of Honolulu as base closed for Continental Airlines

  • Captain Ted Richardson. Continental Air Micronesia. 1986

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1">cer1</a>:<br />

  • Continental Airlines, San Jose 1970

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />Continental, circa 1979, San Jose, CA

  • Continental, San Jose, CA 1979

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />

  • Continental Flight Attendants, 1977

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />Flight attendants loving the life.

  • Continental Flight Attendants on strike

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />

  • 727-100 NuJu. Johnston Atoll

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1">cer1</a>:<br />

  • "Air Mike" 727-100. Kosrae Caroline Islands.

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/cer1">cer1</a>:<br />

  • On board Continental 727, 1977

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />

  • Crew, 1977

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />

  • Continental in Munich, Germany

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/jim2012"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/jim2012">jim2012</a>:<br />

  • 1977, crew on DEN LAX turnaround

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1227327325/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Debbie_Henderson">Debbie Henderson</a>:<br />

  • Delta Co-pilots Continental Flight

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/captoso"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1350854092/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/captoso">captoso</a>:<br />1956. My father, a Delta Airlines pilot, is asked to fill in as first officer for a no-show. The unusual part of this story is he had never carried a passenger in his career with Delta....he was a cropduster pilot with the agricultural division

  • 1950's era Continental Airlines DC-3

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1603596039/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg">Janet Roubik Kinneberg</a>:<br />Continental Airlines DC-3 airplane with Jim and Rose in foreground

  • 1964 Continental Airlines Flight Attendant Class

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1603596039/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Janet_Roubik_Kinneberg">Janet Roubik Kinneberg</a>:<br />1964 Continental Airlines Flight Attendant Class

  • 1994 Frankfurt

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Rob_Workman"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1452682337/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Rob_Workman">Rob Workman</a>:<br />1994 Frankfurt

  • Retro Jet

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  • 2005 767-200 Crew

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