United A321XLRs Getting New Polaris Seats, Premium Plus

United A321XLRs Getting New Polaris Seats, Premium Plus

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In December 2019, United Airlines placed an order for 50 A321XLRs, which is Airbus’ new ultra long range and fuel efficient evolution of the A321. The plane is expected to enter service in 2024, though United will likely only start to take delivery of the plane in 2025 and beyond, so we still have a bit of a wait.

In this post I wanted to take an updated look at what we can expect from United’s A321XLR cabins, as United’s new narrow body business class seats have (sort of) just been revealed. Note that this is all separate from United’s order for 70 Airbus A321neos, which are joining the fleet as of late 2023.

What to expect from United’s A321XLR cabins

Before we talk about cabins, let’s talk about United’s route plans for A321XLRs:

  • United will primarily fly A321XLRs across the North Atlantic and to Latin America, so you can expect the planes to largely be on “long and thin” routes, like Newark to Bogota and Edinburgh
  • United will not only use A321XLRs to replace Boeing 757-200s, but also to expand to some markets where the economics didn’t previously make sense, given that the A321XLR is more fuel efficient and longer range than the 757

As far as the onboard product goes, what should we expect? Here’s what we know for sure:

  • United will introduce an all new Polaris business class seat for the A321XLR, since the current Polaris seat can’t be installed on narrow body aircraft
  • United will be installing Premium Plus premium economy on the A321XLR, which you’ll otherwise only find on wide body aircraft
United Premium Plus on the Boeing 767-300

You can generally expect that full service airlines will be configuring A321XLRs in a fairly premium layout, since that’s how the economics most make sense for long haul service. I’d expect the seat counts on these planes for airlines that take this approach to be much closer to 150 than 200.

United’s new A321XLR business class seat

Seth Miller flags the patent that United has filed for its new narrow body business class seat. It would appear that United has elected to go with a herringbone configuration on its Airbus A321XLRs.

United’s new A321XLR Polaris business class cabin
United’s new A321XLR Polaris business class seat

Not surprisingly, United is trying to make this configuration as efficient and dense as possible, with seats facing the aisle at a 49 degree angle. These seats can be installed with just 28″ of pitch, while still offering a bed length of 75-78″. The seat map suggests there will be 28 Polaris business class seats, which would make for a huge business class cabin.

Furthermore, to save space, the seats will offer a “space-sharing region,” whereby part of the area between seats will give a person on one side space at shoulder level, and a person on the other side space at the lower arm level. While the paten’t doesn’t mention it, United does plan on installing doors on its A321XLR business class.

Seth Miller also points out while it hasn’t been announced, everything is pointing to United having selected the Adient Altitude seat as its new narrow body business class. Based on United getting the patent for this seat, it also sounds like United will be the only airline to have this exact product, unless it licenses it out.

Adient Altitude seat, probably United’s new A321XLR product

Ultimately for a narrow body business class, United’s new product looks totally fine, but it shouldn’t get anyone excited. I understand why United chose a product like this, but it’s kind of unfortunate how we’re seeing the return of herringbone seats, which are otherwise quite outdated on wide body planes.

Based on current products in service, United’s new Polaris business class looks most similar to JetBlue’s Mint business class, available primarily on Airbus A321LRs. However, United has figured out a way to achieve an even denser configuration.

JetBlue A321LR cabin

So far, the best business class product we’ve seen announced for narrow body aircraft is probably the STELIA OPERA seat, which is custom-made for the A321XLR, as it’s produced by a subsidiary of Airbus. This is essentially a modified reverse herringbone seat with a door. This looks great, especially for a narrow body aircraft.

STELIA OPERA narrow body business class seat

Seat manufacturer Safran has the VUE product, which is also specifically designed for narrow body aircraft, including the Boeing 737 MAX. FlyDubai will be the launch customer for this product.

Safran VUE narrow body business class seat
Safran VUE narrow body business class seat

On the plus side, I’d say all of these concepts are better than the staggered business class seats you’ll find on many Airbus A321LRs, including those of Aer Lingus, TAP Air Portugal, and Scandinavian Airlines. The lack of direct aisle access frustrates many, given how long some of the flights on these planes are.

Aer Lingus A321LR business class cabin

American has similar plans for its A321XLRs

American Airlines was the first major US carrier to order the Airbus A321XLR, as the airline has also ordered 50, which will be delivered starting in 2024.

