United Stops Selling First Class On Most 777 Routes As Of May 1, 2018

Filed Under: United

United is in the process of revamping their longhaul travel experience. As of last December, all longhaul international United flights feature Polaris service, which is United’s new premium cabin soft product, including better food, bedding, and amenities. However, what’s disappointing many is the slow pace at which United is introducing their new Polaris seats.

As of now, only United’s newly delivered 777-300ER aircraft feature Polaris seats. United was already supposed to have other planes in service with Polaris seats by now, but unfortunately United is having issues with their seat manufacturer, Zodiac.

United’s new Polaris seat

United does have their first 767-300 in “the shop” getting the new seats, and hopefully it will be flying within the next few weeks. However, expect it will be another five years or so until United’s entire longhaul fleet has these new seats.

The backbone of United’s longhaul fleet is the 777-200, and they have a few different versions of this. The ex-Continental version doesn’t feature a first class cabin, but rather just features business class and economy.

Business class on the ex-Continental 777s

However, most of the ex-United versions (meaning those that belonged to United before the merger) feature a first class, business class, and economy class cabin. United’s long term plan is to eliminate international first class in favor of their new business class, though we don’t know exactly with what timeline that will occur.

First class on the ex-United 777s

It looks like we have a new hint. @airlineroute notes that United is no longer selling first class seats on most 777-200 operated flights as of May 1, 2018.

Take a Chicago to Frankfurt flight, for example. On April 30 the 777-200 flight has first, business, and economy for sale.

Meanwhile on May 1 it shows the same seatmap, but only business and economy are for sale.

This indicates to me that United is hoping to have a majority of their ex-United 777 fleet reconfigured in the next nine months. That seems optimistic, though I guess it’s possible. I guess there are a couple of other ways to look at this as well:

  • United is being cautious here, and since they don’t sell very much first class nine months in advance, they’re blocking sales for now so they have maximum flexibility
  • United figures it’s just not worth selling first class after that point, so they’ll just seat business class passengers in first class in the remaining seats

The point is, it looks like United is optimistic about reconfiguring their existing ex-United 777s in the coming months, so I’ll be curious to watch the progress there.

What do you make of United no longer selling 777-200 first class on most routes as of May 1, 2018?

  1. They do this on some of their PS routes when they use pmUA 3-class 777s on occasion. They will go and manually upgrade GS/1K and full fare pax to the FC seats but only sell and service it as a 2-class plane.

  2. It’ was supposed to be sometime in 2019 before half the United long haul international fleet was retrofitted with Polaris seats.


    And that was before the delays. I don’t think they expect a majority of 777s done in a year it’s more likely that they don’t want to commit to offering a first class product on any given route since they’re not selling that much first class anyway.

  3. $3000 for an 8 hour flight in United Economy?! I don’t care if it’s just a One way Y fare flight that’s still a ridiculous price for a sub-mediocre economy product. And even though first and business cost the exact same, I’m still not sure that’s a worthy price to pay.

  4. @CDKing. As bad as that F product is, the J product, with 8 across seating, is infinitely worse.

  5. I don’t think this says anything at all about when their fleet will be reconfigured. I think it just means they’ve decided to stop bothering with the separate First product and will seat business class passengers (probably elites first) in the First seats until they’re reconfigured, which could potentially be a long time later.

  6. Let’s just agree with the basics:
    1. United economy and premium product is crap.
    2. Their customer service is terrible.
    3. Since the merger they have gone on a downward spiral where they destroyed the Continental culture, whose employees cared (at least comparatively).
    The only reasons to fly United or accumulate their points are:
    1. You are stuck because of where you live
    2. The alternatives would be painful
    3. They still have pretty decent award availability
    (From a loyal Continental flyer who almost made million miler until I gave up)

  7. @RD that’s fairly standard pricing for one-way US to Europe fares on US legacy carriers (not just UA). They basically don’t sell discount Y one-ways to Europe for whatever reason.

  8. @Bob I understand that part but I find LAX to LHR one ways for as low at $600 One wat and $1900 at most. And that’s on a full Y fare and on a 787. The ORD- FRA flight is less time, and $1000 more. Also I’m sure LAX to LHR is a much more premium demanding route than ORD-FRA. But who knows, just now I checked the price on that date for ORD-LHR and that’s $1800 or something like that. So I’m not quite sure what’s demanding such a premium for ORD-FRA.

