Official: United Phasing Out International First Class

Filed Under: United

Earlier I wrote about United introducing a new business class product, which they’re calling United Polaris.


They’re not just introducing a new business class seat, but are also improving the onboard service, introducing new lounges, etc.

This is a huge upgrade for United, given that they’ve really been lagging behind American and Delta when it comes to introducing a new business class seat. Many of United’s 777s, along with their 747s, have eight across seating in business class. That’s insanely tight.

United’s current business class product

In a way there has been merit to their international first class product because of how tight their business class product is. While the soft product might only be a marginal improvement over business class, the space offered by their first class suite was significantly better.

United’s current first class product

It’s no secret that United has wanted to eliminate their international first class for a long time, and switch to a two cabin model. United’s ousted CEO, Jeff Smisek, made reference to it several times.

However, it’s not something which has ever been explicitly stated by the company… until now.

Buried deep in the FAQs United released with the introduction of their new business class product, they explicitly said they’ll be phasing out international first class:

Will there be changes to United Global First?

In December 2016, when United Global First becomes United Polaris Global First, travelers will see enhancements to amenities, dining and service that will improve the overall travel experience. In addition to receiving the higher-quality United Polaris amenities, United Polaris Global First will still have the elevated amenities and specialized attention you’ve come to expect from our international first class service. As we update our fleet over the next several years to incorporate our signature United Polaris direct-aisle-access seating, we will be phasing out the first class cabin and moving toward a two-cabin experience for international travel.

So United will completely be phasing out international first class in the coming years.

The 747s will be retired, so presumably they won’t receive the new business class product, and also won’t have first class removed. However, as the 767s and 777s are reconfigured, first class will be removed as the new business class seats are installed.

It’s no surprise that United is finally eliminating international first class, as it’s a natural progression when all seats feature direct aisle access.

As far as their competitors go, Delta doesn’t have an international first class cabin, and American is reconfiguring their entire longhaul fleet, where long term only the 777-300ER will feature first class.

American 777-300ER first class cabin

American is finally investing in their soft product in first class, or else there really wouldn’t be much of a difference.

American-First-Class-Sydney - 3
American is slowly but surely improving their international first class product

What do you make of United eliminating Global First?

  1. Both Smisek and Rainey said in public interviews that they were getting rid of First Class.

    How much more explicit could it be?

  2. Makes sense to me. But how long, realistically, is it going to take to re-fit the whole fleet?

  3. “…Global First will still have the elevated amenities and specialized attention you’ve come to expect from our international first class service.”

    AAAAaaa haaaaaaaa ha ha ha HAAAAAaAAaA!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve expected nothing and received less than that in UA first for 25+ years now.

    I sort of figured they were going to get rid of first when I saw the Polaris post earlier today…

  4. I’m sad to see it go. Investing would be required, but I get very tired of two cabin planes.

  5. Lucky, united said “United Polaris business class will replace United BusinessFirst on international flights, and United Polaris Global First will replace United Global First service. ”

    Is there a difference between Polaris biz and Polaris first??

  6. I wouldn’t necessarily say that United has lagged behind AA in the business class department. AA still has a significant amount of planes without Lat flat seating. Sure their 777-300 biz is good and the retrofitted planes are ok but they are still working on rolling out lay flat seating. Ild rather take UA in 2-4-2 then AA in 2-3-3 angled flat.


  7. And the price of Business Class award tickets in miles will be likely be the current First Class price or more by the time this change is made.

  8. No loss to the world. UA has a pretty awful product, and booking premium class awards with them is a total joke. If you have a UA Chase card, the benefits of that card clearly state that ANY available seat on the plane can be redeemed for a standard award. However, we were on the phone with UA yesterday and they claimed that there were no award seats available (we are flexible in dates and airports) for all of December for Cologne or Hamburg. Yet, there were many seats available for purchase. When we informed our overly pleasant agent of the rule on the Chase card, she said, “well, if you INSIST I can look again but it takes approval from a manager” (and of course none were available). Gee, what a craba$$. I am thinking about selling my UA miles. They suk.

