This is what United’s first flight back to China looked like

Today at 11:15 United flight UA857 took flight on its way to Seoul, South Korea (ICN) and then on to Shanghai, China (PVG). The flight is currently over the Pacific, after departing 15 minutes behind schedule – a delay attributed to cargo loading. This is United’s first flight to China following the COVID groundings, and it was completely sold out over a week before liftoff.

We’re still waiting for pictures from the flight, but seat maps from United give us a good idea of what the flight looked like.

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Business Class was filled to capacity. A few days ago there were still three empty business class seats, but these were filled today – likely with upgrades from economy.

United operates Premium Plus (rows 20 to 22), Economy Plus (rows 30 to 35) and Economy (rows 36 to 58) cabins on the 777-300ER. Earlier this week, we wrote about some of the changes that United made to increase distancing between passengers. As of departure today, you can see that United continued to refine the spacing of customers. The seat maps below show passengers from today (left) and two days ago (right).

Prior to departure, most of the Premium Plus cabin was vacant At departure, only two seats in this cabin were vacant; some passengers from lower class cabins got an upgrade. While it does appear that social distancing in Premium Plus is limited, it’s possible that United filled this cabin with couples and families from the same household.

By moving some passengers to Premium Plus, United was able to create more space between customers in Economy Plus and Economy classes. Most rows in the middle aisle have two of four seats empty. Many seats in left and right aisles have middle seats empty. The passengers that are sitting next to each other are likely from the same party; there are several aisles that are completely empty, so United could have distanced these passengers if needed.

Unlike its domestic flights, which are being sold to 100% capacity, United limited the number of seats sold on UA857. Only about 200 of the 290 seats in economy cabins were sold.

United appears to be accommodating for the lower load factor by increasing prices. Roundtrip economy tickets on UA857 and the returning UA858 cost nearly $4,000. Demand for this route appears to be strong, regardless of the price increase. You won’t be able to book a ticket on UA857 until mid-September.