  9. I do like the new Polaris service. Sitting in 5L right now, in fact. Seat is well set up, the provisions have improved and services seems to have been in an uptick since this service began. Shame UA does not have a real first class product but for those who travel for work this meets my needs well.

  10. Five years…..Not unique to United, but these refits take so long, that by the time they are done the last plane-its time to start over again!

  11. Well, I think the space in the 747 F is OK even though the seats are a bit old now. That said I flew F 747 TPAC seat 1A to try it out before it’s all gone in October. The flight departed 3 hours late due to mechanical. All the amenities were available, incl. PJs, kit, gel pillow, Saks bedding, etc. Service though was spotty with an aging all female crew and a chief purser more a matron in school. At the second meal before landing: Attendant: “Do you want something to eat?”, Me ” Yes.” Attendant: “OK, let’s get your table tray out.” She walks away. I expected this type of ‘service’ and that is why I have never flown either UA J or F before this trip using 80k miles and $14 to get to Hong Kong which included Asiana and a UA domestic F segment. On the domestic F I got a muffin for breakfast and powdered de-caf coffee, no in-flight entertainment on the ex-Continental 757, this on a 1.5 hour flight. On later flight Qantas F 1.5 hour 737 domestic flight I got a pre-departure drink, headsets, in-flight screen, a full lunch, wine that was superb, and a thoroughly friendly and fantastic Aussie attendant. Oh, why can’t it be like that in America. So, so long United F international, it was sorta nice knowing you, but you really didn’t want to play in the big leagues after all.

  12. @David sez:

    “Let’s just agree with the basics:
    1. United economy and premium product is crap.
    2. Their customer service is terrible.
    3. Since the merger they have gone on a downward spiral where they destroyed the Continental culture, whose employees cared (at least comparatively).
    The only reasons to fly United or accumulate their points are:
    1. You are stuck because of where you live
    2. The alternatives would be painful
    3. They still have pretty decent award availability
    (From a loyal Continental flyer who almost made million miler until I gave up)”

    Quick question, @David, before “we agree on the basics”: when was the last time you flew on a United flight, any flight, and what was your experience?

    My sense if that you will keep spewing that sort of baseless garbage even after UA’s ongoing “reconstruction” is wildly success 2-3 years from now…

    (From a loyal UA flyer, who made UA million miler in last year, and always felt the merger with CO, a subpar airline run by $mi$ek, brought UA down so low it’s taking Munoz a gargantuan effort to turn things around, but he will.

  13. I don’t think they expect to have all of the retrofits of 777s done by May 1, 2018, but they probably expect that there will be so few planes left with global first cabins at that point that it will make sense to just eliminate the service as a separate offering on most routes. Offering a separate global first service (or “Polaris first”) requires (i) separate catering (with a soup course and slightly more premium wines in the global first cabin), (ii) separate global first lounges at four of their hubs, (iii) separate check-in counters at several hubs, and (iv) separate training and procedures for flight crew for services only offered in global first (e.g., “turndown” service).

    There are costs and complexities associated with all of that, and the incremental revenue from global first is small. United employees have nicknamed global first “employee class” in recognition of the fact that the only people sitting there much of the time are non-revs. There have been 10+ hour flights where United has sold global first for just $200 more each way than discounted business, and still don’t have many takers. Note that, on both of the ORD-FRA flights that went out today, most of the first class seats went to non-revs.

    It’s also worth noting that we’re talking about only a few dozen planes that still have a global first cabin out of their mainline fleet of roughly 800 planes. The 747 has global first, but they’re retiring that by the end of this year. So that leaves just one variant of their 777-200 fleet and one variant of their 767-300 fleet with a global first cabin—with a total of 47 planes *today* in both fleets, with even some of those 47 already taken out of service to be retrofitted. Even if they get, say, just three planes retrofitted per month, by May 1, 2018, we’re looking at just 11 planes with global first. Maybe three planes a month is a little too optimistic, but if they have information from Zodiac that it will be able to start shipping more seats soon, it’s not impossible that by summer 2018 they’ll only have enough planes with global first for a small number of routes. If demand for full-fare first class tickets tends to fall in the summer, it might make sense to just cut off the service in May of next year on most routes.

