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Last week, I learned that United was beginning work to reconfigure a number of its 767-300ERs with an exceptionally high number of lie-flat seats, boosting the Polaris cabin capacity by more than 50%. Wednesday, the airline confirmed that 21 aircraft will get this new arrangement, offering a total of 46 business-class seats in a 1-1-1 configuration.
Andrew Nocella, United’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, shared the news with a small group of journalists, adding that premium seats will occupy some two-thirds of the square footage of each of these retrofitted 763s, with 22 Premium Plus seats joining as well.
United confirmed that these new aircraft will operate flights between Newark (EWR) and London (LHR), consistent with what we reported last week. While the airline wasn’t ready to share any additional routes just yet, with 21 aircraft offering this significantly boosted business config, there will certainly be more to come.
More Polaris seats should hopefully translate into better upgrade and award availability as well. As Nocella explained, “Additional premium seats on the 767-300 will be critical to allowing us to meet unmet demand on certain routes that also provide for more inventory for upgrades and mileage redemption for our most loyal customers.” Later adding, “We sell more than half of [Polaris seats] outright, and we do make room for upgrades and award availability as well across the global network.”
While dynamic Premium Plus award pricing caused some speculation that a premium-cabin award devaluation could be on the way, United hasn’t commented on any changes to MileagePlus at this point. I’m hopeful that we’ll simply see more saver awards without a jump in rate — currently 60,000 miles each way from North America to Europe in Polaris business class.
Naturally, this boost in biz capacity will come at the cost of economy seats, though. The economy cabin will drop from 138 seats to just 52, while Economy Plus will increase from 46 seats to 47, a total coach seat decrease of nearly 50%.
While there may be fewer economy seats available on some flights, the airline is boosting capacity significantly on others by adding more seats to its 777-200s and replacing some 767 flights with the far larger 787-10.
The first of these reconfigured 763 should re-enter service “in the next several weeks,” while all 21 are expected to be flying by the end of 2020.
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