United Airlines just hit a major milestone that’s sure to excite many frequent travelers.
As of July 11, every long-haul international United flight operated on a wide-body aircraft will offer lie-flat Polaris business-class pods.
That wasn’t the case until just a few days ago when the last of United’s Boeing 767-400ERs were taken out of service and ferried to Shanghai for a nose-to-tail retrofit.
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The 22-year-old jet, registered N66051, last operated a revenue flight from Madrid to Newark on July 8; it was then ferried to Honolulu, Hong Kong and, finally, Shanghai, where it will remain until new cabins are installed.
Upon modification, United will have a total of 197 international wide-body aircraft outfitted with Polaris. All long-haul international flights now feature the “true” Polaris product, and just a handful of wide-body planes primarily flying domestic missions don’t sport these seats (more on that below).
This is undoubtedly exciting news for travelers since they’ll no longer need to play the guessing game of what aircraft configuration they’ll experience.
The last jets to be reconfigured are the 16 Boeing 767-400ERs, which were parked indefinitely at the outset of the pandemic. They were recently reactivated and were originally flying around with their old and outdated cabins. United embarked on a retrofit project last year to bring these planes to the latest onboard experience standards, and the finish line is finally here.
While it’s undoubtedly an exciting moment for United’s onboard experience, the Polaris retrofits have hit plenty of turbulence over the past seven years.
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The product was first announced in 2016, and the ensuing months were nothing short of chaotic for the carrier’s business-class offering. Multiple Polaris Lounges suffered yearslong delays, the retrofit strategy wasn’t clear and the onboard service kept getting tweaked.
Add on a pandemic, which temporarily halted the retrofit project, and here we are — seven years later — with a completed rollout.
Though the Polaris retrofits might’ve taken (what seemed like) forever, United seems to have found its beat with the introduction of Premium Plus, the airline’s take on premium economy.
The product first started rolling out in 2019. As the cabin has grown in popularity, United has been quick to meet that demand by introducing an all-new flight experience across its entire international wide-body fleet — all in just four years.
Fleet-by-fleet Polaris and Premium Plus retrofit update
United splits its 37 Boeing 767-300ERs into two different layouts. There’s a premium “high-J” version with a whopping 46 business-class pods, 22 Premium Plus recliners and 99 coach seats, as well as a revised “standard” layout with 30 Polaris pods, 24 Premium Plus recliners and 149 coach seats.
Thirteen of United’s 767-300s sport the “standard” layout, while 24 of the jets feature the “high-J” version.
There is just one “standard” 767-300 that’s currently being retrofitted with Premium Plus.
Once complete, all 767-300s will feature a three-cabin experience.
This is the final major fleet type to receive the Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
United has 16 Boeing 767-400ERs in its fleet, and 12 of them already feature the updated three-cabin layout. Four of them are currently undergoing modifications in Asia, but all flights currently operated by the Boeing 767-400ER feature both Polaris and Premium Plus.
All United Boeing 777-200s that operate long-haul international routes have already been updated with the latest cabins.
The carrier has a subfleet of 777-200s that primarily serve domestic destinations, including Hawaii and other short-haul markets. These planes have a very outdated 2-4-2 “dorm-style” business-class cabin, and there are no plans to upgrade these cabins with the Polaris and Premium Plus retrofits.
All 22 of United’s Boeing 777-300s are already outfitted with the Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
All 12 of United’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
All United’s 38 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner
All United’s 21 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners feature Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.