Much like United, American plans to install a business class product with fully flat seats and direct aisle access, plus a premium economy cabin. Arguably American has much more of an immediate need for these planes than United does, given that American retired its entire Boeing 757 and 767 fleet during the pandemic.

American’s smallest long haul aircraft is the Boeing 787, and that means there are many long haul markets that American can’t currently serve.

American Airlines also has 50 A321XLRs on order

American Airlines has already revealed its new A321XLR cabins. American intends to configure its A321XLRs in a three-cabin layout, with business class, premium economy, and economy. In business class, the planes will have herringbone seats, so they’ll be quite similar to those on JetBlue and United.

New American business class cabin Airbus A321XLR
New American business class seat Airbus A321XLR

Premium economy will be in a 2-2 configuration, and will be quite similar to domestic first class.

New American premium economy cabin Airbus A321XLR
New American premium economy seats Airbus A321XLR

Bottom line

In a couple of years, United Airlines is expected to start taking delivery of Airbus A321XLR aircraft, which should feature a good inflight product, at least for a narrow body. United’s A321XLRs are expected to be in a premium configuration, featuring new Polaris business class seats with direct aisle access and doors, as well as a Premium Plus premium economy cabin.

Unfortunately what we know so far about the new Polaris business class cabins is at the lower end of my expectations. The airline intends to install quite dense herringbone seats on these planes. I’d expect this to be even denser than JetBlue Mint, and unfortunately the airline didn’t elect to go with reverse herringbone seats.

What do you make of United’s upcoming Airbus A321XLRs?

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  1. Richard B… Guest

    I don’t understand. United claims the new NB Polaris lie-flat seat will “stun the competition”…how so? What’s different and better?
    Just looking at the layout, they look extremely tight and with no flat surface. What’s that I read about one pax gets a shoulder and the other an arm?
    Will the seat be styled to match the design of the WB Polaris seat? THANKS!

  2. Kiwi Guest

    I have a significant preference for Herringbone over reverse herringbone. I cannot stand trying to sleep while my size 13 feet crammed in a tiny whole in the seat

  3. IrishAlan Diamond

    I’d argue that if you can get the huge 1-1 throne seats in EI’s A321neo that it’s probably the best narrow body J seat out there. I will concede that if you end up in the 2-2 rows it seems a lot less premium and tight.

    I’d take that throne seat over a herringbone seat every single time.

  4. Hank Tarn Guest

    What is wrong with Max 10s and 787s. Another company like Delta buying European through greed. Another to avoid.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      whether you missed it or not, Boeing has had repeated groundings and delivery delays on every product in its lineup while Airbus has delivered its products much closer to on-time with supply chain delays - which A and B are both facing - now the source of delays.

      And the whole reason why Delta chose Airbus over Boeing was because the engine manufacturers (Rolls-Royce on the widebodies, Pratt and Whitney on the narrowbodies) gave Delta...

      whether you missed it or not, Boeing has had repeated groundings and delivery delays on every product in its lineup while Airbus has delivered its products much closer to on-time with supply chain delays - which A and B are both facing - now the source of delays.

      And the whole reason why Delta chose Airbus over Boeing was because the engine manufacturers (Rolls-Royce on the widebodies, Pratt and Whitney on the narrowbodies) gave Delta exclusive engine overhaul rights for a number of aircraft.
      General Electric has now granted those to Delta for the MAX which is why Delta has ordered the MAX 10 and GE and Boeing are both dangling very good deals in front of Delta including for engine overhaul rights that would then give Delta overhaul rights on every aircraft that is in service except for the A350-1000.
      And it is precisely because of Rolls' refusal to grant those rights that DL is considering other alternatives including a smaller A350-1000 order now, a potential 787 order, and then potentially revisiting the A350 after Rolls' exclusivity ends in 2030 when GE can bid to put engines on that airframe.

      Delta is simply the best negotiator w/ the best financials of any airline in the world.
      and Delta is making money fixing other airlines' engines including warranty work on Rolls Royce and now Pratt new generation engines.

    2. Hank Tarn Guest

      Thank you Mr Dunn,

      That was genuinely useful and informative.

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      thank you. Glad to provide the perspective.

      And to be clear, Boeing and GE are dangling great deals including engine overhaul rights in front of Delta for the 787 powered by GE engines. Delta hasn't made a decision but seems to be leaning to a smaller order for the A350-1000 than originally planned largely because the A350-1000 is so much more capable and larger than any 787 or even the 777-9 (the latest version of...

      thank you. Glad to provide the perspective.

