United flyers: Don’t expect a consistent Polaris experience when travel returns

May 9, 2020

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United’s Polaris business class product has gone a long way since it was first introduced in 2016. However, it hasn’t been fully rolled out yet, and still won’t for quite some time.

Airlines around the world are being pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic and are doing whatever they can to stay afloat. For United, one of those things is eliminating all discretionary spending, including any Polaris developments.

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A United representative has confirmed to TPG that the carrier is indefinitely halting all cabin retrofits, meaning no additional existing aircraft will get new all-aisle-access Polaris or Premium Plus (premium economy) seats until further notice. In addition, the airline is stopping all lounge construction.

The airline had plans to open Polaris lounges in Washington Dulles (IAD), London (LHR), Hong Kong (HKG) and Tokyo (NRT). Specifically referring to the IAD lounge originally set to open in 2020, the representative explained, “We reached substantial completion of construction on our IAD lounge but are evaluating the opening of the lounge along with our larger remobilization plan for our lounge facilities globally.”

Related: United begins construction on final US Polaris lounge

Though this downtime may seem like a good opportunity to speed up projects, such as installing new seats on jets. But the reality is that United, like other airlines, needs to focus on maintaining enough cash to cover fixed costs like staff, aircraft rent and debt payments. Delta has also paused its multi-year program installing Delta One suites on its long-haul wide-body aircraft. American Airlines, on the other hand, confirmed that it’s continuing “Project Oasis” reconfigurations, adding seats and removing seatback entertainment from many of its Boeing 737-800s amid the crisis.

Related: Here’s why airlines probably aren’t using this moment to spruce up their planes

Fortunately, about 80% of United’s international wide-body fleet is already equipped with the new Polaris product, and that number will grow slightly as remaining Boeing 787-9s and -10s on order are delivered. The majority of aircraft that have yet to be reconfigured are the airline’s older Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners, which are used on some of its longest international routes. No Boeing 767-400 has been reconfigured yet either, but all 16 of them are currently sitting in long-term storage in Roswell and there’s no telling if they will ever return to active service.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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