United Airlines has begun installing its Polaris business class onto the airline's fleet of Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners, with the first of the twelve original 787-8 jets now going under the knife and a 787-9 lining up behind it.
The rolling retrofit will swap the Dreamliners' original 2-2-2 business class seats for the privacy, direct aisle access and superior design and comfort of the Polaris seats.
"The -8 and -9 fleets will be reconfigured concurrently," United AIrlines spokesman Koji Nagata tells Executive Traveller, although "the -8 fleet will be completed first. We expect to have all 787s reconfigured with the new Polaris cabin by Q1, 2021."
Nagata adds that "some reconfigurations will be accomplished during regularly scheduled checks, and others will be done during a standalone visit."
According to seatmaps sighted by Executive Traveller, the Polaris'd Boeing 787-8s will see the business class cabin shrink from 36 seats to 28, along with the addition of a 21-seat premium economy cabin of United's Premium Plus seats.
The larger Boeing 787-9 keeps its current count of 48 business class seats in Polaris-mode, followed again by 21 Premium Plus seats.
United has given no indications of which routes will be first to see the upgraded Dreamliners. According to Nagata, "The Polaris configured aircrafts will not be allocated to a specific route, however it will rotate throughout the network until all conversions are complete."
The Sydney-San Francisco route will get a taste of the Polaris experience from December 2019 to March 2020, when the peak summer schedule will see United switch this popular trans-Pacific route from a Boeing 787-9 to a Boeing 777-300ER.
The biggest brother of the Dreamliner family – the factory-fresh Boeing 787-10 – arrives into United's hangars with the Polaris seats already installed, as will 13 additional Boeing 787-9s slated for arrival from 2020.
The 787-10s already feature on flagship domestic routes from New York/Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco, delivering what is arguably the best experience for the business travellers making the six hour cross-country trek.
In September this year, United switched over all five of its daily flights between New York and London to Polaris-grade Boeing 767-300ER jets fitted with an expanded 46-seat business class cabin, up from 30 in the Star Alliance member's standard Boeing 767-300ER aircraft.
“New York to London Heathrow is the largest premium market in the world,” explains Patrick Quayle, United Airlines' Vice President International Planning. "We’ve now improved the product. We have lie-flats. The number of seats has exponentially improved,” he says. “What we’re trying to attract is the businesswoman and businessman."
This premium-heavy play not only increases capacity and makes United more competitive on the hotly-contested route, it also unlocks a greater chance of upgrades for frequent flyers.
"Our corporate travelers like to have the last-minute availability and have the ability to upgrade if they want to," Quayle explains. "This configuration allows that."
United will upgrade its Chicago-Heathrow flights to the same 46 Polaris-seat Boeing 767-300ERs from November 15, 2019.