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United's Plan to Add Polaris, Premium Plus to 787-8 and -9 Dreamliners

July 17, 2019
3 min read
United's Plan to Add Polaris, Premium Plus to 787-8 and -9 Dreamliners
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United's brand-new 787-10s come equipped with the carrier's much-improved Polaris business-class seat, with far better privacy plus direct aisle access for everyone in the cabin. The carrier's older Dreamliners have dated 2-2-2 seating, however — a slightly updated version of the same seat that flew with Continental beginning in 2009.

Fortunately, United will soon begin retrofitting its older 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners with the new Polaris seats, and a Premium Plus cabin.

Polaris on the 787-10 (Photo by Zach Honig/TPG)

This week, the airline sent updated seat maps to employees, demonstrating the seating arrangement after upcoming renovations. The smaller 787-8, which currently offers 36 lie-flat business seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, spread evenly between two cabins, will drop to a total of 28 seats, plus a 21-seat Premium Plus cabin, 36 in Economy Plus and 158 in coach.

The longer 787-9 will maintain its business-class seat count, meanwhile, with a total of 48 — 32 in the large forward cabin and 16 in a mini-cabin behind the second door. This aircraft will also have 21 Premium Plus seats, plus 39 seats in Economy Plus and 149 in coach — fewer than you'll find on the smaller 787-8.

United's fleet includes just 12 of the smaller Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, which were delivered between 2012 and 2014. While United typically either adds lie-flat seats or maintains the existing count with its Polaris retrofits, the 787-8 will be used primarily for leisure destinations with less business-class demand. The schedule will likely see some tweaks to focus primarily on leisure travel in the future, but for now you'll find this version operating a selection of lower-demand long-haul flights, including:

  • Denver (DEN)-Tokyo (NRT)
  • Denver (DEN)-Frankfurt (FRA)
  • San Francisco (SFO)-Chengdu (CTU)
  • San Francisco (SFO)-Tahiti (PPT)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD)-Beijing (PEK)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD)-Zurich (ZRH)

Then there are 25 of the longer-range 787-9s flying for United, delivered between 2014 and 2018 and now operating key routes, such as:

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  • Houston (IAH)-London (LHR)
  • Houston (IAH)-Sydney (SYD)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)-Melbourne (MEL)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)-Tokyo (NRT)
  • San Francisco (SFO)-Singapore (SIN)
  • San Francisco (SFO)-Shanghai (PVG)

Both retrofitted models will include United's true premium-economy product, branded as Premium Plus, with seats in the same 2-3-2 arrangement that you'll find on the 787-10.

Premium Plus on United's 787-10.

While it's not yet clear exactly when and where the new configuration will launch, I'd put my money on it quickly becoming a staple on United's San Francisco-Singapore flights, given the premium demand for that particular market. Personally, I prefer United's Polaris seat over Singapore's product on the Airbus A350, due to the limited seat recline (when not in full bed mode) and the small footwell. While I'd miss Singapore's superior service, a retrofitted United 787-9 feels like the better pick to me.

United expects the first retrofitted 787-8 Dreamliner to enter service in December 2019, with the 787-9 following a few months behind, in early 2020. Retrofitted aircraft will simply be worked into the mix initially, and they'll be assigned to specific flights once enough become available to operate consistent service.