United Will Fly 777-300ER To Mumbai (And Downgrade Other Routes)

United initially introduced their Polaris experience as of December 1, 2016, which is the name of their new international premium cabin experience. The airline was slow with rolling out their new lounges and seats at the beginning, though they’ve really picked up the pace. United now has four Polaris Lounges open, and they’ve increased the speed at which they’re reconfiguring their international aircraft.

The only United plane guaranteed to have the new Polaris seats is the 777-300ER (which I’ve reviewed between San Francisco and Hong Kong), since these are newly delivered planes that came with the seats installed. Here’s their Polaris seat progress across their fleet:

  • All 17 Boeing 777-300s feature new Polaris seats (there’s one plane yet to be delivered)
  • 64% of Boeing 767-300s feature new Polaris seats
  • 5% of Boeing 777-200s feature new Polaris seats

While this is great progress, unfortunately none of United’s 767-400s have been reconfigured, and also none of their 787s have been reconfigured, which is a shame, since those planes are used to operate United’s longest routes, where the improved product would be most valuable.


United’s 777-300ER Polaris seat

So far United has based their 777-300ERs out of San Francisco and Newark, with a vast majority of them flying out of San Francisco. Out of Newark United has three 777-300ER destinations as of now — Frankfurt, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo Narita. It looks like Newark is now getting an additional 777-300ER route.

United will fly the 777-300ER between Newark and Mumbai as of October 27, 2018.

United’s flight to Mumbai operates with the following schedule:

UA48 Newark to Mumbai departing 8:10PM arriving 8:40PM (+1 day)
UA49 Mumbai to Newark departing 12:10AM arriving 5:40AM

Historically United has primarily flown the 777-300ER on their most competitive routes, so it’s interesting that Mumbai is the next choice. While Air India also operates flights in the market, their product isn’t exactly competitive, so even United’s old flat bed business class seats are superior to what Air India offers. So I suspect there are potentially two motivations for this upgrade:

  • United is offering this improved product on Mumbai flights because Delta will start flying there in 2019
  • There’s simply more demand for travel to India in winter, so it makes sense to offer more capacity

Historically United’s Newark to Mumbai route is one of the toughest flights on which to score saver business class awards, which suggests that it has among the most demand for paid business class travel. So I guess it’s logical enough that United put a premium aircraft on the route.

This aircraft change will no doubt be popular with those traveling in business class between Newark and India, though in economy it’s a different story, since United’s 777-300ERs are in a 3-4-3 configuration, making it one of the least comfortable United rides in economy.

Not surprisingly, United is downgrading some other routes in order to make this one possible. As of October 27, 2018:

  • United will operate a 787-9 between San Francisco and Tel Aviv, rather than a 777-300ER
  • United will operate a 777-200ER between San Francisco and Tokyo Narita, rather than a 777-300ER
  • United will operate a 777-200ER between San Francisco and Taipei, rather than a 777-300ER

Sadly none of those planes are scheduled to feature new Polaris seats. The 787-9 features United’s B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Even worse, the Tokyo and Taipei routes will feature United’s eight abreast business class product, which is awful. There’s still a chance that will be upgraded between now and then, but it’s a massive downgrade to go from the new Polaris seats, to a business class configuration that’s 2-4-2.

While all three of those are premium destinations, the demand for travel to Taipei and Tokyo is lower in winter, so it makes sense that they’re putting lower capacity planes on the routes.

Does anyone plan on flying United’s 777-300ER between Newark and Mumbai?

(Tip of the hat to Point Me to the Plane)

Comments

  1. Confusing. They downgrade competitive routes to a worse product, all in order to upgrade a less competitive route to a better product. I don’t get the logic here.

  2. @ james — Correct, if I were referring to capacity, but in this case I’m referring to product quality. It’s a decline in the quality of the product.

  3. I don’t think they are focusing on “competition” too much when selecting which routes get the 77W but rather focusing on routes where they get strong revenue premium.

  4. Not really that mysterious- it’s a capacity situation. Putting more capacity into India during a high demand time and reducing capacity in other markets that have less demand during the slower winter months. Not really more than that

  5. I value myself too much to ever fly a US carrier or Air India non-stop to India. So for the foreseeable future, Emirates & Qatar it is.

  6. There must be something else happening as well with the reassignment of the 777-300s. I don’t think United needs to pull the -300s off of 3 routes to provide aircraft for just the Newark Mumbai route (please correct me if I’m in error here). I would expect to see some upgauging of additional routes as well.

  7. @Neil, I think it’s just a capacity reduction at most, e.g. for slower winter months. I agree the wording in this article makes it seem like they would need to reshuffle to make Mumbai happen, then again why would they do this to SFO-based planes when EWR – FRA loses the 773 as well.