  9. What will they be doing about the 757-200 internationals? I’m guessing that these Polaris lounges are going to be where the Global First Lounges were because the location they are describing of where it will be is where the global first lounge is at ORD

  10. I never choose an American airline when flying international. They are all terrible. United can do whatever but they won’t have me as customer.

  11. I’m more surprised it took them this long to get rid of it. UA hasn’t really cared much (read: at all) about trying to even maintain the notion that they offer an even remotely competitive int’l F product in years. Maybe decades. I almost find it silly that they waited until this not-really-benchmark-setting, kind of sub-par J product was “announced” to really formalize the plan. It’s almost like UA prides themselves on being woefully behind the power curve.

    I think Oscar is doing great things for the the airline – or at least benefiting from projects in the works before he came on-board – but UA has a long, long, LONG way to go before they’re more than a shitty airline among two other shitty airlines in a highly-competitive global market.

    And, while we’re bashing UA, let’s remember to dwell on the unionized skyhags that plague their planes, decent hardproduct or otherwise. A 6’6” bed only gets you so much when Mabel is being a bitch because she’s way past her prime and really couldn’t care less about a drink refill…because she’s “here for your safety.”

    TLDR: Too little too late…not enough lipstick for this pig…UA still sucks.

  12. @Chris where are you flying from ? I searched NYC-HAM and in december half the dates have saver econ or biz availability!

  13. Of course the CO BF product was different than UA’s Business. I suspect UA will redo the legacy UA Business products first.

  14. i thought ua first is just biz with soup… like linda said… i’ll skip any us airline when there’s a choice. i’m no masochist.

  15. When business class is good, there’s no real need for first class – unless it’s something truly amazing like Etihad, Emirates, Cathay, Singapore, etc. So to me it makes sense for United to phase out first class unless they were to invest in it heavily – which we know was never going to happen.

    So this leaves AA as the only US-based airline offering a first class cabin, right? That strikes me as newsworthy. It makes sense from a business perspective, but it’s a little sad to see US airlines basically giving up on being seen as global leaders in quality. I guess they’ve all accepted the fact they’ll never be a “prestige” airline and will merely try to compete on price and convenience.

  16. Thank god they are officially terminating their first class which is a total embarrassment. Can’t recall any other carrier that serves champagne in first class in plastic cups. Talk about classy.

  17. “I get very tired of two cabin planes” might be the biggest #firstworldproblem of all time.

  18. The problem with getting one’s information from a single source, especially when that source is clearly biased (@Lucky is an AA fanboy and a persona non grata at UA) is that one’s information does not update in “real time” or often enough, leading one to make outdated or outright false claims.

    Since $Smi$ek was canned and Munoz took over, UA has dramatically stepped up their game, but you would not know it if you get all your travel news and information from this site or from Gary Leff’s VFTW blog. They are both AA fanboys who tend to understate the other major US airlines’ accomplishments, while generally overstating AA’s, no matter how insignificant (it’s sort of like how they tout HGP and SPG, while understating other hotel programs, even though these may generally be more stable, mature and rewarding).

    Case in point: Neither this site nor VFTW reported on what’s truly a great promo that UA recently launched under the banner:

    United Airlines MileagePlus
    “Change Is In The Air”
    Personalized Bonus Miles Promotion
    May 25 – November 30, 2016

    It is a targeted 6-month promo in which members receive EXTRA redeemable miles upon on reaching 3 separate spending milestones, and, in most cases, the milestones were tailored to match a members; flying patterns, thereby making them relatively easy to reach.

