How Good Are United’s New Polaris Seats?

On Tuesday I had the chance to fly United’s brand new 777-300ER from San Francisco to Hong Kong, which featured their new Polaris business class seats. While United has been marketing the Polaris product for flights since December 1, 2016, in reality only a few planes have the new seats so far (specifically, only the 777-300ERs). Furthermore, the first 777-300ER just started flying internationally as of this week.

United-777

There are some great business class seats out there nowadays, and many of them are common configurations that different airlines share. United, on the other hand, went with a custom design from Zodiac, which looks a bit unusual on the surface. So I was curious to check out the seat quality for myself on this 14 hour flight.

I’ve seen some others share their thoughts on the seat, though feel like I haven’t seen many direct comparisons between this product and other leading business class seats. So in this post I first wanted to talk about what makes a great business class seat, what I consider the best existing business class seats to be, and where United ranks.

What Makes A Great Business Class Seat?

Everyone has different preferences, though here are the most important factors that make a great business class seat, in my opinion:

  • Not having a seatmate/direct aisle access. I have a strong preference for any seat where you don’t have to sit next to someone, and where you have direct aisle access from every seat. Many airlines strike a great balance here, by having some “single” seats, and also some seats where people can sit together.
  • Lots of privacy. This might sound the same as not having a seatmate, but it’s not. There are plenty of solo seats which feel “exposed,” because there’s not any built in privacy. Similarly, there are plenty of seats with seatmates where you still have full privacy thanks to the presence of shields, barriers, etc.
  • Plenty of room for my feet. While many airlines have fully flat seats in business class nowadays, I find the biggest deficiency to often be the lack of room for my feet. What’s the point of a fully flat surface if you have to squeeze your feet into a tiny cubby where you can’t sleep in a natural position?

The gold standard of business class seats

The way I see it, the two best business class configurations in the world are reverse herringbone seats and Apex Suites.

Reverse herringbone seats

This is a common business class configuration offered by many airlines in many forms nowadays, including Air CanadaAir France, American, Avianca, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qatar Airways, and many more. They all have minor differences, though overall I think they’re similar enough so they can be lumped into one group without being too unfair.

There’s a lot to love about reverse herringbone seats. Each seat has direct aisle access, and there are only four seats per row. Furthermore, all the seats are roughly equal, so there’s not a huge variance in quality based on where you’re seated.

American-Business-Class

The window seats are angled towards the window, while the center seats are angled towards the center. The seat controls are easy to use, and there’s plenty of counter space. Your feet go on a fairly spacious ottoman, and the TV swivels out from the seat in front of you. Best of all, the seat is extremely private, since everyone is sort of facing away from one another.

However, the downside to reverse herringbone seats is that they’re not ideal if you’re traveling with someone, since you can’t comfortably talk, even if you choose the center seats.

Apex Suites

Apex Suites aren’t nearly as common as reverse herringbone seats. So far I’ve flown this configuration on Oman Air, Japan Airlines, and Korean Air. While virtually all reverse herringbone seats are equally comfortable, the same isn’t true of Apex Suites.

Oman-Air-787-Business-Class - 5

The key with this configuration is to select a window seat. The window seats are among the most private and spacious out there. You don’t have to jump over your seatmate, but rather have a separate walkway through which you can enter your seat.

While you’re technically sitting next to someone, there’s a privacy shield between seats, so you’ll never even know you have a seatmate. The seat is private and spacious, and feels like a cocoon. Perhaps, best of all, when you’re in the fully flat configuration, there’s plenty of room for your feet. They don’t fit into some small cubby, but rather you can stretch them out as much as you’d like.

What’s the new United Polaris seat like?

United’s new 777-300ER Polaris cabin is massive. It has 60 seats, spread across two cabins. The forward cabin has 28 seats, while the rear cabin has 32 seats. The Polaris cabin takes up nearly half of the square footage of the cabin.

United-777-300ER

I’d also note that this is an extremely efficient layout for the airline. They fit 28 seats between doors 1 & 2, and manage to even squeeze a galley into the rear portion of that section. In a standard reverse herringbone configuration you can squeeze 28 seats between doors 1 & 2 without any sort of a galley at the back of the cabin.

Polaris

The Polaris configuration is staggered. For example, along the windows, seats are either fully forward facing and extremely private, or they’re angled towards the aisle and not as private.

United-Polaris-Seat - 1

The odd numbered rows are the more private seats, as they’re further from the aisle. When you’re seated in one of these rows you won’t see any other passenger.

United-Polaris-Seat - 2

There’s a console closer to the aisle, which creates a private cocoon that gives you a lot of separation from everyone else.