  8. Hi Ben, I apologize if this question has been asked already, but I can’t seem to find an answer on any of the blogs out there. What is UA planning on doing with the Polaris First cabins once Polaris First is eliminated? I believe they plan on eliminating Polaris First this year, but the Polaris First hard product/seats will obviously be flying on the pmUA 772’s well into next year and the year after that. In other words, any word on how they will be assigning those seats moving forward, once Polaris First is eliminated this year? Status? Fare class?

  9. @Lucky, I ask because I want to fly in the 772 Polaris First cabin one last time before it’s removed from all aircraft, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to book the cabin. UA doesn’t seem to be selling seats in that cabin on many flights (i.e. the 8:00AM from EWR to ORD), but rather, the entire F cabin is filled by J upgrades between check-in and departure.

  10. I have upcoming trips from SFO to BOM and NYC and BOM, but I don’t think I can ever make myself fly Air India or United! Wouldn’t mind trying out Delta once on a long haul if they start the direct flight before that. I definitely don’t mind Delta’s trans-con flights.

  11. @Lucky — I think you would also do well to tell people who fly in economy what to expect. Because in many cases, the Polaris upgrade is a downgrade for the economy experience. Tighter seating, more suffering in the back. Not everyone gets to fly business. In fact, most don’t.

  12. @Brenna they only sell business class now so it’s going to be tough. They upgrade Global services members first then some 1K’s from business if it’s available/needed but if you have no status it’s going to be really tough to get into their first now ironically. Maybe you’ll get a sympathetic gate agent but it’s unlikely especially if on a award ticket.

  13. This is a placeholder schedule. UA has not filed its final W18 schedule. The current schedule calls for something like 32 787-9s, and UA only has 25 in the fleet. Similarly, the schedule is only filed for 11-12 77W, while there are 17 in the fleet and 1 more due this fall.

    Something has to (and will) give in the next few weeks, as the winter schedules are finalized, just like every other year.

  14. United are really lucky that they have their superior international network going for them as their product besides the polaris product that the 777-300 planes have is terribly inconsistent and uncompetitive upfront, particularly if you are paying a full business class fare. I travelled from EWR to SFO in a 2-4-2 777-200 and I thought it was disgraceful for a 6 hour Transcon flight given how competitive the east-west route is especially up the front. Don’t know what my reaction would be if I walked on to a cabin like that on a pacific or Atlantic flight given all the other options.

  15. Remember, El Al Israel Airlines will begin nonstop service from Tel Aviv to San Francisco in the fourth quarter of 2018. The new route will operate three days a week with the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

  16. United is also downgrading LAX to HNL route from their 777-200 to 737. We find it just ridiculous, since their first flight out of LAX on 777-200 and red eye return from HNL has been always full for several years we have been flying this route once a month. The flight from LAX continues to Guam. It’s time to start thinking about flying on Hawaiian that has flat bed seats on the same route. We have been 1K with United for years but do not like to fly old small planes over the ocean. Choices fro comfortable flights are getting slimmer by day.

  17. I fly this route regularly, so I am thrilled. While they rarely release business-saver seats, I always fly economy and use GPUs, and I have NEVER had one fail to clear. The flight is almost always J9 24 hours out.

  18. But with the 777-200ERs actively being retrofit with Polaris and PY, NRT/TPE could and will be getting those. They’re already being flown through NRT through several hubs, I could see those routes being prioritized.

  19. Lucky,

    Regarding United, you say that “none of their 787s have been reconfigured” to the new Polaris seats. I have reservations for January 2019 on United’s Dreamliner 787-9 to Sydney, and the seating chart clearly states that it is “United Polaris business”. These are the same planes currently flying the same route today that also clearly states that front is “United Polaris business”, so it would appear that my January flight’s description is not made in anticipation of a seating change. All show they are in 2-2-2 configuration.

    What am I missing? Something in semantics (some 787s came with different seats and have not yet been reconfigured; but some 787s came with Polaris seats and thus do not need to be reconfigured)?

    Or, more sinister, is United fudging the reality of their business product on the 787-9s by enticing me to redeem lots of miles for seats that very clearly are called Polaris when, in fact, they are not Polaris? If the latter, what is my recourse (without incurring cancellation and/or rebooking penalties, etc.)?

  20. “Or, more sinister, is United fudging the reality of their business product on the 787-9s by enticing me to redeem lots of miles for seats that very clearly are called Polaris when, in fact, they are not Polaris? If the latter, what is my recourse (without incurring cancellation and/or rebooking penalties, etc.)?”

    Yes

  21. I wonder if it really commands that much of a fare premium. This is one data point, but yesterday I was randomly looking at UA fares to BOM, and I saw one from SFO (via EWR) for $3,100 in J this winter, which is the busiest time to go to India. That’s fairly reasonable in my book, especially in the new Polaris product (plus a PS service flat bed on the connecting flights).

  22. @Ajay – United calls all their International Business Class “United Polaris Business”, irrespective of the physical seats on the plane. I just returned for SFO-SYD-SFO in United Polaris Business. Seats are ok, not as good as on the 777-300.

  23. @ Kirk Benson — That’s the standard level (which is usually available), and not the saver level.

