Three years late, billions of dollars over budget and carrying passengers who willingly paid over the odds for their tickets, the plane dubbed by some the most efficient in the sky took off from Tokyo yesterday on its first commercial flight.

The 264-seat Boeing Dreamliner was toasted with sake at Narita airport and touched down in Hong Kong to drums and dancing Chinese lions after a four-and-a-half-hour flight.

"It's a little piece of history," said passenger Stephanie Wood, after stepping from the All Nippon Airways flight in Hong Kong. "New cars come out all the time, but how often do new planes come out?"

She was one of several travellers who had paid up to 10 times the normal price for business class seats auctioned for charity. The highest amount paid was $30,000 (£18,850), but most passengers paid just over $1,000 for an economy seat.

Boeing claims the plane's quieter engines and higher cabin pressure ease headaches, tiredness and dry eyes.