Bad News For United’s New Polaris Seat — Expect Big Delays

Filed Under: United

In mid-2016, United announced that they would revamp their international business class product. With these changes, United is introducing a new seat, a new onboard soft product (better bedding, food, drinks, amenities, etc.), and even new lounges.

United rolled out the new Polaris soft product as of December 2016, so all eligible flights already feature the improved catering and bedding.


However, so far the only planes to feature the new seats are the few 777-300ER aircraft that United has already taken delivery of. These will start flying between San Francisco and Hong Kong as of next week, and between Newark and Tel Aviv as of May 2017.

United 777-300ER (PRNewsFoto/United Airlines)

Arguably United is prematurely marketing this product, based on the amount of confusion surrounding it. Many people assume that they’ll have the new seat when they see that the flight is marketed as featuring “United Polaris,” and are disappointed to find the same old seats.

Based on their previous plans, United was anticipating that the entire longhaul fleet would feature the new Polaris seats by 2021. That’s a long wait. Well, it looks like the delay for fleetwide Polaris seats will be even longer, as United is experiencing delays with the new Polaris seats.

United Polaris seat (PRNewsFoto/United Airlines)

Skift is reporting that Zodiac, the manufacturer of United’s new Polaris seats, is experiencing “fiscal and operational challenges:”

In guidance issued Tuesday, Zodiac warned investors it was having “industrial issues” in the United Kingdom, and said the problems were causing “significant disruptions and delays.” Zodiac also makes seats in the United States, and that branch is operating normally, but that’s likely little consolation to United, which has said its seats are being manufactured by Zodiac Seats United Kingdom.

“We are not happy. Period.” United CEO Oscar Munoz said Tuesday at the J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Industrials Conference.

Apparently the first 777-200 was supposed to be reconfigured with the Polaris seats by the first quarter of 2018, though we’ll see if they’re able to stick to that schedule, as United’s CEO hasn’t been able to offer a concrete retrofit schedule since these problems emerged.

United isn’t the first airline to have issues with Zodiac. American was planning on initially using Zodiac for the new business class seats on their 787s and 777s, though they also had serious issues, so suspended the retrofit program. They eventually decided to use B/E Aerospace for their new seats instead.

This isn’t good for United, and also certainly can’t be good for the future of Zodiac. United is ultimately a bit more invested in Zodiac than American was, given that the Polaris seat is unique, and they’ve been hyping it so heavily. American simply changed to a generic reverse herringbone seat, something I don’t see United doing.

  1. Why would any airline ever trust Zodiac for seats? When has Zodiac ever done anything on time in recent history? Dumb move, UA

  2. I am as big of a UAL fan as they come, but AA had already gone public w/ their issues w/ Zodiac before UA announced this venture…Pushing forward was a BAD IDEA…There were red flags everywhere…I believe in a lot of the things that Oscar Munoz is doing, but this was a bad call…

  3. LOL – all of you idiots who fly United – have fun on that piece of trash airline. Enjoy your 8 across business for the next 6 or 7 years. This product was dead on arrival, and not even competitive to begin with. Again, goes to show what trash United really is.

  4. UA said explicitly 1Q18 for 777s in that presentation this week. This is not a ‘was supposed to be’ – that’s the new schedule.

  5. @henry LAX

    Don’t be thick; he’s exactly right. The seat UA announced to be installed *five years from now* isn’t competitive with seats that will be operational in the next *6-18 months.* Think DL One Suite, QR Qsuite, etc.

    The fact that the seat may not be out until well after 2021, while not even being cutting edge in 2016, is downright laughable.

    Your snarky response is both misguided and misses the point.

  6. And, yes, I’m aware that UA has some 773s on which Polaris will be installed before 2021. But until that time, UA’s competitors have *last generation* business class seats which already have all-aisle access.

    Considering the amount of money they’ve spent marketing and investing in Polaris, and further considering the they they have a roll-out period of 5 years, they should have spent the time creating a product that would not be, as the prior commenter said, DOA.

  7. I just think it’s so interesting to see how business class has evolved. Twenty years ago a flat bed in business would’ve been amazing in and of itself. To stay competitive today United and other airlines have to up their game.

    For me personally, a lie flat seat–whatever its design elements–is such a huge leap over an economy seat that I’m content with whatever product I get. Sure, I’ll take Singapore Airlines over United any day, but since I’m only on the plane for 12-16 hours, it’s not like I’m living there permanently, it’s really not a big deal to me.

