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When will United Polaris Business Class really be available?

by on Sat November 12, 2016 • 34 Comments


United’s new Business Class, Polaris, is being aggressively marketed by United.

It’s a big step up from the current United BusinessFirst product, offering features like:

  • Direct access to the aisle from every seat
  • Privacy dividers
  • Mattress pads and customized pillow selections from Saks Fifth Avenue (a limited number of mattress pads and custom pillows will be boarded on each flight, first come, first serve)
  • Brand new, upgraded meal concepts
  • 3 course wine flights on night time flights
  • A bloody mary cart on daytime flights
  • A dedicated airport lounge featuring daybeds and full tableside meal service

That’s going to make United a more attractive option for award travel and more.

When will Polaris seats be available?

Polaris is advertised as coming on December 1, 2016. But that’s just the date United rolled out the upgraded food, wine, and pillows / blankets.

United has over 100 planes that serve these international routes, and that’s too little time to install brand new seats on all those aircraft.

The official line on actual seat refurbishment in its June announcement was:

“The United Polaris business class seat will first take flight in December on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and subsequently on Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, as well as on Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 retrofits.”

On the Polaris FAQ page all that’s stated is:

“We’ll take delivery of our first Boeing 777-300 featuring the new United Polaris seats and cabin design in December of 2016, and the aircraft is scheduled to begin service in early 2017.”

But United has started showing off the seats at events for United fliers in several hubs, and attendees of those events are getting a better sense of how the rollout will take place, sharing information on Flyertalk.

The best guess at this point by aircraft…

  • 777-300: All in place in 2017 (these are brand new aircraft being delivered beginning in December, and finishing off quickly in 2017 – and will be the flagship of Polaris. Their first international flights will be in late February)
  • 777-200: Fast followers in 2017 / 2018 (many of these are legacy United Airlines aircraft with a Global First cabin, and United has financial and cost motivation to reconfigure these into the Polaris layout)
  • 767-300: About a dozen of these aircraft are still in the pre-merger 3 cabin layout with Global First, Business, and Economy. These are on deck to receive Polaris as soon as 2017. There are no plans we know of for the remaining aircraft which are currently in a standard 2 cabin layout.
  • 787-8/9/10: No word on these other than the brand new 787-10, which will arrive in a few years with some form of Polaris. Don’t expect a retrofit on the other 787s anytime soon.
  • 757: Again, no word on these, but don’t expect Polaris style seats. American and Delta don’t have direct aisle access seating on their comparable 757s, and most of these planes are now spending their time on P.S. routes between Newark and California.
  • 747: These will be retired in 2018 with no Polaris seat reconfiguration
  • A350: Brand new planes which will have Polaris seating

The 777-200s are the biggest part of the international fleet, at about 50 aircraft, followed by the various versions of the 787.

Based on this, over half of United’s fleet could be in full Polaris mode within about 2 years. And the 777-300 will be a ‘guaranteed’ Polaris ride shortly, most likely on routes from Newark to Asia and India.

What’s still unclear is how the Polaris seat will adapt to the various aircraft types, with the 787 a more narrow aircraft than the 777.


What about lounges?

There is now a full featured Polaris lounge ready for passengers at Chicago O’Hare in the C Concourse, next to the existing United Club.

Other Polaris lounges are coming to the Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington-Dulles, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo airports. Here’s what we’ve seen so far on the timing of lounge openings:

  • San Francisco: mid-2017 partial opening, followed by a full opening in late 2017. The Polaris lounge will take over the existing United Club space in the international terminal, plus add a lower level where the Singapore KrisFlyer lounge is currently located. The existing First Class lounge will convert to a United Club, while another United Club will be built across the hallway.
  • Los Angeles: late 2017 opening in the former International First Class lounge space.
  • Newark: mid-2017 opening taking over part of the current large United Club near the terminal C security checkpoint.
  • Houston: mid-2017 on the upper level of the current United Club in terminal E.
  • Washington-Dulles: late 2017 opening.

The remaining clubs in London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo will be ready by the end of 2018.

What amenities / food / beverage will the lounges have?

