United Airlines is closing in on a major milestone that’s been in the works for at least seven years.
Starting in August, every single international wide-body jet in the carrier’s fleet will feature Polaris and Premium Plus cabins, as first seen in Cirium schedules and confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.
The Chicago-based airline updated all future seat maps and booking timetables over the weekend to reflect the completion of perhaps the biggest retrofit project that the carrier has ever undertaken.
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Going forward, all United long-haul routes will be operated by planes with new cabins — no more playing the guessing game of what aircraft configuration you’ll fly.
In a statement confirming the move, United shared that “we’re thrilled to near the finish line of this retrofit project, initiated in 2017 and focused on our popular United Polaris and United Premium Plus cabins, with even more customer-focused upgrades to come before year-end.”
As United inches closer to this milestone — just a little more than three months away — the carrier is wrapping up the reconfiguration of its Boeing 767 fleet. While most of the 767-300ERs already feature the Polaris cabins, a subset of these planes is just now getting updated with Premium Plus recliners.
Furthermore, United’s Boeing 767-400ERs, which were parked indefinitely at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, were recently reactivated and have been flying around with their old and outdated cabins.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 drawing nearer — now estimated for an August completion.
Once both the 767-300ERs and 767-400ERs are finished (which may even happen before August), United’s Polaris and Premium Plus rollout will be fully complete. Unless there’s a last-minute substitution to one of United’s domestic-configured 777s, every single long-haul wide-body flight will be operated by a three-cabin aircraft that features Polaris, Premium Plus and economy, with a subset of seats in an extra legroom Economy Plus configuration.
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For United, that’s great news, as it can tap into a growing segment of premium leisure travelers who are looking to upgrade their flight experience without necessarily breaking the bank for a full-fare business-class pod. In those cases, travelers can book the Premium Plus recliners, United’s take on premium economy.
Additionally, savvy flyers will no longer need to worry about which United business-class cabin offers direct aisle access. And, of course, United can now market this news to big corporations, as it looks to capture that premium-cabin demand.
Yet, the stars haven’t always been shining so brightly on United’s Polaris rollout. The product was first announced back in 2016, and the ensuing months were nothing short of chaotic for the carrier’s business-class experience. Multiple Polaris Lounges suffered yearslong delays, the retrofit strategy wasn’t clear and the onboard service kept getting tweaked.
Seven years later, the carrier has seemed to find its beat, with Polaris Lounges now open in all mainland hubs except for Denver, a nearly 100% complete retrofit project and even some much-needed catering improvements.
Meanwhile, Premium Plus first started rolling out in 2019, and 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 are just five “standard” 767-300s that haven’t yet been retrofitted with Premium Plus, but they’ll now be completed by August.
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 five of them already feature the updated three-cabin layout. Six of them are currently undergoing modifications in Asia, and the five remaining planes will be finished by August.
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 of United’s 38 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner
All of United’s 21 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners feature Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.
The end of United’s yearslong Polaris and Premium Plus retrofit projects is almost here. I, for one, can’t wait for the cabin “guessing game” to be over.
By August, all the carrier’s international widebodies, including the 767-300ER and 767-400ER fleet, will be outfitted with the latest cabins, which is sure to be appreciated by anyone who’s booking long-haul routes with United.
Now, all eyes will turn to what’s next for Polaris, as rumors have been swirling for a few years about an updated business-class seat that’ll be even better than the current one.