New details: United’s Boeing 767-400s will receive Polaris, Premium Plus retrofits

May 11, 2022

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United first unveiled its Polaris business-class product in 2016, and the airline has since made significant progress in retrofitting its international fleet with these top-notch cabins.

Now, as the Chicago-based carrier launches its largest-ever transatlantic network expansion, it has some welcome news for the premium passenger experience: there are just a handful of active wide-body jets that haven’t been upgraded with Polaris pods — and that number is rapidly dwindling.

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During an April 24 media briefing about United’s international network, Patrick Quayle, senior vice president of international network and alliance, shared that the airline’s 16 Boeing 767-400s are officially getting the Polaris retrofits.

“The retrofits for the 767-400ER, the first one should be either in the hangar or going in the hangar within the next week or two. So the first one, which is a prototype, will be done this summer,” Quayle said then in response to a TPG question.

During the briefing, United didn’t have any additional details to share about the new cabin configurations.

But now, the carrier has revealed more details in an internal memo that was viewed by TPG and confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

Specifically, United’s retrofitted 767-400s will feature 34 Polaris business pods, 24 Premium Plus recliners, 48 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats and 125 standard coach ones. In total, the retrofitted “76U,” as the airline is calling it, will feature 231 seats, which represents a net decrease of nine seats compared to the legacy configuration.

There will be five fewer Polaris pods on the retrofitted jets, but the overall number of premium seats is increasing substantially thanks to the introduction of a Premium Plus cabin.

In addition to the Polaris and Premium Plus cabins, United told employees on Wednesday to expect additional upgrades on these planes, including:

  • Refreshed lavatories.
  • In-seat AC and USB power across all cabins.
  • Updated Panasonic inflight entertainment systems.
  • Refreshed jumpseats for crew members.
  • New LED lighting throughout the cabin.
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Historically, savvy flyers have avoided the 767-400, especially those flying in the pointy end. The jets sported outdated business-class pods arranged in a 2-1-2 configuration, and there was no premium economy cabin either.

During the pandemic, many analysts thought that United would opt to keep the old cabins on the 767-400ERs, especially as the carrier flirted with the idea of retiring the roughly 20-year-old fleet.

Before the pandemic, the jets were a workhorse on flights to Europe and South America, serving destinations such as Milan and Buenos Aires. United acquired these planes when it merged with Continental in 2010.

Once the pandemic decimated demand for long-haul flights, United opted to store these gas-guzzlers and instead use the more fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its skeleton international network.

But in February 2021, a chunk of the carrier’s Boeing 777 fleet was grounded following an uncontained engine failure, leaving United with no option but to bring the 767-400ERs back from long-term storage.

At the time, the airline still didn’t have plans to retrofit the planes, leaving savvy flyers to choose a flight operated by a different aircraft for the “true” Polaris experience.

But now, it won’t be long until the 767-400s receive the Polaris cabins that were first unveiled six years ago. “All of the widebodies, inclusive of the 767-400, will be done by the summer of 2023,” Quayle said.

United’s first retrofitted 767-400ER is expected to enter service in “late summer 2022,” the internal memo says.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In addition to retrofitting the 767-400s, United is wrapping up the Polaris conversions across the rest of its long-haul fleet. The airline currently has two Boeing 767-300s and four Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that haven’t been retrofitted, but those will feature the new cabins by the end of this summer, Quayle said.

That’ll leave the 767-400s as the one fleet type awaiting the retrofits, which will happen by summer 2023.

Bottom line

The end is near for United’s years-long Polaris retrofit project. I, for one, can’t wait for the cabin “guessing game” when flying United to be over.

By next summer, all of the carrier’s international widebodies, including the 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.

Fleet-by-fleet Polaris retrofit update

Boeing 767-300ER

United splits its 38 Boeing 767-300ERs into two different Polaris 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 “standard” layout with 30 Polaris pods and 184 coach seats.

Fourteen of United’s 767-300s sport the “standard” layout, while 22 of the jets feature the “high-J” version. There are just two 767-300s that haven’t yet been retrofitted, but they’ll be completed (in the “high-J” layout) by the end of the summer.

Taking a look at the seat map for your upcoming flight will confirm which layout you’ll experience.

Boeing 767-400ER

All 16 of these jets will receive the Polaris retrofits by summer 2023.

Boeing 777-200

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 retrofits.

For now, this subfleet of planes, along with the international 777-200s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines are parked pending an investigation into the aforementioned engine failure that occurred last year.

Boeing 777-300

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

Thirty-four of United’s 38 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have already been retrofitted with Polaris and Premium Plus cabins. The four remaining jets will be complete by the end of summer 2022.

Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

All United Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners feature Polaris and Premium Plus cabins.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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