The lounges will offer…

  • A buffet with light cold and warm food options
  • Sit down table service with comfort food like shrimp and grits or fried chicken, depending on the local chef partnering with the lounge
  • Premium wines like The Prisoner and Daou Cabernet Sauvignon and Veuve Champagne
  • Premium spirits like WhistlePig Rye Whiskey
  • Nap areas that can be booked for one hour at a time
  • Several showers with clothes pressing while you shower
  • A washer / dryer for quick laundry
  • At your seat beverage service
  • A concierge who can assist with restaurant recommendations and travel issues

If you love wine and good spirits, you’re going to love what’s on tap at the Polaris lounges.

Here’s a sample wine menu.

And here’s a sample spirits menu.

Wines include premium selections like The Prisoner and Moet & Chandon Rose, while spirits include Auchentoshan 12 year scotch, Hangar 1 vodka, Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, and WhistlePig rye.

Who can get in the Polaris lounge?

Only same day Polaris passengers (either connecting to/from a different airport, or arriving/departing the same airport as the lounge), and passengers in Business or First Class on long haul international Star Alliance flights (only if the long haul flight is departing or arriving the same airport as the lounge) can access the lounges.

  • Star Alliance Gold members, and even Global Services members traveling in Economy Class won’t get in.
  • Domestic Business or First Class, including P.S. flights, and flights to Hawaii won’t get in.
  • Shorter non-Polaris international flights in Business Class like Houston to Lima won’t get in either, even though they have lie flat seats, as they’re labeled as ‘United Business’ instead of ‘Polaris.’

What about P.S. flights?

These will not be marketed as Polaris flights, so you won’t get Polaris lounge access while flying Business Class on a ticket that only involves domestic P.S. flights. These flights will get Polaris pillows and blankets, but other major changes aren’t planned yet.

United awards in Polaris class are (for now) still the same price as regular Business Class awards, so you can fly Polaris for just 57,500 miles one way from the U.S. to Europe for example, making them a great use of United miles, or Chase Ultimate Rewards points that transfer to United miles.

Where will pajamas be available?

United is offering every Polaris passenger pajamas on routes where the flight time averages 12 hours over the course of a year. Here are the routes that will get pajamas:

San Francisco to/from…

  • Seoul
  • Shanghai
  • Beijing
  • Hangzhou
  • Xi’an
  • Taipei
  • Auckland
  • Hong Kong
  • Chengdu
  • Sydney
  • Tel Aviv
  • Singapore

Newark to/from

  • Tokyo
  • Beijing
  • Delhi
  • Mumbai
  • Hong Kong
  • Shanghai

Chicago to/from

  • Tokyo
  • Beijing
  • Shanghai
  • Hong Kong

Los Angeles to/from

  • Shanghai
  • Sydney
  • Melbourne

Washington-Dulles to/from

  • Tokyo
  • Beijing

Houston to/from

  • Tokyo

Notable routes that won’t get pajamas because they don’t cross the threshold include Newark – Tel Aviv, Newark – Sao Paolo, Houston – Buenos Aires, Denver –  Tokyo, Los Angeles – Tokyo, and San Francisco – Tokyo.

What kind of wine will be served?

6 kinds of wine will be offered on each flight – 3 white and 3 red. Within each group of 3, there will 2 be to traditional ‘favorite’ varieties like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, and one ’emerging’ variety like Grenache – Syrah.

Sample wines that may appear onboard include…

  • Taft Street Chardonnay
  • Sebastian Riffault Sancerre
  • Mastroberadino Mastro Greco
  • Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dobbes “Wines by Joe” Pinot Noir
  • Hahn GSM Grenache Syrah

What kind of food will be served?

Food will look familiar, with a small appetizer and salad to start, followed by a choice of 4 to 5 main courses, and a choice of cheese, ice cream sundae, or pastries for dessert. You’ll also get a truffle with champagne before taking off.

Mid flight snacks will offer the usual cold snacks on shorter flights, and on longer 10 hour+ flights one or two hot options will be offered like lobster mac and cheese or tomato soup with grilled cheese.

Here is a sample menu.

The big change will be the number of choices in rotation, so you’re less likely to be stuck with the same meal on different routes.

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34 thoughts on When will United Polaris Business Class really be available?