  14. Actually Ben, they don’t have to have most of their sUA 777’s retrofitted in the next 9 months – that’s literally impossible. If you check on FT, this is happening more and more and the reason is because they have more chances of subbing in a 2 class plane in place of a 3 class plane, so they choose to not sell F and give it away to 1K members, GS members, and non revs t-3 hrs at the gate. It’s happened numerous times so far. In the end, it protects UA from upset pax from a downgrade and allows them to be flexible with their fleet.

  15. Do we know if they plan to reconfigure Y at the same time as they reconfigure J/F? The UA 772s are probably your best bet for economy atm since the seats are relatively wide and have pretty good recline…

  16. “However, expect it will be another five years or so until United’s entire longhaul fleet has these new seats.”

    @Gary Leff and Lucky are wrong. United by their own admission has said it won’t be until 2021 that a “majority” of the long-haul fleet has the “new” (old by then) seats.

  17. @DCS. Responding to your questions:
    1. Last time I flew United was in March: two business class tickets to Brazil using Singapore Miles. Good use of my miles as it provided a direct flight to Sao Paulo to IAD and then a connection to Southern Brazil, where I was going. Tried the Polaris soft product on a 767 with a 2-2-2 configuration, no issues there.
    2. Smisek was the worst CEO Continental had, but Bethune turned the airline around and Kellner continued the good work. You ask any former Continental staff person and they will most likely agree.
    3. If United turns itself around, I will be the first one to be happy. Along the way though, they will most likely have done it by nickel and diming their customers and devaluing if not destroying the value proposition of their mileage program. If you are a business traveler who spends lots of money in business class tickets then you are great, if you are a regular business or leisure traveler, not so good.

    For the record, I flew plenty of times United Airlines before the merger. I also worked with them as a consultant right after the September 11 crisis. They plotted all their customers and gave different groups, different names: those who flew lots of miles but did not spend much money (including mileage runners at the end of the year) where called “bottom feeders”. Overall, they did not have a particular love for their customers, beyond the ones who spent lots of $$$.

  18. Who in their right mind pays $7.5k to United for a flight? Even if you’re billing it to a client? Especially when LH runs $1.2k LESS for F and has a good F product at that.

    Even if I lived in a fortress city, I’d do what I could to get to a real hub and fly a carrier which wants my business.

  19. @Alex S – I completely agree. I’m in DC, a major UA hub, and my feeling (and that of my colleagues) is “ABU” – “Anyone But United.” That’s in comparison to the US big three.

    If I hear anecdotally over the course of the next few years that they’ve improved, I’d consider switching back, but I’ve gone all out to avoid them for the last several years.

  20. While the airlines will load flights in their systems 330 days out, sometimes all they load is a full Y fare because they don’t expect anyone to be booking that far out. They have so many different fare class options (each with their own rules) that it takes them a while longer to get those loaded in their system. Those different fare rules are always changing too.

    But I agree…UA is not an inspiring carrier. None really are and they’ll all continue a downward spiral as far as service, perks, experience etc. until it becomes imperative for them to do otherwise to survive.

    If not using miles and you would like to look at discounted business or first class air, feel free to email me with details and I will get a quote. There are consolidators who sometimes have good rates to offer.

  21. @David — Just as I thought. You made your initial disparaging comment about UA despite:
    1. considering your most experience with them “Good use of my miles…”, and having “no issues” with their new business class, Polaris.
    2. admitting that $smi$sk who came from CO and initially ran the merged airline “was the worst CEO Continental had…”
    3. saying that you’d “happy” “if United turns itself around…”

    You comment was clearly the usual knee-jerk and worn out reaction United and not an informed commentary based on your personal experience with Munoz’s United, which, in the short that he’s worked to turn things around, is already nothing like the company he inherited.

  22. Is it that optimistic to expect that a majority of the ex-UA 777s could be retrofitted over the coming 9 months? They have a total of 36 aircraft in that subfleet so a pace of just over 2 aircraft a month would see a majority finished by May. I believe AA substantially exceeded that pace on their 772 retrofits – although admittedly that was AFTER thy switched away from Zodiac.

  23. With regards to Global First on the 777 fleet, United is still selling First Class on ORD-NRT on UA881 01MAY and beyond. IAD and HNL are showing a first class cabin, but no seats are for sale.

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