  24. @Ajay, if you’ve kept up with OMAAT and the rest of the blogs, you’d know that UA calls its long-haul premium cabin products “Polaris” regardless of the seat configuration. If you’re flying a UA 787, you will be stuck with the ~8(?) year old B/E Aerospace Diamond Fauxlaris product. Sadly, you fell prey to their over-hyping and marketing of Polaris. I doubt you have recourse to change to a different flight (and even if you did, I’m not sure if UA flies any real Polaris aircraft to Australia).

  25. @Marua – while I agree that a flat bed seat (even 2-4-2), is better than a 737 recliner, I did just fly the 737 Max 9 HNL-LAX the other day. So while still small, it is brand new, and I find the newer seats tolerable for 5 hours.

  26. @marua – while I agree that a flat bed (even 2-4-2) is better than a 737 recliner, I did just fly HNL-LAX the other day on the 737 Max 9. Still small, but new, and I found the seats tolerable enough for the 5 hour flight.

  27. Seems strange United didn’t target the 777-200s with the dreaded 2-4-2 config for the first to get the Polaris upgrade. The 787s in the 2-2-2 config aren’t that bad of a setup by comparison.

    I fly out of IAD so there’s a wide variety of options. IAD-PEK is now on a 787 compared to the 777-200 (in 2-4-2) that they used to have on the route, so I’ll willingly fly that. Still avoiding IAD-NRT since it’s the 2-4-2 config.

  28. @ Ashwin — The 787 as such is newer technology than the 777, though United’s 777-300ERs are mostly newer (meaning they were delivered more recently). The reason it’s a downgrade is because the 787s were delivered with old business class seats, while the new 777s delivered with new seats.

  29. I flew the Polaris 777-300er from NRT to SFO last week after connecting on an ANA 787-9 from SIN-NRT. On the outbound SFO-SIN, I flew direct on United 787-9 Polaris (2-2-2 product), so I got a pretty good comparison:

    United 777-300er – The design of the Polaris product was very sleek. I had an odd number seat by the window, so I definitely had lots of privacy. The seat itself was a bit narrower than I’d prefer, so it made the comfort in full recline position not 100% ideal. The seat padding was great and when I put the comforter on, I had tremendous back support. It was a little tight exiting my seat to the aisle, but I’m not a big person, so it wasn’t a huge deal. The food/service was just ok. My steak was really overdone and I only ate a little bit of it. Loved the sundae, as always. The spinach omelet was tasty. The wine was decent and I like their new proprietary Red Blend (don’t recall this on Polaris flights last year). Service was a little slow, but not terrible.

    ANA 787-9 – The APEX seat provided good privacy, although the design wasn’t as sleek as Polaris (had a window seat). Seat felt a little worn and wasn’t comfortable on the back. Food was very good (had western omelet for breakfast, along with a snack of pork ramen and edamame). The sake they served as excellent. Service was tremendous. I think that’s what sets apart US vs Asian carriers. I don’t think United service was bad (per se), but they didn’t have the attention to detail that I saw with ANA.

    United 787-9 – I chose a middle seat. While I didn’t have privacy (and had a seat mate), at least I had direct aisle access and nobody had to climb over me. Plane departed at 11pm, so I had dinner at the Polaris Lounge at SFO (burger and wine were great and lounge was absolutely gorgeous). I skipped dinner on the plane and instead chose to sleep. I woke up hungry, so I tried the grilled cheese and tomato soup as a mid-flight snack. Very tasty, but not exactly gourmet. I had the southwestern omelet as a pre-arrival meal which was very good. Service overall was a little better vs my return United flight, but not on par with ANA. Other than the privacy, I don’t think the lie-flat seat on the 787 was that much different vs the 777. The padding wasn’t quite as good (as plane wasn’t brand new), but when I put the comforter on, it provided all the protection I needed.

    Overall, I don’t think it was a bad experience flying the different United Polaris products. I don’t think the hard products are that bad, and in some cases are better vs competition. The comforter/pillows on United are better than I experienced on ANA. The service isn’t as good and the food is decent (not great), but these are first world problems. As a frequent traveler from SFO, I don’t think United is a bad option. However, if I can get on a code share with a top airline at a comparable price, that would be my first choice.

  30. @Roadwarrior Thanks for the review. I’m flying IAD-PEK on UA 787 in September, and back on Air China (777).

  31. For anyone wondering why it seems the total number of routes with the 777-300ER will be decreasing later this year, it is because this aircraft will begin cabin interior modifications in August to include the Premium Plus cabin, according to the United Airlines Fleet Website (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ZlYgN_IZmd6CSx_nXnuP0L0PiodapDRx3RmNkIpxXAo/htmlview#). With one or more aircraft out of service at any given time, they have to reduce the number of flights operated by the type.

  32. I’m sure the 777-200ER that are being put in SFO for NRT/TPE will be retrofitted with real Polaris by the time the switch comes.

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