United pauses Polaris business class refurbishments, lounge openings
United joins many other airlines in putting a stopper in capital expenditure to conserve cash while waiting out the coronavirus.
United Airlines is hitting the brakes on the rollout of its signature Polaris business class seatto its existing fleet and postponing the opening of new Polaris lounges, in line with a similar hard stop to investment by airlines around the world.
A spokesperson for United Airlines confirmed to Executive Traveller that "remaining Polaris retrofits (have) been paused". This roster currently includes a handful of United's Boeing 777-200ER jets plus most of the Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners, which the airline previously aimed to all be reconfigured by early 2021.
However, the spokesman said that "around 80%" of the airline's international fleet now sports the Polaris seat, either as a factory-install on new deliveries or an upgrade to older jets.
With United's Boeing 777s now put into hibernation, the smaller and more efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners are acting as the workhorse of the airline's international fleet, darting to a very limited network of destinations worldwide.
United continues to fly Sydney-San Francisco on a regular basis, although it's currently served by an older Boeing 787-9 without Polaris business class seats.
ET Review: United Polaris business class flight, Sydney-San Francisco
International Polaris lounges also on hold
The coronavirus pandemic has also forced United to push back on plans for its Polaris lounges, beginning with the almost-ready lounge at Washington Dulles Airport, which the spokesperson said had "reached substantial completion of construction."
The upscale but also exclusive business class-only lounges – frequent flyers in economy aren't allowed through the froster doors – are found in Chicago O’Hare, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, New York/Newark and San Francisco, but have all been shut since late March 2020. When they re-open Washington Dulles is likely to be close behind, with the United spokesperson saying the airline is now "evaluating the opening of the lounge."
However, the next wave in Polaris lounges – at United's key international destinations of London, Hong Kong and Tokyo – is now looking like a project for 2021, as part of what the United spokesperson called "a larger remobilization plan for our lounge facilities globally."
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