A consistent theme in the airline industry right now is to minimize capital expenditures. This means pausing aircraft retrofits, airport improvements, aircraft purchases, and more. However, some airlines are going ahead and continuing some of these purchases. United Airlines is one of them, with plans to continue Boeing 787 retrofits.
Moving forward with retrofits
In August, United’s team decided to resume work on Polaris and Premium Plus retrofits to the Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliner fleet. Before the crisis hit, United Airlines was working on rolling out its new Polaris business class cabin across its fleet of aircraft. In addition, with many airlines pushing forward with a premium economy product, United did not want to get left behind.
Retrofits cost money, but they have a lot of benefits. First and foremost, United Airlines expects to welcome more of its travelers back in 2022, when the executives at the airline believe the recovery will begin in earnest. Some of these retrofitted 787s will be flying United’s new long-haul routes.
The retrofits will help reduce inefficiencies in United’s fleet. Maintaining aircraft with two different configurations means that if an aircraft has to go out of service, then United cannot just pull out any Dreamliner aircraft to replace that since the configurations are different, and some planes do not have a true premium economy.
United’s Boeing 787s are pretty new, but they need a retrofit. The airline has flown these aircraft with an older lie-flat configuration with extra-legroom economy but no real premium economy. However, that changed when United Airlines started taking newer aircraft like the Boeing 777-300ERs and the 787-10s.
The 787-8s currently are outfitted with 36 lie-flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, 70 extra-legroom economy, and 113 standard economy seats, both of the latter two seats are in a 3-3-3 configuration. The total capacity of these aircraft currently is 219.
The new 787-8s have 28 new Polaris lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Just after this are 21 Premium Plus, recliner-style premium economy, seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, 36 extra-legroom economy seats, and 158 standard economy seats, both of these are in a 3-3-3 configuration. This will take the overall passenger count onboard these aircraft to 243 passengers.
The 787-9s, on the other hand, currently have 48 lie-flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, 88 extra-legroom economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, and 116 standard economy seats in the same configuration. The total capacity on this jet stands at 252 passengers.
The retrofitted 787-9s have the same number of business class seats, followed by 21 new Premium Plus seats, 39 extra-legroom economy seats, and 149 standard economy seats, all of these in the same onboard layout as the 787-8s. There is room for up to 257 passengers onboard these jets.
How far is United through the retrofits?
United’s Polaris tracker shows that one 787-8 and three 787-9s are currently flying in the new retrofitted configuration. Three 787-8s and one 787-9s are still in progress. This means that there are eight 787-8s and 23 787-9s that still need to be retrofitted.
Other aircraft that are undergoing or were expected to undergo retrofits were the 777-200ERs, of which 41 are done, six are in progress, and four are awaiting retrofits. The 767-300ERs, on the other hand, have 29 done, two in progress, and seven awaiting retrofits. United has not confirmed the resumption of retrofits on any of these other aircraft, though the in-progress ones will likely continue.
In the future, United does say it has plans to reconfigure the 767-400ERs, but this is not yet confirmed, and United has not yet sent any aircraft to be retrofitted, nor has the airline released a configuration for the retrofitted aircraft.
The original plan was for United to complete its Polaris conversion on its international fleet by 2021, but that appears to be on hold. However, the airline has continued to maintain a robust order book with no significant retirements announced just yet.
Are you glad United is continuing Polaris and Premium Plus retrofits on its 787s? Have you flown the retrofitted aircraft? Let us know in the comments!