United-Polaris-Seat - 3

The downside to the window seats is that they feel a bit more claustrophobic. The Polaris seat feels pretty narrow. I’m not necessarily talking about the surface of the seat as such, but because you’re surrounded on both sides by barriers, there’s not much shoulder space. In these seats, the area for your feet is pretty tight. I wouldn’t say it’s super constraining, but you won’t be able to bend your knees much in the fully reclined position, if that’s something you care about.

United-Polaris-Seat - 4

All the same things are true for the center seats in the odd rows, except you’re seated just a couple of inches from the person next to you. However, there’s a shield, which should be up when you board, but can be lowered if desired. So unless your seat opponent is gassy, you may not even know they’re there. 😉

United-Polaris-Seat - 8

The even numbered rows have a design that takes some getting used to. The seats are angled towards the aisle, but oddly they don’t start at the window. They’re closer to the aisle to begin with, and then still angled even further towards the aisle.

United-Polaris-Seat - 6

These seats are significantly less private than the window seats, and in a way you feel like you’re seated in the aisle. This is the seat I had, since I booked pretty last minute.

United-Polaris-Seat - 7

However, later in the flight the position of the seat bothered me less. United did a great job of making these seats feel as private as they can, due to the “shell” on the outside of your seat.

United-Polaris-Seat - 5

So when you’re in bed mode it feels private, and you even have the advantage of having a bit more room for your knees to stretch out, due to the aisle opening.

United-Polaris-Legroom

The center seats in even numbered rows are also closer to the aisle.

United-Polaris-Seat - 9

Pros & cons of United’s new Polaris seats

The pros of United’s new Polaris seats include:

  • The seats are extremely private, especially in odd numbered rows
  • The cabin is so chic and stylish, unlike what I’ve seen on any other US carrier
  • The ability to sit next to someone if you want, but also to have full privacy if you prefer
  • The counter space is great, as you can place a laptop, book, etc., there
  • This isn’t really part of the seat/hard product, but the bedding is incredible

United-Polaris-Bed

The cons of United’s new Polaris seats include:

  • The seats feel narrow and somewhat claustrophobic, especially in the window
  • The seat has virtually no storage compartments, aside from a small compartment for headphones
  • The foot cubby isn’t very spacious, so you’ll be somewhat limited in terms of the positions in which you can rest your feet.
  • A quarter of the seats are really the best, so there’s not much “equality” with these seats

Where does United’s new Polaris seat rank?

Personally a window seat in an Apex Suite configuration is still my favorite product in the sky. It has full privacy, yet allows you to sit next to a travel companion if you’d like. Furthermore in bed mode you won’t feel like you have to contort your body to get in an acceptable sleeping position.

I’d say this seat is roughly equal in terms of comfort to a reverse herringbone seat. I’d add the further disclaimer that this configuration is preferred if you’re traveling with someone, since you can actually sit next to them, while I’d prefer a reverse herringbone configuration if traveling alone, since all seats are more or less the same.

Bottom line

United’s new Polaris product is a massive improvement over the old product. Having direct aisle access from every seat and a ton of privacy is great. Is this some revolutionary new hard product that puts all other airlines to shame? No. But I’d say it’s one of the top five business class hard products out there.

Now that I’ve covered the seat and bedding, stay tuned, because next up I’ll have a “10 pictures” post about the flight experience itself.

If you’ve flown United’s new Polaris seat, what did you think of it?

Comments

  1. Seat looks like garbage, just like everything on United. Sounds likes it cramped and not very comfortable. Why anyone would want to fly this is beyond me. Oh wait, it will be years before most people will have the opportunity to do so.

  2. since we are on an editing train…

    “I wouldn’t see it’s super constraining,”, think you meant “I wouldn’t say”

  3. @ Sami Khan — Not a dumb question at all. I read some places that the crew doesn’t make your bed, but on my flight they offered to make the bed.

  4. I can see how the bedding could be a problem with some of these seats. But overall, I’d take one of these window seats without complaint. Huge improvement for United. But I would never pick these over reverse herringbone.

  5. Lucky, you missed a comma somewhere around the 15th sentence. I forgot where. It’s burning my eyes. Please find it and correct it.

  6. Are you lumping in the B/E Super Diamond seats when you reference reverse herringbone seats? That is the product QR uses IIRC.

  7. @ Golfingboy — Yep, lumping in the Super Diamond and Cirrus seats. They have minor differences, but are ultimately the same concept.