    Here are sample milestones and associated earnings that have been reported:

    Milestone 1: spend $500 and earn 10,000 bonus award miles
    Milestone 2: spend $1,000 total and earn 15,000 more award miles
    Milestone 3: spend $2,500 total and earn 25,000 more award miles

    Milestone 1: spend $2,500 and earn 10,000 bonus award miles
    Milestone 2: spend $3,000 total and earn 15,000 more award miles
    Milestone 3: spend $4,500 total and earn 25,000 more award miles

    Milestone 1: spend $3,000 and earn 15,000 bonus award miles
    Milestone 2: spend $4,000 total and earn 22,000 more award miles
    Milestone 3: spend $5,500 total and earn 36,000 more award miles

    4) Mine (total after reaching all 3 milestones: 87,000 award miles):
    Milestone 1: spend $8,000 and earn 18,000 bonus award miles
    Milestone 2: spend $9,000 total and earn 26,000 more award miles
    Milestone 3: spend $11,500 total and earn 43,000 more award miles

    The preceding should be give a sense of how members were targeted. For me, I got targeted for more miles at higher spend because I travel almost exclusively internationally (e.g., I am flying out to ICN in a month after returning from SIN a couple of weeks ago), so that I will be able to meet at least the first 2 milestones by end of November without trying too hard.

    And why is this promo so great? Because (a) the targeting was based on what United anticipated a member would spend during the promo period and it is thus afford; and, importantly, (b) it is designed to get back some of the redeemable miles that members lost when UA switched over to the revenue system. How so? Because the money spent during the promo still counts as premier qualifying dollars (PQD), so that one is spending money that one would have spent anyway to requalify status but getting redeemable miles that one would not have gotten without the promo. Long-haul travelers on non-premium tickets (like me) got hit the hardest with the switch over to the revenue system, so it seems that my fairly lucrative offer was tailored to make up for that huge hit.

    Bottom line: Oscar Munoz deserves a lot of credit for working hard to try to undo the YUGE damage that $Smi$ek did to UA when he mindlessly kept copying DL blow for blow. This promo is another yuge step in the right direction but you would not know it based on the negative UNINFORMED comments above about how UA is the pits…


  19. A bit of clarification about my long post above. It is not in response to @Luckly’s post, which is overall a very good item. I simply got tired comments like this one by his readers or others:

    “TLDR: Too little too late…not enough lipstick for this pig…UA still sucks.”

    UA did suck, especially after the merger, but they now have visionary CEO who is trying to undo the damage. Get informed about the progress that has been instead of spewing outdated, stereotypical claims that no longer quite reflect reality.

  20. So…they’re going to be upgrading their FC even though they’ll be phasing it out in the long term? Er, ok.

  21. You mean I have to continue to buy First Class on Singapore airlines, Qatar and Emirates. Maybe toss in ANA or JAL. God what will I do with out United First? This is a major let down. I may not sleep tonight because of your story.

  22. Well,

    The problem with UA F is that they talk about it being some kind of a super premium product, but when you experience it, you are left to feel that they actually do not give a shit. I’ve been on award seats several times and always, always, have built myself up for a fantastic experience, and always, always left the plane so disappointed that I would have been more satisfied if I had sat in Y expecting Y class experience.

    UA F is nice, but their biggest problem is that they do not live up to expectations. If they really cannot live up to the expectations they encourage, they really should scrap the product.

    Polaris seems most promising and to provide solid C experience which is in many respects superior to UA F. On balance, the candor involved in saying they cannot satisfy the F market’s expectations and enhancing C is most encouraging.

  23. @DCS:

    Lucky and Gary sing AA’s praises because it was way ahead of United. Just as Delta was before them. You sound just as much a United fanboy as you accuse them of being AA fanboys. And all your pseudo-apologetic extra comments “clarifying” Don’t prevent you from coming off as any more smog than they are, just for the other side.

    And United does suck. They tried to pass off a premium product is anything more then and over hyped business class…FOR YEARS. A business class they didn’t even have on their own airline as their ACTUAL J product was terrible, and was only complemented by an even worse soft product. So the leaps and bounds they are making with this new business class is just bringing them up to a New normal. It’s nothing new, exciting, or earth shattering. It is just something new for them, that is now already several years old in actuality.

    Basically, quit trying to make United happen. It’s not gonna happen.

  24. They should be ashamed to call that crap first class. It is about time for US airlines to retire that joke that they charge over $15k and dare to compare to the first classes of Emirates, Etihad, Cathay, Singapore, etc… I give kudos to Delta for figuring out they could not compete in that segment and just did not offer that option in their flights.

