United hits major milestone in Polaris retrofit program

Dec 4, 2020

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There’s some great news the next time you take to the friendly skies.

Despite the pandemic, United has hit a big milestone in the Polaris business-class retrofit program. All international Boeing 777-200s currently in operation now feature the airline’s new business-class and premium economy product, as confirmed by a carrier spokesperson to TPG.

If you’re flying the 777-200, you’ll no longer need to guess (or wish) that your long-haul international flight gets upgraded to United’s top biz offering.

Polaris on the 777-200 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Unless there’s a last-minute equipment swap to another wide-body aircraft type, your 777-200 flight will feature the new Polaris and Premium Plus cabins. In fact, when booking a new flight — even months in advance — United is showing the updated seat map for the 777-200 fleet.

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United first announced Polaris business class back in 2016. The carrier’s newest planes, including the Boeing 777-300 and Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, came installed with the new products right from the factory.

As for the existing planes in its fleet, United embarked on a multi-million dollar, years-long reconfiguration process which required the carrier to strip out all the old seats and replace them with new ones.

Premium Plus on the 777-200 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Now, except for just one aircraft, all international-equipped 777-200s have been outfitted with 50 Polaris pods, 24 Premium Plus recliners, 46 Economy Plus seats and 156 coach seats. N77014, the sole exception, is parked in long-term storage in Roswell, New Mexico, and won’t fly passenger flights until it gets reconfigured.

Related: Flying Polaris on the United 777-200 during the pandemic

United has another sub-fleet of 777-200s that primarily fly domestic hops and short-haul international itineraries to Cancun. These planes won’t be receiving the Polaris overhaul. Instead, they’ll continue flying with alternating forward- and rear-facing biz seats, arranged in a tight 2-4-2 configuration.

You’ll find the internationally-configured 777s crisscrossing the globe.

Cirium schedules show that these planes will fly to Amsterdam, Beijing, London, San Juan and Tokyo from a mix of hubs in January 2021. You’ll also find them on the nation’s most premier routes from Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Once demand rebounds, United expects to reactivate many of its parked 777-200s and fly them to even more cities worldwide.

Polaris on the 777-200 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though the 777-200 fleet is almost fully reconfigured, United made great headway on its other wide-body aircraft in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Related: The ultimate guide to United Polaris

The Boeing 767-300s are mostly complete, with 17 of the 31 reconfigured jets sporting 46 Polaris pods in United’s “High J” configuration, designed for premium routes like Chicago to London and the hotly anticipated relaunch of New York-JFK to Los Angeles. There are just seven 767-300s left with the legacy interiors. 

All 16 of United’s larger 767-400s remain in long-term storage. The fate of the -400 depends on how demand recovers from the pandemic.

As for the 787-8 and -9 Dreamliners, the latter of which has become United’s pandemic-era “workhorse,” the carrier remains committed to finishing the retrofit. 

In a recent webinar with Brian Kelly, vice president of international network and alliances Patrick Quayle said that despite the pandemic, the retrofits will continue on the five remaining 787-8s, with work wrapping up by summer 2021.

United also is “working on a schedule” for the 23 787-9s that don’t yet feature the fancy pods. The carrier should have those complete by summer 2022.

Nevertheless, Quayle noted the importance of a “consistent” experience. With many widebodies still parked, he told listeners that while demand is still low, the carrier is specifically choosing to fly reconfigured 767, 777 and 787 jets, leaving the outdated cabins on the ground.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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