December marks not only the launch of United Airlines' all-new Polaris business class but the beginning of the end for United's first class.
The Star Alliance member will phase out its 'Global First' offering in favour of the new business class design, which sports many of the creature comforts once reserved for the airline's highest-paying passengers.
Fully-flat beds, large video screens, direct aisle access from every seat, upmarket meals and even bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue are all part of the Polaris package.
It's an evolution which has painted first class into a corner and in United's case, into extinction.
New jets – starting with the Boeing 777-300ER on which the new Polaris seats will arrive in late December 2016, and followed by the Boeing 787-10 and the long-range Airbus A350-1000 – will no longer boast an exclusive first class cabin nestled into the nose.
"Phasing our first class"
Existing aircraft with United's Global First at the pointy end will see those seats ripped out and replaced by business class as part of the rolling Polaris upgrade as United moves towards a streamlined two-tier layout split between business and economy.
"As we update our fleet over the next several years... we will be phasing out the first class cabin and moving toward a two-cabin experience for international travel" the airline says.
In the short term, United will even rebrand its Global First cabin to become Polaris Global First and combine the new Polaris-class meals and service with "the elevated amenities and specialised attention you’ve come to expect from our international first class service."
First class lounges also for the axe
Most Global First lounges will be shuttered and transformed into dedicated Polaris lounges, although it's believed that in some cases – including San Francisco – a larger and more centrally-located United Club will be "Polaris'd" while the old first lounge is converted into a United Club.
Polaris lounges will also be the exclusive domain of business class travellers on United and its Star Alliance partners, with top-tier frequent flyers booked into economy relegated to the United Club.
While many airlines have been winding back on first class, United is among the first to abandon its most-premium cabin.
Competitor American Airlines offers international first class only on its Boeing 777-300ER fleet and some 777-200 jets which have not yet been refurbished with the airline's own new business class seats.
And while Delta Air Lines tops out at business class, its next-generation seats – slated to debut on the Airbus A350 from late 2017 – edge closer to first class suites with sliding doors to turn the seat into a private cocoon.
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