  25. Hey Guys

    I would like your advice, a few months back when Star alliance and sky team were in their usual price war dance I was able to get the family from AMS to IAD in biz in August return for about 1200 USD. Not that I have ever been a fan of United but for that price in the peak of the summer I couldn’t say no.

    Anyways I’ve never really been keen to fly United first (767-300) but now I’m thinking if it will go maybe it’s worth transferring some of my Chase points (20k plus 550usd) to give it a try. I’ve seen a few blogs here and there and the general word seems to be better seat similar food (between biz and first) with only a small soft product advantages.

    I wanted to get your view and I better off saving the 20k Chase MR or going. For the upgrade? Would love any input that helps me to figure it out. Maybe since they are going to kill first it’s a reason to reconsider it. I dunno what does lucky and the experts who read his blog think?

  26. @Adam — You missed the point. The targeted UA promo I described is so huge it is a dereliction of duty for anyone claiming to be in the business of bringing the best in travel to their readers to completely ignore it. The bias is clear.

    As for AA being way ahead of UA, that’s highly subjective. I think of flying as just transportation so that I have never cared much about the quality of hard product as long as I got to buy Y tickets and get upgraded to J on longhaul-flights, which I have had a great record achieving as a UA 1K. So far this year I am perfect for clearing GPUs on TPAC segments. I am not asking for much more than that. As of now, after AA got gutted with the decrease of the number of SWUs to just 4, I believe MileagePlus is the leading US FF program, but YMMV…

    Give Munoz credit for fucking trying!!!!


  27. @anon – I need to start at EWR. LaGuardia or JFK is out of the question. The ultimate goal was CGN, preferably with a stop in AMS, CDG, maybe MUC. The third leg proved near impossible, esp. on the return, with two plane changes, mixed cabin, twelve+ hour flights, etc. The REAL problem here is that I was possibly willing to do standard awards, but the UA agents (even though you are supposed to get ANY open seat with standard if you have the Chase UA card) just kept repeating, no, no, no, no, no. Then I settled for a simpler route, and the same response happened. Maybe they will open up more space later if they can’t sell their crappy eight across narrow seats. Lousy product, lousy agents.

  28. I am not young – or naive. But don’t fly a ton.

    My husband and I flew UA first class – JAX to SIN (JAX/ORD/NRT/SIN)- About 3 years ago. On a very modestly priced (in terms of miles) reward saver ticket. Can’t say we didn’t get our money/miles worth from that trip. Thought the (flat bed) seats were super comfy – but the food was mediocre. The flight attendants were fine – attentive. The thing I disliked (a lot) was that ORD was all screwed up in terms of air traffic control. So our flight home from ORD to JAX was delayed 2 or so hours.

    There seem to be a lot of flight delays out of airports up north these days. Which is why I prefer to fly Delta out of Atlanta to international destinations (although those flights can also get delayed in the late spring to late summer due to afternoon thunderstorms). Robyn

  29. @DCS

    I love how Munoz is promoting for miles for suckers to redeem for their shitty product. United miles has been a blessing and a curse, a blessing for partner airlines when flying international in the past, and a curse when flying anything on UA, Now that the program essentially made it much harder, and more expensive for partner premium cabins, the value of a UA award has really become moot. I have pretty much considered selling all of my united miles, or have a way to transfer them to Singapore Krisflyer and have it there forever if fly to Asia.

    Offering more free shit for taking on shit – fan shitty tastic

  30. Hello Team UA Haters 😉
    I always find it fascinating how UA haters love to reflect back on the good old days of CO…and yet seem to overlook that it was Jackass Jeff and the Wonder Team from Texas who eviscerated all that was decent at UA, stole the name and then removed anything that was good about COs product, blaming it all on the bigger UA. Nope. It was all CO management teams screwing the entire thing up. It actually IS getting better, and fast, at UA, now that Oscar is at the helm. FAs actually are joking with customers and smiling. Food & Bev in F cabin is getting tastier, more diverse and portions larger…

    Specific to the topic of the new Polaris product, from the materials I have received recently, despite that statement about eliminating the F cabin completely, the sure see to be pumping a lot of money into the Polaris Global First product… It seems ridiculous, if they are eliminating it soon after adding it to their fleet… Am I missing something? They are switching out the J cabin to Polaris Business Class initially, and then rolling the Polaris Global. It’s two products, not one.

