Change Your Altitude

The Many Faces of United Business Class – What You Need to Know

So off the heels of the official first flights of Polaris that we just reported on, we decided it would be a good idea to breakdown the very varied Business product that United offers on their long haul aircraft.

They say consistency is key for the business traveler but apparently not at United. By adding Polaris, United has gone to a whopping five different offerings fleet wide and they operate both across the Pacific and the Atlantic and from both coasts as well. Keep in mind that as of December 1, United’s soft product has gone full Polaris so regardless of what seat or flight you end up on, it will be the same upgraded onboard experience.

So let’s get started, shall we?


United Global Business

The Seat:
This is perhaps the oldest product of the bunch and was launched nearly 10 years ago. The seats are from ‘legacy’ United – as in the original UA business class seats that were in operation before the merger with Continental (CO). Being the oldest, it’s also perhaps the most non-competitive as well. It’s on the 767-300, 777-200 and 747-400 fleet only – and while it was one of the first fully flat beds in business class and boasts (rather) generous legroom, it’s prohibitively narrow because they’ve crammed in 8 (yes, EIGHT) seats abreast per row in this configuration. Now, you might say that British Airways does the same with their Club World product (which is of actually older vintage). But BA did it thoughtfully with a dynamic reverse/forward staggered design concept to maximize cabin space without sacrificing passenger comfort – then patented the product.  United went with an odd reverse/forward concept as well but without the staggering which made the seats quite narrow. And let’s face it folks, it’s 2016 – if I’m flying Business Class, I don’t intended to risk being stuck in a middle seat.

The Routes:
Given that this product is legacy United, the aircraft are all based out of old United hubs, pre-merger. No aircraft have shifted over permanently, save for the occasional operational change or technical replacement. That means you’ll nearly certainly get this product if you’re flying out of any of Washington DC (IAD), Chicago O’Hare (ORD) or Denver (DEN). From these destinations, UA offers long haul services to:

  • London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG)
  • Frankfurt Main (FRA)
  • Munich (MUC)
  • Amsterdam Schipol (AMS)
  • Tokyo Narita (NRT)- (from Chicago only)
  • Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok (HKG)
  • Rome Fiumicino (FCO)
  • Dubai (DXB)
  • Bahrain (BAH)
  • Beijing Capital (PEK)
  • Shanghai (PVG)


It gets a bit complicated with the west coast hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco because the newly delivered, post merger 787s offer the BusinessFirst product rather than the older out. But, out of SFO and LAX, expect these routes to have the pre-merger product:

  • Sydney Kingsford Smith (SYD)
  • Melbourne Tullamaraine (MEL)
  • Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok (HKG) – but not for long, Polaris will take over in 2017.


United BusinessFirst

The Seat:
This seat is basically the mainstay of the current and future fleet, along with Polaris. So it’s a great upgrade on the aforementioned pre-merger product but is still by no means industry leading. At a 2-2-2 configuration, it’s more spacious and feels more modern with an updated High-Res screen for personal inflight entertainment, but still has that hassle of the window passenger stepping over the aisle passenger to get by. Again, not life changing and surely a first world problem, but not ideal in any way shape or form.

The BusinessFirst seat that is at this point is available on most United aircraft.

The Routes:
This layout, having carried over from the Continental Airlines product before the merger, is mostly based out of ex-CO hubs but also feature in other hubs because all aircraft delivered after the two airlines merged arrived with this product. So, it’s unanimous that if you are based out of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) or Newark Liberty (EWR) you’ll get this seat to any long haul destination into deep South America (beyond Panama or Colombia), Europe, Asia or Africa (Lagos Murtala Mohammed LOS).

Once again, the west coast hubs in LAX and SFO are the tricky ones because these are the only hubs to have the merged product flying on different routes, so here’s the breakdown of routes that get this (ex-CO) product from there:

  • Tokyo Narita (NRT)
  • Seoul Incheon (ICN)
  • Chengdu (CTU)
  • Taipei Taoyuan (TPE)
  • Singapore Changi (SIN)


p.s. by United

This one is easy – flights from Newark to Los Angeles or San Francisco are all p.s. flights, featuring the just above mentioned seat with a couple of inches of legroom and one inch of seat width reduced. It used to operate in a 3 class service but after the merger the product normalized into the ex-Continental product for commanility and now has international BusinessFirst service on these three select routes.

The p.s. product is basically a mildly toned down version of the international product.


United Polaris Business

We’ve written about the seat and product itself and the very first routes they will operate on and the subsequent intended ones – so no need to re-elaborate here. As far as routes go, it’s simple: Newark – San Francisco 6x weekly, then from March 2017 San Francisco to Hong Kong daily.

More to come surely, but we do know that London and Tokyo will be the subsequent international destinations from UA’s various hubs in the United States except Denver.

The Polaris seat is a huge upgrade on anything United offers today.


United Domestic Business

This is such an odd one – because it’s only offered on a handful of routes. Keep in mind, this is different from domestic first class which is basically the trudge that everyone else has with recliner seats and minimal legroom and a basic as hell soft product. This one is kind of a mix of international seating (the old kind, of the spacious variety that pre-merger UA had on their previous international configuration) in a 2-3-2 layout, offered only on the 777-200. But catering and amenity wise, it’s all domestic and bare frills baby. The few routes these guys do are:

  • Denver-Honolulu
  • San Francisco-Honolulu
  • San Francisco-Kona (seasonal)
  • Chicago-Honolulu
  • Chicago-Denver
  • Honolulu-Guam

Notice a trend here? Yes these planes are cycled through these stations and are based in either Denver or San Francisco.

Final Word:

Hope this helps you at least kind of discern the type of product you’ll be able to expect on your United flight. At least the soft product in Polaris has been homogenized fleet wide – but the hard product i.e. the seat and inflight entertainment have a long way to go to provide some consistency. If we were betting people and going with the odds given that complete Polaris (by far the best overall product) is only available on two routes and currently flying on exactly zero aircraft, we’d say you’d be best served on the ex-Continental BusinessFirst product.

Now is it worth the hop over from Los Angeles to San Francisco to get on a trans-Pacific flight with this product over the old pre-merger one?

You damn sure it is!!

Now get out there and enjoy the Friendly Skies of United to wherever you’re off to next!

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