United is undergoing a brand transformation with their international Business Class product, which they now call United Polaris. The soft product of United Polaris officially rolled out on December 1, and a new Polaris Lounge opened in Chicago on the same day.
United is taking delivery of new 777-300ER aircraft, which will feature the new Polaris seats, which feature direct aisle access and flat beds. United has uploaded the seat map for the new aircraft on the website, and it looks like there will be a whopping 60 Polaris seats on the 777-300ER.
This is even more Business Class seats than United currently has on any of their current aircraft; the 777-200 feature at most 50 Business Class seats, and the 747 has 52.
Hopefully this means better upgrade chances and perhaps better award availability (one can dream) on routes operated by the new aircraft. However, United is likely to deploy the 777-300ER to long-haul routes with heavy business travel packed with elites, so you can expect some competition.
Unfortunately, with the “expanded” Business Class cabin comes some sacrifice in the Economy cabin. United’s Economy cabin onboard the 777-300ER will be configured with 10-seat abreast. This reduces seat width to just ~17 inches (compared to the current 18 inches on 9-abreast 777-200s), which I can say first hand is pretty tight, especially for a long-haul flight. There will be a total of 306 Economy seats, with 102 (33%) of them being Economy Plus.
United will be retrofitting their 767 and 777-200 aircraft with the new Polaris seats. But in the mean time, the 777-300ER will be the only aircraft in their fleet with the new seats.
United hasn’t officially announced the first routes that will be flown with the 777-300ER with the new Polaris Business Class seats. However, it looks like they have zero-ed out the GlobalFirst cabin on the San Francisco – Hong Kong route starting March 25. That route is currently served by a 747 featuring a First Class cabin, so this is extremely strong evidence that San Francisco to Hong Kong will be one of the first routes operated by the new 777-300ER with new Polaris seats, starting March 25, 2017.
This is a logical route to deploy the new 777-300ER, since it has good traffic with tons of passengers paying cash for premium cabins. It’s also operated by a pretty old 747, with a less-than-competitive (read: dorm-style) Business Class cabin configured in 2-4-2. For a competitive route (that is also flown by Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines), it’s probably one ripe for a replacement.
Update (1:56 ET): This article was prepared before United’s announcement. United has now officially announced the first routes operated by the 777-300ER. The airline will fly the San Francisco – Hong Kong route with the new aircraft starting March 25, 2017. They will also be flying the plane domestically, between Newark and San Francisco between February 16 and May 4.
Are you excited about the new Polaris seats on United’s new 777-300ER?