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In a perfect world, airlines would offer a consistent experience across their fleets. Instead, since many take delivery of new aircraft all the time, offerings tend to be mix and match — Lufthansa is the one major carrier offering an identical business-class seat on all of its long-haul planes, even though that took years to accomplish.
The situation seems to be especially wonky here in the US. As with American Airlines, which has an incredibly diverse fleet, not all of United’s seats are created equal. The new Polaris business class is a huge improvement over the carrier’s older seats, but even with a new or refurbished Polaris-equipped plane rolling out every 10 days, there are a few hundred aircraft still flying with the old seats.
With Polaris planes still few and far between, I’m going to run through United’s full biz-class offering, ranking my picks from best to worst. And be warned: the worst seats really are awful. Buckle up — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
1. Polaris (Boeing 777-300ER and 777-200ER)
My favorite United seats can be found on all of the carrier’s 17 Boeing 777-300ERs, plus a small (but growing) number of retrofitted 777-200ERs. They sport substantially more privacy than any of the carrier’s other offerings, and with a 1-2-1 arrangement, there’s an opportunity for passengers to grab two center seats and sleep next to a companion. These seats also offer side tables, decent storage, a privacy divider and United’s latest in-flight entertainment.
Where to Find Them: The 777-300ER flies on a handful of dedicated routes, including Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv (TLV) and Tokyo (NRT) and soon Mumbai (BOM); and San Francisco (SFO) to Auckland (AKL), Beijing (PEK), Frankfurt (FRA), Hong Kong (HKG), London (LHR), Tel Aviv (TLV), Taipei (TPE) and Tokyo (NRT). With a small number of retrofitted planes in the fleet, the 777-200ERs don’t operate specific routes, though you can most often find them flying from Chicago (ORD), Newark, Washington-DC (IAD) and San Francisco to Asia, Europe and South America.
2. Polaris (767-300ER)
United operates a similar version of its new Polaris seat on the 767-300ER. More than half of United’s older three-cabin planes have been reconfigured, and all of the carrier’s smaller 767s are expected to have Polaris seats installed by the end of this year. I like this version almost as much as what you’ll find on the 777s, but with a 1-1-1 configuration, there aren’t any paired seats, making this less ideal for families and couples.
Where to Find Them: You’ll most often find this configuration on flights between the East Coast and Europe, such as Newark to London (LHR). You’ll also see them operating some of United’s shorter long-haul flights out of Chicago, Houston (IAH) and Washington, DC.
3. B/E Aerospace Diamond (787-8 and 787-9)
Believe it or not, United’s most advanced plane is flying one of the carrier’s older seats. Both the 787-8 and extended-length 787-9 variant fly a newer version of B/E Aerospace’s Diamond business seat. They’re arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration here, and while they’re far fresher on the Dreamliner, the narrower cabin means trimming about an inch off the seat’s width. Storage is limited to an open side compartment, plus a small storage area underneath the ottoman, which is far wider at bulkhead seats.
Where to Find Them: While there’s talk of opening a 787 base in Newark, for now most of United’s Dreamliner flights originate at other hubs, including Denver (DEN), Houston, Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco and Washington, DC. They’re used primarily for flights to Asia, Europe and Australia, including United’s longest flights between San Francisco and Singapore (SIN), along with Houston to Sydney (SYD).
4. B/E Aerospace Diamond (777-200ER)
While a bit wider than those on the Dreamliners above, at 23 inches, this version of B/E Aerospace’s Diamond seat has seen better days, having flown on Continental’s 777s for several years before being migrated to the United fleet. The design itself is very similar, though some elements, like the seat and entertainment controllers, are quite a bit older on the 777. You’ll only find this seat on the 777-200ERs that formerly flew for Continental, and they’ll be phased out as planes are retrofitted with Polaris over the next few years.
Where to Find Them: This 777 model continues to fly almost exclusively out of the former Continental hubs in Houston and Newark. It’s used on some of United’s longest flights, such as Newark to Hong Kong (HKG) and Houston to Tokyo (NRT), along with routine transatlantic and South America hops, almost always from the Houston and Newark hubs.
5. B/E Aerospace Diamond (767-400ER and 767-300ER)
Measuring 21 inches wide, this version of United’s 767 biz seat is noticeably narrower than the 777 model above. I still find it comfortable, though, and I love having the option of a single middle seat, especially when I’m flying alone. Being in the middle seems to boost the service a bit, too, since flight attendants in both aisles tend to deliver food and drinks throughout the flight. It’s also fairly prone to bumping, though, especially on the 767-300ER, where all passengers board through the forward door. Storage can be limited, too, unless you’re in a bulkhead row.
Where to Find Them: All of United’s 767-400ERs used to fly for Continental, and they’ve offered this seat for quite some time. The airline began installing it on the smaller 767-300ERs as well. You’ll find these 767s operating many of the transatlantic flights out of Newark, along with Newark and Washington, D.C. to Honolulu and a couple of mainland US hops.
6. B/E Aerospace Diamond (757-200)
This seat clearly gets a lot of love from United. Last but least is the single-aisle 757-200 version, which is just as narrow as what you’ll find on the 767, at about 21 inches. It definitely feels tighter, too, especially in the footwell and storage underneath. These seats are just as worn as those on the old Continental 777s, and in the case of United’s international-configured 757s, they’ve been flying nearly as long. They still lie completely flat, though, and they’re a decent option when you’re traveling with a companion.
Where to Find Them: You’re all but guaranteed to see them on all of United’s narrow-body Premium transcon flights, including Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Boston (BOS) to San Francisco. International routes are limited to shorter transatlantic flights — primarily Newark to destinations in the UK. This seat also makes a frequent appearance on regular domestic flights, such as Newark (EWR) to Seattle (SEA), where it’s sold as first class. Basically, whenever you see a United flight operated by a 757-200, this is what you’ll get — be sure to avoid the longer 757-300, though, since those offer old recliners, instead.
7. Original United Lie-Flat Seat (777-200ER and 767-300ER)
United’s oldest 777 business class is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration. Yup, you read that right — there are four seats in the middle. That’s simply unacceptable for business class, though it’s not unusual to see in premium economy. The good news is that unless you’re a non-revenue traveler or you clear a last-minute upgrade, it’s easy enough to avoid those middle-of-the-middle seats, but be prepared for an unpleasant ride if you do get stuck. The situation’s a tiny bit better on the 767, since seats are configured as 2-2-2 there, and that version should be completely gone by the end of the year. Regardless of which plane and seat you get, expect nonexistent storage and a tight squeeze. Avoid avoid avoid!
Where to Find Them: Hopefully in a landfill soon. For now, they’re still flying on United’s three-cabin 777s and 767s, though the airline is working quickly to replace them with the fancy new Polaris seats. You’ll most often find them flying from Chicago and San Francisco to Asia and Europe, and they’re unfortunately here to stay on United’s domestic-configured 777-200s, primarily flying between Hawaii and the mainland US and Guam.
With the exception of those domestic 777s, and perhaps the 757-200s, eventually United’s entire long-haul fleet should offer a variation of the Polaris seat seen up top, though it’s not yet clear how the airline will handle retrofits of its relatively new Dreamliners.
The good news is that United’s awful 2-4-2 seats are being flushed from the system at a steady pace, and should be completely gone from long-haul flights soon. Meanwhile, the B/E Aerospace seats will continue to serve as a decent stopgap for now, since they’re a fairly comfortable Polaris alternative. Still, there’s no question that you’ll have the best experience when flying the real thing.
Know before you go.
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