  1. DB

    i am flying direct to Rome from Newark in April, 2016. Will this be a true Polaris flight? Meaning will the plane be upgraded to reflect all of the amenities?

  2. Margaret

    My future hubby and I will be flying to Europe through Houston for our honeymoon and it’s a 777-200 it says Polaris business with a seat configuration of 2-2-2. This will be oct 17 by this time do you think the new lounge will be open as well as the new Polaris seats?


      @Margaret – The lounge should be open by mid year. As for the seat, it’s a crap shoot. You won’t know until 72 hours prior to departure, as United is defaulting all seat maps to the old layout in case of equipment swaps, since many planes still won’t have the new layout.

  3. Rick

    I am flying to SYD from LAX in April 2017 and they are advertising the seats as Polaris Business, but the plane is a 787-9 (Dreamliner), so should I anticipate the older configuration?


    If they are selling seats as Polaris (EWR-BOM) is that what I’ll really get? What’s the status on the lounges at EWR and BOM? (for 1/10/17 and 2/28/17)


      @Rebecca – There won’t be any Polaris lounge at EWR by the end of February. There is a slight chance your 2/28 flight gets changed to a 777-300 (77W) which would have the new seats. Those new planes are scheduled to enter international service around the end of February.

      Bombay is not slated to receive a Polaris lounge.

      What you will get are Polaris meals and pillows / blankets.


    If they are selling seats as Polaris (EWR-BOM) is that what I’ll really get? What’s the status on the lounges at EWR and BOM?

  6. Thom

    does anyone know if the soft upgrade includes mattress padding on planes that will not get new seats for a while or are those limited to new seats only?


      @Nick – Could be one of the first if they switch it to a 777-300ER aircraft, but even that might not be in earnest until mid year. The first planes are delivered in December, and don’t hit international service until early in 2017.

  7. Diane B.

    I’ll be flying SFO via O’Hare to Rome in mid-June 2017. It looks like the plane I’m flying on is a 777-200. What are my chances the plane will be retrofitted to Polaris? Will the Polaris lounge at least be available?


        @aya – The Chicago lounge will open in December, and planes will start to trickle in next year. The onboard food service will change in December.


      @Chuck – No word – they may have some 777-200s in service with the Polaris seats by then but not enough to plan on. The Polaris lounge in Newark definitely won’t be ready by then.

  8. John

    I am looking at booking a Global First on April on a 777-200 from Brussels to Chicago. Any word on what happens to passengers ticketed in Global First if their plane turns out to be a new Polaris setup?


      @John – It’s a low likelihood in April you’ll see your flight on 777-200 on a Polaris plane, but if you do, United generally will adjust the fare to a business class fare based on what was prevailing with similar restrictions at the time of booking. Worth a call to them though. If it’s based on miles, you’ll get the extra miles redeposited.

  9. Amanda Hansen

    Do you know if they upgraded food, bev, pillows, etc will rollout to 747 on 12/1? I understand these planes will be retired and the seat won’t be upgraded, but I have a Global First reso next summer and I’d love to know if I’ll get to experience some of these amenities. Thanks!


      @Amanda – Yes that is the plan – the ‘soft’ product (everything but the seat) is planned for rollout on all the fleet 12/1. And by next summer all those ‘soft’ elements will be in full swing.


      @Joe – Not yet. They’ll probably do some domestic test runs for a month or two, and then probably deployed on the longest routes out of Newark like EWR-HKG, DEL, BOM.


      @Jenny – Right now they’re operating a 777-200 on the route. If that holds, the 777-200s are slated to start getting the seats next year, but it could take a couple years to get all the 777-200s updated.

      And equipment can change at any time. It will be a few years at least before Polaris seats are consistently out there.


      @marie – Hard to say. Right now they’re using a 777-200 on that route, and those will start getting the new seats next year, but they have over 50 of those planes to get through. And if they change equipment to for example a 787…well those aren’t even scheduled to get the new seats yet so it will be hit or miss for a few years.

      But Houston is scheduled to get a full Polaris lounge late next year.


      @Debbie – The food and blankets will be upgraded December 1st. The seats…it’s not clear. That flight currently uses 787 aircraft, which don’t yet have a schedule for getting the new seats. So it could be a few years.


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