United Agents Have No Clue If Carseats Are Allowed In Polaris Class, Here’s What We Learned On Our Flight From Tel Aviv To Newark

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United 777-300 Polaris Class
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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.

We had Maya in a Chicco Keyfit 30 while we gate checked the UppaBaby Vista that pushed the carseat to the plane.

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:

 

Straight forward 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.

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85 Comments On "United Agents Have No Clue If Carseats Are Allowed In Polaris Class, Here’s What We Learned On Our Flight From Tel Aviv To Newark"

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Myi

Dan A+ on your homework.
Well done.

Rafael

Nice to know. Although I’m certain 95% of us readers won’t ever book first or business class thoug unless they’re deeply discounted or as part of a miles card, come on man, we’re looking for deals! Economy class for the rest of us. Lol shabbat shalom

High end hobo

What about LY’s policy on the 787 J?

Btw thank you for these informative well researched posts.

Nick

Hey Dan – we’ll be flying LH-451 LAX-FRA on a 747-8 in business. We were planning to use a car seat but I’m seeing those seats are slightly angled. Do you have any idea if they are angled 18degree+

iwlw

Hi Dan, welcome back! Fascinating article.
Not sure if you’ll be writing up a full trip report at some point, but was wondering if you found the Polaris in any way superior to the regular BF United seats, i.e. the ones on the afternoon flights to TLV?
Also, I know you were working on planning your itinerary, was there any activity/place you went to that might be a little off the beaten track but is a can’t miss, Ill be going in a couple weeks. Thanks!

Chaim

Thanks Dan for being an advocate for all of us to make flying easier, and by helping us achieve those tickets.

Sami

Thanks so much for this post Dan. I worry that the confusion surrounding infant safety and the use of car seats on airplanes could be a recipe for another tragedy.

James

Excellent post. Had this issue on a Delta flight even though I had reached out prior to flight and obviously they knew the age of child booked into the seat. Would never fly with my children unrestrained. A conversation with a veteran flight attendant on my honeymoon about how common sudden turbulence issues are guaranteed that.

John

How do u find 5 saver available. Did u do plan b ?

Don

The only question I have to you Dan is how the hack did you find 5 seats with miles

mf

How do u find 5 saver available. Did u do plan b ?

yechiel

I flew with my baby in January on Virgin Atlantic from JFK to LHR. The flight was completely empty. The flight attendants allowed us to bring our carseat on board even though we hadn’t purchased a ticket for the baby. However, the flight attendant decided that only forward facing carseats are allowed. Since its an infant car seat, it can’t buckle in forward facing and he made us stow it in the overhead compartment. Needless to say baby didn’t sleep very well. On the way back we flew Air France from CDG to JFK and had purchased him a seat. We didn’t ask questions, just buckled it in ourselves. No one bothered us. After our trip we complained to VA. After much back and forth the customer rep basically said we were right but she wouldn’t admit that the FA was wrong. We came to the conclusion that no one really knows policy on car seats and they just make it up on a whim.

reb yid

If you have enough miles you can book nonsaver fares. Or if you MS on cards with points that can be used like cash (AMEX, Barclays, etc) then there doesn’t need to be any “availability.”

reb yid

The safety of oblique seats, even for adult occupants, is a complicated issue. There would be significant twisting of the head and torso in the event of a frontal impact, which would not be present in forward, rear, or side-facing seats. The inflatable lap belt, while improving restraint, actually can add to the torsion effect. Witness the difficulties Virgin Australia had with getting its super diamond seats approved.

See:

https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-09-25/pdf/2014-22781.pdf

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2014/09/25/2014-22781/special-conditions-boeing-model-777-300er-single-occupant-oblique-side-facing-seats-with-inflatable

https://runwaygirlnetwork.com/2015/07/16/virgin-australias-business-seat-delay-due-to-airbag-design/

ah

I don’t think it’s right to post about an impossible award redemption making it like it’s attainable. You have your secret ways, but others do not. Your readers would never be able to book this as you did. Telling people to find flights with layovers is not a fair response, nor is plan B.

Mr. CC

Unimpressed that you couldn’t try out Elal
(I know you tried, but someone like YOU should have found a way)

Work-for-ur-muny

“I was just impressed that logic prevailed.”
…and I, for one, am shocked that logic prevailed…

Ryan

I’ve had a similar experience in the old business class, with crew not knowing how many extra oxygen masks are really available on the 4 seats of the 2-4-2 configuration!
We were 2 adults + 2 lap twins, and different people (e.g. check-in, gate, purser) said different things about what we can or can’t do.

Eventually, after we boarded the plain, the purser + ground technician came in with manuals, and it took them about 15 minutes to figure out the oxygen masks situation. FYI, the 4 seats had only 1 extra mask, so we couldn’t sit there with 2 lap children, even though we’ve made sure that’s possible with CS before we booked it.

The purser asked for volunteers to switch with one of us, and after no one stepped in, she asked a near-by passenger to switch with us. He didn’t have much choice, but both him and us got compensation vouchers from UA on this ordeal, so that was handled OK.

Shortly after we had something like that in eco+ on 773, and again the purser and some ground technician took some 10 minutes to find the right passage on the manual for that.

aradisc

“I asked the purser if she was familiar with the United flight 232 crash”

Yikes. I’d be afraid to bring up any talk of crashes while in-flight, lest the FA misjudge your comment as a threat. Next thing you know, the flight gets diverted and you end up in handcuffs.

United flyer

I’d write to united to thank them for a courteus flight attendant who was willing to talk. Most flight attendants feel like they are the rulers oof the sky and if you dare question their orders, they take it as you are disobeying them and we all know what can happen next. United gets so much slack for every mess up by their FA, they should be commended when they are nice and humble enough to accept that maybe the passenger has a point to make.

dan\'s fan

you need to update the business unlimited card

Jeff

Dan, Global Service or United 1k status wouldn’t give better availability for busness reward seats?

pau

is there any way possible to upgrade to premium economy on Elal from a paid economy ticket?using matmid points

Julian

Did you have the older kids sit in car seats or did you check the car seats at the gate? It was not clear if you checked both the travelmate and the evenflo or just the travelmate. Also, if you checked the carseats, how old were your kids before you stopped using carseats on the plane. Finally, how do you manage hauling 3 carseats through the airport and security? Thank you!

Joey

Is a TR coming soon?

ARny

Gotta commend the FA here. Most of them are too stuck up to even begin a conversation with, its usually their way or the runway. I always had great experiences with the crew on the EWR-TLV route.

joel

global service members can get saver seats forced open for them !!

Queenie

Dan, Since this post is almost a year old. I am wondering if you have travelled with a carseat on polaris business recently. If yes, were you allowed to use the car seat on the new polaris business straight forward facing seat. Just wondering if anything changed.

vbscript2

For what it’s worth, United’s website says, “Child safety seats or restraint systems are also not permitted… in United Polaris business class on 767, 777, or 787 aircraft.”

So, it appears that the official rule is that they are not allowed at all in this cabin, regardless of whether or not the individual seat is forward-facing. Whether or not that makes sense is, of course, another question. It’s possible that the reason for this might not be only the angled seats, but also airbags in the seat belts. My understanding is that these are generally incompatible with the use of a child restraint system.

rebecca markoff

Hi! I am supposed to be flying on Polaris in a forward facing (not oblique) seat with my 5 month old in his carseat next to me next week. We are doing the EWR to Tel Aviv route. I am getting the runaround and multiple different answers from United about whether his carseat is allowed. Do you know if your experience still holds true about bringing the carseat on board? Thank you!

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