Snaps from the Polaris cabin on United’s Boeing 777-300ER


United Airlines flew its new Boeing 777-300ER plane – outfitted with the new Polaris business-class cabin – from Chicago to San Francisco on Monday and I got to ride along.

The “Polaris plane” goes into regular service on Thursday, February 16, on a domestic flight (Newark to SFO), with international Polaris routes scheduled to start in March, with flights from San Francisco to Hong Kong when more of these planes arrive.

Here are some more snaps from the flight. More to come.

United CEO Oscar Munoz was on hand to welcome guests and scan boarding passes.


Special design features (and friendly crew members, of course) welcome passengers on board.

Saks Fifth Avenue bedding – pillows, blankets, throws – and more welcome passengers to their seats.

The new seats require a special harness seat belt, which flight attendants teach you how to put on.

More snaps tomorrow…

Upcycled carry-on bags from United banners

united recycled bags

The airline industry uses a lot of ‘stuff’ and some of that stuff gets recycled and re-used and made into new things that you may want to buy.

The newest “upcycled” aviation items are a set of 100 carry-on bags made from 20 United Airlines “Fly the Friendly Skies” banners.

The airline worked with the Columbia College Chicago Department of Fashion Studies and the Re:new Project and asked them to come up with a carry-on bag that would look good and be durable, be economical to make and fit under an airplane seat.

The results look appealing and are available for purchase at the United Shop .

Even better: the proceeds from sales of the upcycled banners will benefit Re:new and the Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project in Northern Peru.

Airline points for donating cash to Nepal

united nepal

Lots of groups are raising money to help those affected by the earthquake in Nepal and you should donate what you can to at least one of them.

Airlines are joining the effort and United Airlines is first out of the gate to offer a mileage bonus to MileagePlus members who donate to the cause.

The airline is working with the American Red Cross, Americares, Airlink and Operation USA. MileagePlus members who give between $50-99 will receive 250 bonus miles, those who contribute $100-249 will receive 500 bonus miles, and members who donate more than $250 will receive 1,000 bonus miles.

5 million bonus miles will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis for contributions made through the airline’s fundraising page through 11:59 PM CDT, on May 15, 2015.

United is also putting up $50,000 to match donations to these partner organizations from United customers and the carrier’s employees.

Go here to participate

We’ll add other airline mileage-bonus programs as we find them and if you spot one, let us know.

United adds Uber to its mobile app

Uber app

United Airlines has expanded its mobile app to include a link to Uber transportation services.

According to United, the app will display Uber information, including types of available vehicles, estimated wait times and prices. After you pick a ride, the United app will transfer you to the Uber app (or to the Uber website to sign up for an account) to complete the transaction.

This despite the fact that many airports around the country are having disputes with Uber and other transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Sidecar, which operate at airports without licenses to do so.

United seems to be taking a side here, and to get you started with Uber, when you sign up for Uber via the United app you’ll get 1,000 MileagePlus award miles when you complete your first transaction (limited time offer…)

Connected fliers get movies on their gadgets


Courtesy United Airlines

United Airlines is joining the ranks of carriers that can bypass seatback screens and deliver on-demand, in-flight entertainment directly to gadgets brought on board by passengers.

“We’ve noticed more and more customers have their own personal electronic devices when they fly, so it just makes sense to provide this service,” said United Airlines spokeswoman Karen May.

The service, provided by Panasonic, will allow passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices to access over 150 movies and TV shows stored in on-board servers.

Apple users will access the content through United’s new iOS app; laptop users will just need to open a browser. An app for Android devices is still under construction.

United will begin testing the new service this week on a Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. “We’ll then gradually expand the personal device entertainment system to other 777s flying to Hawaii and then to other fleet types that currently don’t have on-demand seatback entertainment systems,” said May.

Programming will be different than that offered via the on-demand seatback system and will be changed quarterly at first and eventually refreshed monthly. During roll-out, the service will be offered to passengers for free, “but I can’t say it will always be that way,” said May.

United is not the first to begin offering on-demand programming to passengers’ personal devices. “Many airlines are rolling out this ‘from the Netflix server on the plane to your device via Wi-Fi’ option for passengers,” said John Walton, direct of date for Routehappy. Fliers get a wide range of content “often for no more than the price of downloading it from iTunes and, for airlines, it’s a lot cheaper and lighter than installing a seatback entertainment system,” he said.

For a fee, passengers on many American Airlines, Delta and US Airways flights can stream on-demand movies and TV shows via Gogo Vision. Other airlines streaming to passenger devices include Air Canada, El Al, Norwegian, Scoot and Virgin Australia. “Southwest offers streaming video plus streaming live TV, while Qantas offers streaming to the airline’s own iPads, which are rigged to the seat in front of you in a kind of sling,” said Walton.

It seems like a trend, but experts say Hollywood is making sure seatback in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems aren’t going away just yet.“Major airlines are still making significant investments in fixed IFE systems and backseat screens on wide-body aircraft because they want to offer the latest Hollywood blockbusters to passengers on long-haul flights,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com, an industry and consumer trends research agency.

“This so-called early-window content is restricted to fixed seat-back systems and select airline-owned tablets because of the perceived risk by Hollywood that their latest releases will get copied when streamed to passenger devices,” said Kollau.

But that barrier may not last long.

“Many airlines would like nothing better than to rip out embedded systems,” said Mary Kirby, founder of the Runway Girl Network, “and the moment Hollywood relents on early window to personal electronic devices, or connectivity can support streaming over the pipe, is the moment that embedded IFE will go the way of the dodo bird.”

(My story about changes in in-flight entertainment first appeared on NBC News Travel).