      And to be clear, Boeing and GE are dangling great deals including engine overhaul rights in front of Delta for the 787 powered by GE engines. Delta hasn't made a decision but seems to be leaning to a smaller order for the A350-1000 than originally planned largely because the A350-1000 is so much more capable and larger than any 787 or even the 777-9 (the latest version of the 777 which is SUPPOSED to enter service in 2 years).
      Air France and KLM are also considering a large widebody order and are doing the same exercise as Delta. both operate large maintenance operations including servicing other airlines' engines. They are following Delta's lead and will likely consider engine maintenance deals as part of the contract.

      AA used to have the Rolls-Royce engine maintenance contract but did not renew it; Delta got the deal for new generation Rolls engines because it bought those engines for its own fleet

  5. Jason Gordon Guest

    This is dreadful.

    I absolutely abhor herringbone seats as it forces you to look at people when you’re trying to maintain privacy. I experienced enough of this when Air Canada had seats like these - but the eventuality wised up and reconfigured J class to reverse herringbone.

    Looks like I’ll need to move my loyalty back to American (or Delta) in a couple of years. I simply cannot fly in those seats.

    1. Gary Guest

      Same, these are basically Air New Zealand seats. Horrifying that the blogosphere is largely praising these.

    2. Mark Guest

      Aren’t these better than previous generations of herringbone seats? They seem more recessed and private, before even taking into account the doors that will be installed.

    3. shza Gold

      I don't love these, but the doors solve the privacy concern.

  6. regularreader Guest

    It's worth diving into some of the less discussed reasons these configs are problematic. They have MASSIVE accessibility issues. Reverse herringbone seats are much closer to the aisle, often right against it. It is much easier to enter those seats with mobility issues.

    These are next to impossible. I don't know how someone with mobility issues could even hope to get out in an evacuation, and based on some reporting I'm shocked they were even...

    It's worth diving into some of the less discussed reasons these configs are problematic. They have MASSIVE accessibility issues. Reverse herringbone seats are much closer to the aisle, often right against it. It is much easier to enter those seats with mobility issues.

    These are next to impossible. I don't know how someone with mobility issues could even hope to get out in an evacuation, and based on some reporting I'm shocked they were even certified.

    https://wheelchairtravel.org/review-jetblue-mint-suite-not-wheelchair-accessible/

    1. Paul Gold

      That's a good point. Thanks for sharing this issue.

  7. Bricktop Guest

    No way I fly in that. I actually hurt myself on VS trying to shuffle back on that godawful seat.

    1. Mark Guest

      You hurt yourself getting into a seat?

    2. Kane Guest

      Same kind of person who drinks water too hard and hurts themselves.

  8. JetSetFly Guest

    I’m sure they are using herringbone seats because you can squeeze more seats in. If I have to choose between every business class seat have direct aisle access or 2-2 configuration, herringbone wins every time. Sure, reverse herringbone is better. United is just going with what makes sense for them economically. Now if other US2 are using reverse herringbone and United is the only one using herringbone and they have similar routes with same plane,...

    I’m sure they are using herringbone seats because you can squeeze more seats in. If I have to choose between every business class seat have direct aisle access or 2-2 configuration, herringbone wins every time. Sure, reverse herringbone is better. United is just going with what makes sense for them economically. Now if other US2 are using reverse herringbone and United is the only one using herringbone and they have similar routes with same plane, then people are going to choose reverse seats for sure. But I’m guessing United is deploying these planes on routes that have less competition.

  9. Dick Bupkiss Guest

    Nobody wants to sit staring into the aisle, nobody. Everyone wants to see outside. I've got the solution...

    Doors. But not just ordinary doors. The doors will have large video screens entirely covering them, and the video you see will be the real world that you WOULD see, if you could see out the window behind your head – it will be displayed on the inside of your door. They can then eliminate the real...

    Nobody wants to sit staring into the aisle, nobody. Everyone wants to see outside. I've got the solution...

    Doors. But not just ordinary doors. The doors will have large video screens entirely covering them, and the video you see will be the real world that you WOULD see, if you could see out the window behind your head – it will be displayed on the inside of your door. They can then eliminate the real windows entirely, saving significant costs (and ending forever the argument over who controls the window shade).

    Everybody wins!

  10. Randy Diamond

    AA's J product on all its aircraft if much better than any Polaris.

    1. IrishAlan Diamond

      Have you flown AA’s Zodiac seats on the 777-200 that alternate facing forward and backward? The fact that you feel every movement of the passenger that is connected to you in the row in front and or behind feels like being on a see-saw. I’d take any UA J seat over those.

