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United Is Making These Major Changes to Future Flights

After a big announcement in the fall, the carrier downshifted its offerings.

Traveling by air these days means staying ready to roll with the punches. Amid a dynamic and highly challenging time for major airline carriers, passengers have experienced flight cancellations and delays, partly due to a staffing shortage triggered by the pandemic. And incidences of unruly in-flight behavior have led to changes in airline policies meant to combat the violence—and then to even more controversial changes after a complex two-year stretch for the aviation industry and the travelers who rely on it. Now, United Airlines has announced some new changes that may come as a surprise to passengers—for better or for worse. Read on to find out what they are and how they might affect your next trip.

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United will offer new international routes this summer.

United Airlines Boeing 747 jumbo jet airliner taking off from Sydney Airport.

Back in October, United Airlines announced five new international destinations coming to its flight offerings this summer. The major expansion will include routes to Spain, Portugal, Norway, and Jordan.

One route, in particular, is raising some eyebrows among experienced travelers: Set to debut on May 13, the carrier has plans to connect its Newark (EWR) hub with Ponta Delgada (PDL) in the Portuguese island territory of the Azores. But the new route comes with a slew of caveats.

The new international route to the Azores on United 737 MAX 8 planes won't offer lie-flat seats in business class.

United Airlines (Star Alliance) aircraft - Denver International Airport

At 2,576 miles in distance and about six hours in duration, the Newark to Azores route will use United's Boeing 737 MAX 8 for the flight. That's a fuel-efficient aircraft, but it's not a wide-body jet. And that means that travelers won't find the lie-flat Polaris business-class pods that'd they'd typically expect when booking the cabin on a flight over the Atlantic.

The 737 MAX 8 has 166 seats, split between 16 domestic first-class recliners, 54 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats, and 96 standard coach seats, according to The Points Guy.

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Passengers won't get access to the business-class lounge, either.

A United Airlines 737 departs Denver International Airport.

When it announced its new flights back in October, United originally marketed the upper-class cabin as Polaris, The Points Guy notes, but it has since stopped doing so. Instead, it's now selling those seats as Premium Plus, which is more in line with the type of seat travelers would expect to see when they board. Passengers holding these tickets won't get into the business-class lounge in Newark.

United's Azores seating options might be a downgrade, but the seats come with a downgraded price point to match.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS / USA - March 10, 2018: A United Airlines passenger aircraft - Boeing 777 - arriving at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on a sunny morning.

Passengers also won't find many of the perks on this route they're accustomed to if they typically travel in business class on long-haul flights. There won't be any a la carte meals with top-end drinks. And they won't get the posh amenity kit, Saks Fifth Avenue-branded duvet, plush pillow, or gel support pillow offered in Polaris either, according to The Points Guy. Instead, they'll get downgraded versions of these offerings.

You will still get real china and flatware in flight, but more limited selection of wines and food options, plus smaller portions.

If that all sounds like a major downgrade, there is an upside for budget-conscious travelers here, too. Instead of a price point in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 for a round-trip Polaris flight on this route, passengers can find round-trip tickets in this Premium Plus arrangement for as low as $1,250.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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