  8. It’s UA… I thought delays were part of their business strategy. (According to DOT, they are #1 in delays out of the legacy carriers).

    @HenryLAX: UA’s not received a single cent of my money, nor my company’s money after an absolutely miserable 6-month stretch of flying them. Switched over to B6/DL/AA (in that order) for domestic and try to put employees on foreign metal as often as possible. Never looked back.

  9. A huge marketing blitz for a seat that wasn’t going to be in place for up to 4 years, and now even longer than that? That will likely sell more tickets to people who don’t know better, for the first flight only. At which point it becomes a major disappointment rather than a way to build brand loyalty.

    I guess my miles from cc signups, min spend, and several promotions will just have to stay in my FF account for many more years. Or perhaps I can find a decent partner award for us to use.

    Nor do I understand that one of their first 300-ERs gets put on Newark-Tel Aviv. Is this a major route for them?

  10. @AlexS I don’t think that’s actually true. For 2016 the order is Delta (86.48% on time), United (81.71% on time), AA (79.38% on time). United is bottom so far this year, but given where we are that’s going to be mostly weather related.

    Oh, and JetBlue has a terrible record for delays, much worse than any of the legacies (75% on time for 2016).

  11. @Robert Hansen

    I agree… I am not sure why EWR – TLV gets the first Polaris flight from east coast…. common sense would tell me something like EWR – LHR makes more sense.

  12. Polaris is more than just the seat – it is about the service and onboard amenities which are already being rolled out. As for the seat itself, the main feature Polaris is highlighting is lie flat. United is already 100% lie flat on its international aircraft (unlike one of United’s competitor who still has AAngled flats on many of its aircraft). United is going from one lie flat seat to another so the Zodiac delays shouldn’t impact United as much as it did to American which was going from angled flats to lie flat.

  13. @anon and @Robert Hansen I guess you have never been to NY or don’t know too much about the huge Jewish community there. I believe UA’s
    Load factors to TLV are in 90%++

  14. @anon It’s a combo of distance and loads. 773s are going on ultra long haul routes – that’s where they are most efficient – and TLV happens to be one with a big tranche of economy ‘visiting family’ fliers in economy that needs the capacity, plus very handsome premium cabin yields. It’s a nice biz for UA.

    Expect EWR-DEL or BOM to crop up at some point as well.

  15. CX is also facing delays as a result of Zodiac’s issues hence the delays of their A350. CX’s first A350 was supposed to be delivered in February-March of last year but slipped to the end of May because of certification problems of their business class seats.

  16. I don’t intend on ever paying for a UA international flight again since I am no longer 1K. I will be spending all my UA miles on other *A airlines even though it costs more miles.

  17. This just in – UA will soon start marketing full-body, shiatsu massage seats with Tempur-Pedic cushions on all supersonic aircraft . . . starting in 2045 (subject to delays)

  18. One must be insane to even consider flying on United anywhere – even across the street. Their employees have a horrible attitude & all need to go to charm school. It’s not about a new sleeper seat but about how the customer is treated in person & valued. On ground & in flight employees just don’t care – especially out of major hubs like SFO & ORD. Would be interesting to see an analysis of revenue (& profits) lost due to bad customer service – especially in premium seats. Not prudent to spend a cent on them when so many superior competitors internationally – JAL, ANA, Asiana, Cathay – even KLM.

  19. Couldn’t folks who paid with either $ or miles sue United? Friend who thought he was getting the hard product for trip to Italy in August is super pissed that he spent so many miles to receive only a better lounge in Chicago and some soft product and food in flight.

    At the company I work for, if we say we are selling you a product, we sell the product that is advertised. Apparently, United doesn’t have to do this. They can get away with anything.

    But as to saying don’t fly United, what are those of us who either live in a hub city or who live in what used to be a hub city and have tons of miles supposed to do? Now we don’t have any hub with any airline so we are screwed with the # of flights and destinations.

    And how can United list flights and not explain that a flight is either a code share or an affiliated airline and explain the difference? I’m stuck on Air Canada now for a trip and got no perks with using my Chase United Explorer card. No priority boarding, no free checked bag, no nothing. Had United’s site clearly stated this, I would never have booked these flights. Once again, the company I work for would never do this. Everything would be clearly stated. But then we’re not in the airline business.

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