  11. JamesW Guest

    For anyone wondering why they're going with herringbone:

    It's about space savings. A reverse-herringbone configuration requires several inches or more of space beside the seat for a passenger to get into and out of the seat. They need that "pivot" space, which eats up precious cabin area. Herringbone seats, on the other hand, don't require that space on the side of the seat for entry and exit. You can step backward into the pod, and...

    For anyone wondering why they're going with herringbone:

    It's about space savings. A reverse-herringbone configuration requires several inches or more of space beside the seat for a passenger to get into and out of the seat. They need that "pivot" space, which eats up precious cabin area. Herringbone seats, on the other hand, don't require that space on the side of the seat for entry and exit. You can step backward into the pod, and sit directly onto the seat. This allows them to eliminate the "pivot" space on the side and cram more seats into the cabin.

    Look at these patent drawings. The Polaris pod is scarcely wider than the seat. It's worse than AA's yin-yang coffin seats. It's space savings and revenue squeezing, nothing more. They did this artfully when they crammed in seats for widebody Polaris, but this version is going to be tight for people - even with a door.

    1. Chris W Guest

      Yes but they are putting in a new product people are already saying they will avoid.

      Say this herringbone config allows them to fit 8 rows in the space where a reverse herringbone could only for 7 rows. You might think "that's a smart business move because that's who extra J pax per flight".

      I'll bet more than 2 J pax per flight leave it thinking "I won't be booking that product again".

      Sure they...

      Yes but they are putting in a new product people are already saying they will avoid.

      Say this herringbone config allows them to fit 8 rows in the space where a reverse herringbone could only for 7 rows. You might think "that's a smart business move because that's who extra J pax per flight".

      I'll bet more than 2 J pax per flight leave it thinking "I won't be booking that product again".

      Sure they might have to charge a little more than for the 7 rows of reverse herringbone per seat than the 8 rows of herringbone but it sure is an easier product to market. Look at those here saying they actively avoid VS and NZ because of their awful herringbone seats!

    2. Richard Guest

      It's not 7 vs 8

      It's 4 vs 5.

      20% more.

      If reverse herringbone tickets sell for 20% more then herringbone, it's a good deal.

      Otherwise 20% more seats is better.

  12. Kevin Guest

    Dear god … why? This configuration is why I only flew once with VS or Air NZ!

  13. Lukas Guest

    I don’t really get it - why are so many airlines picking outdated herringbone seats instead of the reverse herringbone seats highlighted in the post? Are the herringbone seats somehow denser, or what?

    1. Chris Guest

      Maybe I'm missing something, but what makes reverse herringbone better? Not trying to be "smart", but I generally have no idea why one is preferred.

    2. Chris W Guest

      Because reverse herringbone seats face the windows, and not the aisle on a narrow body. Which would you rather stare at for 8 hours?

    3. anvill Guest

      Well the airline probably chose this seat for a denser configuration. Most narrowbody reverse herringbone seats are advertised as 38 inches of pitch (the narrowest is the Unum One which if adopted can reach 34 inches). The Thompson Vantage Solo (the seat JetBlue uses on their premium A321neos) is advertised as 33 inches and this seat even looks denser than that

  14. RF Diamond

    Why does UA keep doing the bare minimum? This seat isn't competitive. Reverse herringbone please.

  15. MaxPower Diamond

    “ like Newark to Bogota ”

    Someone smarter can correct me, but I kind of doubt an xlr will be able to take off out of Bogota, especially with the extra fuel the xlr will have

    1. Jordan Diamond

      EWR-BOG is around 2500 miles. The A321 XLR can more than handle BOG on medium sectors to the USA. Regular A320s and A321s fly BOG to Southern South America daily.

    2. MaxPower Diamond

      My comment has nothing to do with the length of the route.
      Perhaps know something about bogota airport before commenting

    3. stogieguy7 Diamond

      Even with Bogota's altitude (8,660'), the XLR will have more than enough range for a nonstop to/from EWR. Heck, this model is able to do EWR-GRU nonstop - though that's getting close to the edge of its range.

    4. MaxPower Diamond

      Not a range issue. It’s getting 1. Any a321 off the ground in bogota with enough clearance in the surrounding mountains. I’m sure one may sneak in here and there but if you look at bogota airport on Flightradar24, for example, you won’t find many a321s going in or out, just a319 or a320 for the most part.
      2. An a321xlr that’s even heavier with extra fuel generating enough lift at that altitude with...

