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United brands all of its long-haul business-class seats as “Polaris,” even if you end up landing a decade-old seat. Naturally, that’s been cause for confusion, even for some of the airline’s most frequent flyers.
I’d say the carrier’s marketing is primarily to blame — from airport banners to social media, this is the seat you’ll see whenever United references its revamped business-class product:
The Many Flavors of Polaris
In reality, more passengers fly in older seats than the version pictured above. For example, this is Polaris (on the Boeing 777-300ER):
This is Polaris (on retrofitted 777-200s):
This is Polaris (on pre-merger Continental 777-200s):
This is Polaris (on pre-merger United 777-200s):
This is Polaris (on all 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners):
And then there are the 767s — flying with versions of the three business seats pictured above. And the 757s, which all have seats almost identical to those on the 787s, but in a 2-2 arrangement instead of 2-2-2.
Finding the Real Polaris
Informally, there’s a designator for United’s latest product that’s been floating around almost since the very beginning, in December 2016. Frequent flyers refer to the airline’s new 1-2-1 seats as the “real Polaris” — older seats still have the Polaris “soft product,” including bedding, pajamas on certain longer flights and slightly expanded catering, but the “hard product” — the seat itself — remains unchanged.
Polaris customers also get access to the Polaris Lounges in Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO), of course, but if you’re after the full experience, you’ll need to book one of the options outlined below.
Currently, the only flights to guarantee the new seat are the ones specifically assigned to the new 777-300ER. United now has 17 in its fleet, with one more on the way later this year, flying with the following tail numbers:
Polaris seats are guaranteed on the routes below.
From Newark (EWR) to:
- Tel Aviv (TLV) — only flights 90/91
- Tokyo (NRT)
From San Francisco (SFO) to:
- Auckland (AKL)
- Beijing (PEK)
- Frankfurt (FRA)
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- London (LHR) — only flights 901/949
- Tel Aviv (TLV)
- Taipei (TPE)
- Tokyo (NRT)
Three retrofitted 777-200s and eight refreshed 767-300ERs are now flying as well, but they won’t be assigned to specific routes until there are several more of each type in the fleet. For now, where you’ll find them is anyone’s guess, though you can get an idea of whether or not you’ll have the new plane by checking your seat map a day or two before departure.
These planes include the following 777-200s:
Along with these 767-300ERs:
The 777s are all over the place, operating flights from Chicago (ORD), Newark, Washington-DC (IAD) and San Francisco to Asia, Europe and South America, in addition to an occasional 777 flight between Chicago and Newark. Considering that there are only three available, and they’re being used on so many different routes, scoring one of these planes is a very long shot right now.
There are more 767s, and they’re used on shorter routes, from Chicago, Houston, Newark and Washington, D.C. to Europe and South America, along with the occasional flight between D.C. and Honolulu, Hawaii. If your flight is assigned to a 767-300 with a first-class cabin, there’s about a 50% chance of landing the new config.
United’s Polaris rollout remains a work in progress. While the remaining 777-300ER and upcoming 787-10 Dreamliners will have the new seats, the fleet will continue to be a bit of a hodgepodge until the existing 787-8s and 787-9s are eventually retrofitted, and the 767-400ERs are retired, since they may not get a seat upgrade at all. That means we’ll be looking at a mix of seats through 2020, and probably well beyond.
Still, the airline has committed to rolling out a retrofitted Polaris-seat-equipped plane every 10 days, which means more and more passengers will travel on a flight with the real thing. With three planes coming online every month, it can be tough to keep up. If you’re hoping to continuously track which planes have UA’s latest and greatest biz, I recommend keeping an eye on two sites:
- United Polaris Tracker — UA’s own microsite, which outlines fleet renovations and Polaris-equipped routes
- Mainline Fleet Tracking — this third-party doc provides an updated list of which aircraft have the new product
Ideally, United would highlight Polaris-equipped flights with a special graphic or other designator at booking, but with the exception of confirmed routes, the airline doesn’t know which flights will have the new product until a day or two before departure. For now, your best bet is to do the legwork on your own, and if you’re hoping to catch one of the retrofitted 767s or 777s, hold off on booking until you see the seat map and aircraft assignment change a day or two before departure. If your plans are flexible, it could be worth the extra effort, and potential expense.
All photos by the author.
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