The 787 returns: Book United transcons very carefully beginning in June

Apr 23, 2020

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This week, United Airlines confirmed a notable shift for its premium transcontinental flights, moving from a mix of internationally configured planes to the smaller (and far less exciting) Boeing 737, beginning on May 4. It’s a logical move given the unprecedented drop in demand, but, as a result, business-class passengers who were once guaranteed a lie-flat seat will have to settle for a standard recliner.

Fortunately, it’s now clear that United’s most advanced aircraft, the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, will return to at least two daily round-trips beginning in June, flying between Newark (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark and San Francisco (SFO) once every day. The rest of the flights will continue to be operated by much smaller narrow-body planes — likely the Boeing 737.

That means flyers traveling between New York City and United’s West Coast hubs will land either the airline’s posh Dreamliner, or an ordinary narrow-body jet — the experience truly couldn’t be any more different when it comes to a transcon United journey.

For example, here’s the business-class seat on United’s 787-10:

Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

And here’s what you’ll find on the Boeing 737:

Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

As of now, you’ll pay the exact same business-class fare, regardless of which seat you book — $690 each way is a reasonable price to pay for a “pod,” but not a tight recliner seat, especially when economy fares are so low. You’ll also face the same upgrade policy — complimentary upgrades won’t be available to elites, who need to redeem miles or use their valuable PlusPoints to move up to biz, instead.

So, for now, you’ll want to be extra careful when it comes time to book. You can identify the Dreamliner with the text “Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner” on the details tab, or with the long cabin with blue seats, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. If you see that, you’ve landed on a flight that’s scheduled to be operated by the 787, at least right now.

Unfortunately, the airline has yet to firm up its June schedule. Currently, United is selling more than two dozen daily flights between Newark and LAX and SFO, many of which almost certainly won’t operate as planned.

While you could wait a few weeks to book travel for June and beyond, this is also a good opportunity to make use of United’s waived-change-fee policy, which covers flights booked through April 30 — generally, I don’t recommended taking advantage, but if you’re certain you’ll need to travel in June and beyond, it could present a good opportunity to easily move to the “good” plane, once the carrier’s schedule is firmed up.

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