  31. I am Global Services with United and have been very happy with the declining services. Saying goodby to international first class is just another step downward. Burning through my 4 million miles with United and switching to Lufthansa and Swiss Air first class for international travel. Once you’ve tried them you will never prefer United again.

  32. To DaveS, I think you are right and wrong. Yes they are eliminating the first class product completely, but they arent releasing two new products. Im sure everyone has read that “UA businessFirst is being replaced by polaris business and that global first is ebing replaced by polaris first.” They mean that only the soft products will be changing, initially. Until all the aircrafts are retrofitted with the new product, they will operate the current configuration. For example, global first, after December 1st, the hard product will remain the same, only the soft product will be changed. The same goes for business first. All the aircraft are going to be retrofitted to a 2 class configuration, but until the changes arent full complete, the aircrafts with business first and global first will remain the same except they will have polaris soft products instead of the current businessfirst and global first soft products. Hope its not too confusing what I am trying to say.

  33. Thank you, and no, not too confusing. I read and reread all the materials I’ve received and, as the new aircraft are outfitted with only two classes, they will phase out global first entirely. It’s the wrong direction, in my opinion…but it is also something happening around the world. Singapore, Lufthansa and several others are reducing and or eliminating their international first class products, as well.

  34. I just got off UA 882 Tokyo-ORD travelling in Global First/Polaris First.
    My review:
    No luggage space at all in first cabin, I had to put my small carry on in business class luggage bin and my backpack in the coat closet beside my seat (attendant was upset when I refused to put the backpack in business class cabin too, but I insisted there were things I needed in it during flight). Compare this to LH F or Singapore where you have your own dedicated luggage space in F and cabin crew are falling over themselves to help you store it, I can see having to fight over bin space in Y or even C, but F???
    Welcome drink still in plastic cup.
    No pajamas although I read that is supposed to be part of the Polaris soft product experience (but no big deal).
    At least 3 UA flight attendants dead-heading back to US sitting in F cabin, no big problem with that except on-duty attendant(s) spent a lot of time talking with them which meant:
    No offer of assistance to prepare or put away bedding (again standard on other non-US F products)
    Cutlery was taken away after salad course and I needed to ring attendant after receiving main course and looking at it for 10 minutes without a fork and knife (but it was tasty once I could eat it).
    Tried to buy a small scarf from duty free but not available, many times I find stuff in UA duty free catalog not available, makes you wonder if anybody checks inventory before take off…
    Somebody moved my backpack from coat closet beside my seat while I was sleeping and didn’t bother to tell me when I woke up, it took some time (and some panic for me) until the attendant who moved it was found.
    As always, on arrival at ORD only the middle door in business cabin was opened so F customers had to queue behind 100 or so business passengers to disembark, at least I won’t have to endure this much more when F is discontinued…
    This experience/level of service is by no means atypical as so many others have pointed out here. Since I am lucky enough to have my work pay for business class for international travel (I’m based in Japan), I use my GPUs and sometimes miles to upgrade to First on almost all flights, main airlines I use are UA (to US/Latin America) and LH, Swiss and Singapore (whenever I can for everything else). Since I can only use GPUs on LH, and since their F class is already in a completely different league from UA’s, I really wonder if they will continue letting UA MP members redeem GPUs for F upgrades when LH passengers can’t do same on UA, let’s see.
    Basic verdict is that while flight attendants are friendly, the Polaris product will ultimately fail to gain significant new revenue for UA if the same kinds of service issues I highlighted above continue, not sure how to solve that without getting rid of the unions (although the incoming US president may have some ideas on that).
    Final note: the new ORD Polaris lounge is really nice, showers are great and they even have beds to have a nap on if you have a long layover. If only they could put wings on it…(but I can foresee crowding problems in that lounge in future when they inevitably open it to everybody with a UA credit card)…

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