United's Hong Kong-Newark flights to temporarily switch to older 2-2-2-configured business class

28 Nov 2019 by Michael Allen
United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER / photo courtesy of United Airlines

Passengers flying regularly between Hong Kong and Newark with United Airlines will have got used to enjoying the airline’s plush new 1-2-1 Polaris business class product that rolled out on the route in April.

But those travelling on the route – which connects a major Asian financial centre with a New Jersey airport less than 20 miles from Manhattan – between January 14, 2020 and March 29, 2020 will now be stuck sitting in United’s older 2-2-2 business class configuration, as the aircraft plying the route will be temporarily down-gauged from a Boeing 777-300ER to a 777-200, an older variant of the US manufacturer’s 777 family of aircraft.

The service is also being reduced from a daily to a thrice weekly service during the period, operating on Monday, Thursday and Saturday from Hong Kong and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from Newark.

A United spokesperson said the change was “due to seasonal lower-demand”.

Asked whether the recent six months of civil unrest in Hong Kong impacted United’s decision, the spokesperson said this was not the case.

Other airlines that have reduced service to Hong Kong have partly blamed the protests. For example, South African Airways has suspended all services between Hong Kong and Johannesburg between now and December 14, saying the move was to “curb significant financial losses incurred on the route, exacerbated recently by the ongoing political tensions in Hong Kong”.

The spokesperson added that United is upgrading one aircraft every five days to the new Polaris business class. United’s ‘Polaris Tracker’ website says one aircraft is being upgraded every 10 days, but the spokesperson said this information is out of date and the rate has increased to every five days.

Below is a chart from United’s website showing the 2-2-2 configuration that will be used on the Hong Kong-Newark route from January 14, 2020 to March 29, 2020.

United 777-200 Seat map Seat map (50/217); photo from United's website

And below is the configuration that is currently flown on that route…

United 777-200 Seat map (50/226); photo from United's website

Passengers are likely to view this down-gauging as a disappointment, given that this 2-2-2 configuration is an older product and these seats offer less privacy than the 1-2-1 configuration.

“We are contacting the affected customers to offer them alternate flight options. We apologise for any inconvenience caused,” United said when asked if it would offer refunds to passengers who had already booked flights before knowing about the down-gauging.

The spokesperson wished to emphasise that passengers in the 2-2-2 configured aircraft will still enjoy the same Polaris service as those in the 1-2-1 configured aircraft. They will also receive the same goodies as those in the 1-2-1 configuration. These include an amenity kit…

Products available on United Polaris / photo courtesy of United Airlines

…as well as pyjamas, slippers, a blanket and cooling gel pillow…

Products available on United Polaris / photo courtesy of United Airlines

Last year, Business Traveller Asia-Pacific reviewed the latest 1-2-1 Polaris business class on a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

Flight review: United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Polaris business class

For those who prefer to fly to Newark on a new-generation aircraft, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific is offering non-stop flights there on its Airbus A350-900. The service is daily throughout most of December 2019 and January 2020, according to the airline’s flight timetable on its website.

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