  8. Hi Lucky!

    Overall I like the Polaris seat…though I couldn’t see myself sitting in anything else other than the ultra private “Odd Number” “Straight” facing seats. (Even though the “wall” on the window seats annoys me a bit)
    I took some pictures:

    https://flic.kr/s/aHskPrJHhr

    Key observations :

    1) if you insist on a window seat, our setup of one on front of the other worked quite well… He’d just tap me on the head whenever he wanted to talk or had a question etc.

    2) Privacy : I definitely love the privacy of the odd numbered straight seats vs the angled seats. Seating on the angled seat made me feel exposed to the aisle but it wasn’t too bad as my hubby who sat there for most of the flight didn’t mind.

    2) Sleep Comfort : in a full lie flat position:

    A) Odd numbered straight seats are fine if you’re a back sleeper. Sleeping on your side is problematic since the footwell and that “wall” that comprises of the armrest and seat controls against the window gets in the way. Besides you do recline into a small cubby with your legs under the monitor.

    B) the angled seats are much less claustrophobic since there’s no cubby hole you recline into and that armrest wall isn’t noticeable.. Sleeping on your side is not problem for this seat.

    C) Shoulder room : I’m fairly broad shouldered…or so I thought… But didn’t have any problems in either seat in the lie flat position. I just had to consciously inch away from the armrest “wall” with the straight seat version in order to be comfortable… And make sure to lower the other armrest which is adjustable.

    3) Tray table is awesome. Adjustable in so many ways and you can leave your seat even during meal service.

    4) Ottoman space underneath : space is very shallow. Can’t put my backpack underneath.. But perfect height for putting your shoes in them.

    The aisles though is a bit tight in both Polaris and economy cabins.

    Overall I think the Polaris cabin is a good improvement. Coach looked dreadful

  9. Single biggest complaint about the old PMCO BF seats – miniature (non-bulkhead) footwells

    Looks like some things never change…

  10. Don’t understand all the fuss over Polaris, just a slightly modified version of a seat that’s been around for 10 years….

  11. The Polaris product as a whole; lounge, bedding, catering, etc is fine. The seat is “meh”. Certainly nothing game changing and it’s not enough to make me fly United.

  12. Just landed from HKG on Polaris hard product. I have 5A seat, which is a window seat. Great privacy, but if you are a big person, I don’t recommend to get the window seat, the opening area to the aisle is quite narrow. Overall, this is a great product from United. Hopefully they can retrofit the seats as many as their vendor can support to fully transformed the business class experience.

  13. Aren’t these effectively just modified Solstys style seats like you’d see on Alitalia or Asiana’s 777s and A380s? Or emirates A380 and etihad 777 business for that matter.

  14. But but but some say that since Oscar came aboard, UA is the best airline in the world!!! Something tremendous! And that you have dumb grey matter or something if you don’t agree.

  15. Lucky, how would you compare UA’s 77W Polaris seat vs AA’s failed 787-8 J seat when it comes to space, comfort, etc?

    I think comparing those two would be more of an apples-to-apples comparison since they both achieve the same seat density.

    Regarding the Apex suite, while it may be great, its layout is terribly inefficient. There’s so much space that is wasted. That’s why that seat hasn’t been popular with airlines.

    On the other hand, the reverse herringbone (and the vantageXL staggered config) has been popular since it has a fairly efficient footprint and gives pax a good amount of space.

  16. @ turgutbey — Sort of similar in a way, but not really. Quite a different product, since every other row is staggered towards the aisle. In the Solstys confirmation, all the seats are fully forward facing.

  17. It’s nice to see one of the US airlines trying to upgrade things…but the issue at UA has always been operations & lukewarm to miserable employees. Not that I blame the employees — I’d probably have a terrible attitude if my boss was Jeff Smisek too.

  18. I sat in an even-numbered window flying SFO-EWR. Though privacy could use some improvement if that’s important to you, what I really liked about that seat was the ability to use the counter space by the window to keep a laptop/phone both plugged in and out of the way while eating. I also didn’t feel claustrophobic at all in the seat, and there was plenty of space to store my laptop bag under the ottoman. I also like that the cabin layout gives choices for everyone, whether you value privacy, direct window access, being able to talk to your companion, etc.

    That being said – the seat still strikes me as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s good, certainly MUCH better than the existing hard product, but would I go out of my way to pick United over a competitor all else being equal? Probably not. And don’t even get me started on that awful 10-across Y cabin…

  19. Another small typo:y. “It has fully privacy, yet allows you to sit next to a travel companion if you’d like.”

    I think you meant: “It has ful)l privacy, yet allows you to sit next to a travel companion … .”

  20. Crap, typos in my correction to your typo.

    Another small typo: “It has fully privacy, yet allows you to sit next to a travel companion if you’d like.”