      Not a range issue. It’s getting 1. Any a321 off the ground in bogota with enough clearance in the surrounding mountains. I’m sure one may sneak in here and there but if you look at bogota airport on Flightradar24, for example, you won’t find many a321s going in or out, just a319 or a320 for the most part.
      2. An a321xlr that’s even heavier with extra fuel generating enough lift at that altitude with that much weight and still enough power to Maneuver around the mountains safely. I believe it’s the one engine out safety issue but I’m not a pilot.

      Bogota has more than enough demand today for an a321neo or a321ceo to fly in and out but there’s a reason you don’t seem them in bogota very often. The planes can take off but not with a full weight
      The plane certainly has no issue from a range perspective, just taking off out of bogota.

  16. Roberto Guest

    Coffin Class is returning

    https://runwaygirlnetwork.com/2023/07/coffin-class-new-inward-facing-herringbone/

    Anyone remember the old CX Coffin Business Class or still around the VS Coffin Upper Class

  17. Matthew Guest

    A united global service member on FB said it looked like a Roman Slave gallery

  18. Paul Gold

    Is that tiny triangle the ottoman? I agree the STELIA OPERA seat looks much better.

  19. Chris W Guest

    I don't understand why these seats can't face the windows rather than the aisle?

    No passenger wants to face the aisle on a long flight.

    1. Michael Guest

      I'm guessing the foot cubbie you need for a reverse herringbone might limit the angle you can use more than you can cram into a herringbone. Herringbone seats do seem to be angled more than reverses.

    2. Joe D Guest

      Most Long flights, the window shades are closed or it's dark outside.... People in center sections on widebodies have NO windows.... so, not sure what this window obsession is about.

  20. Jenny Guest

    I love the Jetblue seat, the layout is far better than the normal widebodys where you have so sit at the aisles and can on see the horizon out the window. Good on JetBlue > market leader. I have been flying JetBlue maybe 2x years now and all the competition can do is to copy the layout by tweaking a few colours/shapes/styles.

    I rather be beside the window looking to the ground and horizon...

    I love the Jetblue seat, the layout is far better than the normal widebodys where you have so sit at the aisles and can on see the horizon out the window. Good on JetBlue > market leader. I have been flying JetBlue maybe 2x years now and all the competition can do is to copy the layout by tweaking a few colours/shapes/styles.

    I rather be beside the window looking to the ground and horizon than sitting with my back to the aisle working or snoozing as peoples hands all hold onto the top of the seat as they move past.

    1. Loveto Fly Guest

      You do realize jetBlue didn't invent the reverse herringbone lie flat seat. They are no more a market leader than United. The herringbone seat is the only seat that will fit on this aircraft where all passengers in business class have access to the aisle.

  21. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Delta is also supposed to reveal its A321NEO lie flat cabin configuration which will include Delta One, Premium Select, Comfort + and regular economy.

    There will be a lot of bloggers posting results from test flights to try all of these new products in the next couple years.

    I doubt that too many airlines will copy the "shared space" concept that UA is proposing.

  22. Matt Guest

    What's wrong with a herringbone configuration on a narrow body? You don't have the same privacy concerns as a wide body and I'd rather be closer to the window. You're further removed from the aisle traffic as well.

    1. Grey Diamond

      I don't like them because it feels like you are just in a long massive row and all staring at each other. And the window is behind you, so you don't get to make use of it.

    2. Matt Guest

      The door should take care of the privacy concerns. As for the window, to each their own I guess, but I'd rather look over my shoulder to get a good view than only catch a glimpse of the clouds from across the pod.

    3. Phillip Diamond

      I like being close to the window too but it’s literally a pain in the neck trying to look out of it at the angle that herringbone seats are!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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JetSetFly Guest

I’m sure they are using herringbone seats because you can squeeze more seats in. If I have to choose between every business class seat have direct aisle access or 2-2 configuration, herringbone wins every time. Sure, reverse herringbone is better. United is just going with what makes sense for them economically. Now if other US2 are using reverse herringbone and United is the only one using herringbone and they have similar routes with same plane, then people are going to choose reverse seats for sure. But I’m guessing United is deploying these planes on routes that have less competition.

1
Randy Diamond

AA's J product on all its aircraft if much better than any Polaris.

1
Lukas Guest

I don’t really get it - why are so many airlines picking outdated herringbone seats instead of the reverse herringbone seats highlighted in the post? Are the herringbone seats somehow denser, or what?

1
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