We just got back from spending the last couple weeks in Israel and am catching up what I’ve missed in the airline miles and credit card world…
United launched their new business class, Polaris, in December 2016. While their 777-300 aircraft were delivered with the new seating, other aircraft are slowly being retrofitted with Polaris seating that offers direct aisle access from every seat.
Confusingly, United calls all international business class Polaris, but only the planes that offer direct aisle access from every seat offer a true Polaris configuration.
777-300 seating map:
Jan Brown was one of the flight attendants who survived the 1989 crash of United flight 232. FAA guidance at the time was to put lap children on the floor and that’s what she told passengers on the flight to do. A parent of a lap child who died on that flight screamed at Jan, “You told me to put my son on the floor, I did, and he’s gone”. Everyone else in the area of the infant survived besides for the lap child. Jan has lobbied for mandatory carseat rules ever since that flight.
We always travel with carseats and purchase a seat for our infants. Aside from the safety aspect, infants in a carseat are more likely to sleep on a plane, which means that parents and surrounding passengers can also sleep better.
The FAA doesn’t require a seat for children under 2, however, “The FAA strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination…The safest place for your child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system or device, not on your lap. Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence.”
Their analysis showed that requiring tickets for children under 2 would mean more people would drive, which is a statistically more dangerous way to travel. But they still strongly recommend using a carseat.
Unfortunately it’s been getting increasingly more difficult to travel with a carseat. Airlines are installing airbag seatbelts in extra legroom seats and in business class that are often incompatible with carseats. Airbag seatbelts forced us out of JetBlue extra legroom seats earlier this year due to having an infant carseat.
The FAA announced in 2015 that carseats are not allowed in oblique seats. These are defined as seats that are angled more than 18 degrees from the aircraft centerline. There’s no particular reason for the ban, but the FAA has never gotten around to testing carseats on angled seats.
Airlines like Air Canada and Delta ban carseats in all direct-aisle access business class seats.
But I wondered, what is the story with United’s Polaris class?
Half the seats are angled, but half of them face straight forward.
United.com says that carseats are not allowed in first class on three-cabin 767 or 777-200 aircraft. Does that mean that business class is OK?
I reached out to United on Twitter and at first they said that you can’t have carseats in business class:
I asked for more details and the next rep said that you can have them in the straight froward facing seats:
I wrote to customer service and they also confirmed that carseats were good to go in Polaris:
I found a United flight attendant who was willing to dig deeper though, and he sent me this information from the in-flight manual:
The forward most cabin on the 767-300 and 777-200 referenced there are first class, but as there is no first class on the 777-300, it must be referring to Polaris business class. United blames the restriction on the oblique seats, but only half of the seats in Polaris business are actually oblique.
At that point we filed a complaint to the DoT as United appears to be violating the FAA policy that requires the use of carseats unless it’s in an exit row or oblique seat.
United responded with a bogus answer that carseats are banned in the straight forward Polaris seats as all Polaris seats are aisle seats and the FAA bans carseats from aisle seats. I responded yesterday how that is nonsense as the FAA only bans carseats from being placed in seats that will block others from evacuating. Thanks to direct aisle access from all Polaris seats, the carseat won’t block anyone. I haven’t yet received a response.
So what actually happened on our flight?
We flew from Newark to Tel Aviv in seats 15A/D/G and 17D/G. Rafi sat in the window seat in 15A and I sat next to Talia in 15D/G. Mimi sat next to Maya in 17D/G. I redeemed 750K United miles for the 5 round-trip business saver awards.
Carseat manufacturers advise to avoid checking carseats at the ticket counter, so we also brought 2 GoGoBabyz Travelmates, which we use to make it easy to push an Evenflo Maestro travel carseat for Rafi and Talia which we gate check to have at the destination. Gate checked items also rarely get lost and we have the ability to push them through the airport if they get tired.
The flight attendants didn’t say anything about the infant carseat on our outbound flight.
We flew back from Tel Aviv to Newark in seats 9 A/D/G and 11 D/G. During boarding, Maya had finally fallen asleep in Mimi’s arms and was transferred to her carseat for take off. Upon seeing Maya in her carseat, the purser informed Mimi that babies must be held during take off and landing and can only be in a FAA approved child restraint in between. She then showed us the manual and said that this was not up for debate and we must comply. At first I asked if she was interpreting it right, perhaps it only meant to ban carseats in the Polaris seats that are angled outwards and not straight forward?
Angled Polaris seat:
She argued that all of the seats are angled more than 18 degrees in lie-flat position. The rule isn’t referring to that and I pointed out that other aircraft, like the 787-8, have lie-flat seats and no such restrictions. I also pulled out my screenshots where United indicated carseats were allowed in our particular seats and she said she would talk to the captain. Maya was sound asleep in her carseat and the purser didn’t come back before takeoff, so we left her in the carseat where she slept for the next 7 hours!
The purser came back afterward and told us the captain said we could use the carseat for the flight, but we would have to hold her for landing. I asked the purser if she was familiar with the United flight 232 crash in Sioux City and she said of course, that was Jan Brown. She became a lot more sympathetic after that and we chatted about carseats and FAA rules and she agreed that the manual appeared contradictory, so she sent my screenshots in an email to United operation headquarters. She seemed pretty convinced that they would get back to her during the flight, but I said I doubt anything that bureaucratic will be solved anytime soon.
That was the last that we were bothered about the carseat. She agreed that it didn’t make any sense to have to hold an infant in a straight forward seat. She acknowledged that I had done my homework and that the policy simply didn’t make any sense. I was just impressed that logic prevailed.
I thought that Polaris is one of the best business class seating configurations out there. Solo travelers can pick a private window seats, couples can pick 2 seats together, etc. I hate the fact that United is making up rules to restrict carseats though. They do have bassinets, but that’s not nearly as safe as a carseat when there is turbulence and it can’t be used for takeoff and landing. With United installing Polaris seats on more aircraft, I sure hope they will reconsider this policy.
I reached out to Jan Brown herself to see if she would be interested in advocating for a policy change, but sadly she is too sick to do so right now.
In the meantime, I’ll likely select planes that have the old business class (including the afternoon United flight from Newark-Tel Aviv on the pre-merger Continental 777-200) when flying with a carseat to avoid these issues.
Share your experiences with carseats in business class or extra legroom seats in the comments below.