United 777 Polaris Business Class In 10 Pictures

This past Tuesday I flew United’s new 777-300ER Polaris business class between San Francisco and Hong Kong. There’s so much to talk about with United Polaris. Up until now I’ve shared my thoughts on the new Polaris seat, as well as the Polaris bedding.

As I explained, the new Polaris seat is solid, though not revolutionary. I think it’s roughly on par with a reverse herringbone product, though has more inconsistencies, since the quality of the seats varies significantly based on what you’re assigned. Meanwhile United’s new Polaris bedding is the best offered by any airline in business class. It’s incredible, as each passenger gets two pillows, two blankets, and can also request a memory foam gel pillow as well as a mattress pad. My only complaint about the bedding is that it’s overwhelming, and there’s nowhere to put it.

In this post I wanted to talk a bit more about the soft product. The flight time from San Francisco to Hong Kong was 14hr10min, and I was looking forward to experiencing the new Polaris product on such a long flight.

This flight was staffed primarily by Hong Kong based flight attendants, as well as a few US based flight attendants. The Hong Kong based flights attendants were friendly and well intentioned, though not to the level you’d get on Cathay Pacific, for example. The US flight attendants seemed pretty good as well.

In United Polaris you get a pre-departure beverage of choice, which is impressive for a US airline. There are very few airlines that give pre-departure beverages of choice in business class, let alone in the US. Each person also gets a Belgian chocolate, which is a nice touch.

United-Polaris-Food - 1

Unfortunately they serve the pre-departure beverage in the most mindlessly designed cup I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty good with airplane cups, but I spilled my champagne, as did the person across from me, as did the person in front of me. Seriously, I’m not kidding.

Waiting at my seat on boarding was a very nice amenity kit. For business class, this has to be one of the nicest kits I’ve ever seen, especially given how much stuff it had in it. There were eyeshades, earplugs, a comb, a pen, socks, mints, lip balm, hand cream, etc. Many of the items were provided by Cowshed. This is a very nice kit.

United-Polaris-Food - 2

Passengers flying in Polaris on flights over 12 hours also get pajamas on demand. Pajamas, mattress pads, and gel pillows, are all only offered on demand, so you’ll want to request them sooner rather than later, as they don’t have enough for all passengers. I found United’s pajamas to be high quality, and kept them on for the whole flight.

United-Polaris-Food - 3

The food & beverage service has also been revamped since United introduced Polaris.

In the afternoons, service begins with a wine flight, if the passenger so chooses. I had a “flight” of the white wines, which was served with mixed nuts. I think the concept of this is nice, but at the same time it’s a gimmick. They need to actually label the glasses in one way or another (though I guess I could tell somewhat by the color of the wine), and the wine is too varied for a flight to be useful. For example, I’d love a flight to try three different chardonnays or sauvignon blancs, but I already know whether I prefer a sweet riesling or a chardonnay.

United-Polaris-Food - 4

The lunch starter consisted of salmon with edamame, radish, and edamame hummus. Then there was a salad with soba noodles and sesame dressing. I was offered two pieces of cheese bread, though there was no choice. Both dishes were very well executed for what they were, though weren’t memorable.

United-Polaris-Food - 5

There were four choices for the main course, and I selected the seared short rib. The dish was much better than it looked — I could basically eat the short rib with just a fork.

United-Polaris-Food - 6

Next there was a nice little cheese course.

United-Polaris-Food - 7

Then lastly there was the choice between an ice cream sundae and some sweets. I had the ice cream sundae with strawberries and cookie crumble (I think that’s what it was). United only has illy drip coffee in Polaris, and not cappuccinos, espressos, etc.

United-Polaris-Food - 8

Then there was a selection of midflight snacks, with choices like shrimp fried rice and grilled cheese with tomato soup. Since the grilled cheese with tomato soup is the”signature” midflight snack, I decided to try that. It was actually really good, especially the chunky tomato soup.

United-Polaris-Food - 9

Then before landing there was a breakfast service, for which I had a southwestern omelet.

United-Polaris-Food - 10

So overall I thought the food in United Polaris was good. Everything was very well executed for what it was. However, is this going to give airlines like Austrian, Etihad, Turkish, Qatar, etc., a run for their money in terms of quality? No way.