    I think you meant: “It has full privacy, yet allows you to sit next to a travel companion … .”

  21. Thanks Lucky. I’m debating whether to try the Polaris seats myself on the NYC-SFO jaunt. would be a chance to pickup some bonus United miles through a targeted offer too.

  22. I’ve never been bothered by the lack of space for the feet however I find many business class seats too narrow which makes it sometime quite uncomfortable on the shoulders unless you’re sleeping on your side. This seat look like it won’t be doing the trick for me the most shoulder space I find are on reverse herringbone seats…and first class… ahhhhhh first class so much room 🙂

  23. I have a question which is probably stupid. Why are the seats called REVERSE herringbone seats? They all face the same way. Please explain. Thanks

  24. Again – Polaris is really 8 across in terms of seat width. The repeating pattern is 8 across. Basically the layout just moves the aisle seats back a bit and then angle them to allow for the window and center passengers to have direct aisle access.

    Yes it has privacy and direct aisle access, but you look at it – it is similar to UA’s old 2-4-2 arrangement, now with all rows facing forward (instead of the toes together with forward/rear seats), but with the seats pushed back and angled. Clever – but in the end – the leg space isn’t as good as the old UA 2-4-2 which had no privacy. So a tradeoff.

    The 2-2-2 that CO used wasn’t a bad seat. Only the window seats had to step over someone.

    I really don’t like having to squeeze my feet into a tight cubby hole. The AA Reverse Herringbone is a far superior seat.

  25. @ mark — They don’t all face the same way. Some face towards the center of the plane, while others face towards the fuselage.

  26. On BA and EY, the aisle seats are completely open—as I recall, BA doesn’t even have an armrest. These Polaris seats are much better because of the shell.

  27. @Lucky with choice of AA LAX-HKG or UA SFO-HKG in J, based on hard product alone which would you choose and why?

  28. I think you should note that the great advantage of reverse herringbone is consistency and predictability, which none of the other configurations offer.

    Having recently flown the new AA reverse herringbone (the one they are installing on the 789 and newly refurbished 772), I must say I find it best in class, especially in terms of the massive amounts of counter space and storage (much more than the new CX A350 product, and certainly more than the older CX/AA 77W product). The only unfortunate omission is the lack of privacy screen for the middle seats. From the aesthetic perspective, I would have called those seats almost-chic – the molded gray parts have the custom look of a contemporary car dashboard, and feel high quality – if it wasn’t for the discordant use of fake wood finish on the tray table, a traditional, and tacky, AA touch. The Polaris seat certainly seems more consistently stylish.

  29. Can anyone comment on UA Polaris business class seats vs traditional UA business class seats? Aside from the bedding/lie down option, more privacy and always aisle access – Are there any other similarities or differences such as food served, alcohol choices, seat size difference etc.?

  30. I just had Polaris-branded service from FRA-IAD yesterday. 2-3-2 configuration and seats were not like what Lucky had — comfortable, but prettty much just typical business class seats with no privacy attributes. Lack of any storage space was strange and annoying — for take off and landing they announced that Polaris Business Passengers would have to stow our belongings in overhead bins and during flight I either had to make piles on the floor and hope my neighbor wouldn’t step on them or keep items like my book and headphones in my lap all the time. At least economy class gets the storage pouch on the seat back in front of you and under-seat storage.

  31. I am not sure what flight you took these pictures on but it isn’t the “Polaris” seating I have on my current flight which I am on right now. The seating you show in the pictures would be a huge upgrade from the scam I am sitting in right now. My current “Business” class seating in the middle is 4 abreast, this is on a 13.5 hour flight to Tokyo from Chicago. My configuration is 2-4-2. It is the biggest scam in the airline industry right now. They charge you business class fares for extended leg room seats. It is a disaster. My recommendation to any travelers is traveler beware United has the biggest scam out there for business class seats. I would not pay this again and will never fly United on these cheap seat arrangements. Again, travelers should avoid this scam at all costs, United has go e backwards on International flights.

  32. United has removed the F section so I will stop flying them. Haven’t been in the old United Biz the past 20 years and don’t intend to be downgraded to the new Polaris which is definitely not an F cabin (my recent Polaris flight was full of screaming 2 year olds). Furthermore, in addition to tiny narrow seats the tray tables in the new Polaris hit your shins. Horrible new product by UA. Will not buy.

  33. Airlines such as my local one Cathay Pacific upgrade their b class every few years so USA carriers always seem behind the times to me . This does look a bit old fashioned considering it’s brand new but I’m sure it’s a huge improvement. It dies need to be a 2 2 2 configuration to be proper b class. Enjoying your updates btw ! Tom in Hk

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