This week United put its newest bird, the Boeing 777-300ER, into service. Starting Thursday, February 16, the new 777 will fly domestically between SFO and Newark. With a United fare sale that started today, you can try out the new plane for as little as $252 round trip in March (that’s cheap!), but you’ll pay about $3,000+ in business class.
Right now, there’s only one United jet flying with the Polaris seats— the one you’ll see pictured below. While United has begun marketing all its business class tickets as Polaris, you’ll only find the seat on the B777-300ER for the time being. United will get 14 of these birds from Boeing this year.
If you are on another type of aircraft, you’ll get United’s old business class seat, even if your booking and boarding pass say “Polaris” which has been confusing to many TravelSkills readers. That’s because you are getting the Polaris “soft product”- which in airline terms means the food and beverage service (such as the wine flights or bloody mary cart), pillows, blankets, new amenity kits and white teddy bears (currently selling on eBay for $80!)
The “hard product,” meaning the reconfigured cabin and new Polaris seats will roll out slowly. Between now and May 4, United will fly the B777-300ER between San Francisco and Newark six days per week. On February 22, United gets another new B777-300ER which it will also deploy on SFO-Newark through March 8– which means there will be TWO Polaris planes flying the route for a short period of time.
Interested in flying on the new plane? When booking your SFO-EWR flight on United, click on “Detailed View” or “Details” and look for “Boeing 777-300ER.”
On March 25, the new aircraft will make its international scheduled service debut, replacing a 747-400 on the very competitive San Francisco-Hong Kong route, where United’s Polaris seat and service compete with two of the best in the business: Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
TravelSkills was at SFO to welcome the shiny jet and its payload of travel media invited along to try out the new Polaris business class seats. This flight operated as a charter and was not available for purchase.
A few observations about the B777-300ER after my brief tour and chat with a few of those on the media charter:
>Length of seat and comfort vary in the new Polaris cabin. Window seats offer the most privacy and best views, although with some neck craning, you can get a view out the window from some window-side aisle seats (even numbers). Due to the staggered configuration, an odd-numbered window seat should be your first choice. See B777-300ER layout on SeatGuru here.
>The bulkhead center business class seats (rows 1 and 9) are a remarkable 80 inches long in full recline— that’s enough room for a 6’8″ passenger! I’m 6 feet tall and had to point my toes to touch the wall in a regular mid-cabin window seat. The seat feels a little narrow, but in the few minutes I was in it, I was comfortable, and I’m sure I’d sleep well on my side snuggled in with a bear, a big pillow and a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket (plus eye shades and ear plugs!)
>Economy class is configured 10-across while United’s other 777s offer 9-across seating. I was prepared for the worst when I ventured beyond the curtain, but when I tried the premium economy seat, I was impressed with the seat legroom (34 inches pitch). Granted, I was seated alone in a center seat, but it just did not seem that bad. Time will tell what it’s like to be jammed into a center seat with two large passengers on either side. But the seat, the access to power, the seatback screen and knee room all seemed okay to me.
>There’s a clubby Economy Plus section (rows 19-22) just behind business class, the first row (19) of which are probably the very best economy seats on the plane due to the legroom. Plus this cabin is protected from the larger economy class cabin by bank of lavatories. Economy Plus row 24 offers a lot of legroom, too, but proximity to the lavatories could be a problem, and there’s a limited view out the window and no storage space for take off and landing.
>You can tell where Economy Plus ends and regular economy begins by looking at the color scheme of the seats, as well as the placards in the overhead bins. Regular economy was pretty tight (31 inches pitch), but I had a couple inches in front of my knees when the seat in front was not reclined. That would disappear as soon as the person in front reclined. (See below) Out of 10 seats across four are middle seats, six are windows or aisles.
There are two crew rest areas on this plane. One is upfront for pilots, the other is accessed by a secret door by the rear galley and contains six soundproof sleeping berths for flight attendants. This get-away-from-it-all space is cherished by crew, especially on those 12-15 our transpac long hauls!
United said it expects to put all 14 of its new 777-300ERs into service during 2017. The aircraft will be configured with 60 Polaris business class seats in a 1-2-1 layout; 102 Economy Plus seats; and 204 regular economy seats.
So what do you think about this big new bird? Please leave your comments below!