In terms of other features, the entertainment selection on the 777-300ER was excellent. There were tons of movies, TV shows, etc. Furthermore, you could listen to ATC communications (it used to be called “Channel 9,” now it’s just called “From The Flight Deck”), which is the best inflight entertainment of all.

United’s 777-300ERs have wifi, and a pass for the entire flight with no data caps costs $30. That’s about 50% more than most other airlines with similar plans charge, but is still reasonable for a longhaul flight. However, unfortunately the wifi didn’t work for the first half of the flight. It’s one thing if this were a one off problem (it amazes me wifi on planes is even a thing), but apparently United is consistently having wifi issues on their 777-300ERs, which is frustrating, and something to be aware of.

Other than that, I think the thing that stood out to me most was that the crew seemed really proud of the new product. Everyone was taking pictures, and I notice that they were “hustling” more than they’d probably have been hustling before. This service is more involved, but they don’t seem to mind putting in extra effort to deliver a better product.

At the same time, while the crew was friendly, the service still wasn’t personalized more than you’d otherwise expect on a US airline. Ultimately that’s not really a surprise, given that they have 60 passengers to take care of.

United Polaris business class bottom line

United’s new Polaris product is a combination of a substantial product improvement with some fantastic marketing.

The new Polaris seat is a huge improvement over the old product, but it’s still not cutting edge, or better than what much of the competition already offers. Furthermore, it’s going to be at least five years till the entire fleet has the new product.

The new Polaris bedding is industry leading. This is an area where United has put every single competitor to shame. The new amenity kit and pajamas are top notch as well.

As far as the soft product goes, it’s clear that they’re putting more effort into it than before. Based on my experience, I was impressed by the food quality (in the sense that it was good for what it was), though otherwise I didn’t notice that much of a difference. Sure, a chocolate with the pre-departure beverage is nice, and the wine flight is cool too, but it’s more a gimmick than anything else, in my opinion. It’s not going to materially alter your experience.

All that being said, it’s refreshing to see a US airline actually put some thought and effort into their product. Not only did United management come up with the service procedure, but it’s also clear (at least based on my flight) that employees are taking pride in the product, and don’t mind doing some extra work because they’re proud to show off the new experience.

Comments

  1. Since there are only 3 full-service US airlines these days, and Delta has been putting effort into their product for quite a while, I’m not sure it really makes sense to say things in terms of what you would expect “for a US airline” any more. Maybe more accurate to say it is nice to see *United* putting some effort into their product.

  2. I agree with Bgriff. Delta has been putting substantial and noticeable effort into their business class product (if not product in general) since the DeltaOne rebranding. To infer that United is the first of the legacy US carriers to put any thought or effort into their product in recent years is a bit misleading; however, it is definitely refreshing to see something out of United that would actually get me to consider flying with them again (rather than their amazing Star Alliance partners).

  3. I flew in GF SFO-FRA a few weeks ago (maybe my last flight on a UA 747). I was impressed (how long has it been since anyone has used that adjective for United airlines?) with the Polaris soft product.

    The champagne glasses belong in a 6-yo’s Betty Crocker kitchen set. The FAs said they hate them and most pax think they are ridiculously clumsy to use.

    The bedding was great …. and the food was amazing. Although not quite the variety of LH F, the quality equaled!

    I’m convinced if Smisek had been forward-thinking and moved in this direction during the merger, United would be so much ahead in the market — instead of becoming a 2-class, second-rate airline.

  4. this looks way better than their normal biz product, and better than AA by far! Happy to see and looking forward to Polaris being rolled out to more flights.

  5. Continental was never more than middle of the pack. This “new” product is a continuation of that mediocrity.

  6. I have flown Polaris business class three times since January. The amenity kit is just too big, hard and firm. I take what I want out of it and leave the rest. The contents are identical to what was offered before in business except for the Do Not Disturb sticker.
    I also liked the pre-departure champagne and chocolate. We didn’t have any issues with spilling. I also really liked the wine tasting.
    Service has been top notch on every flight. Definitely see a difference from previous flights.

  7. If there is going to be limited PJs and Bedding then its quite unfair to all 60 J pax and this is a serious inconsistency or unfairness on United’s part – so its gonna be a game of chance? not with my $$$ this point alone will make me re-consider flying this product.

    Do not Disturb sticker? come one this is the 21st century I’m sure there is button for this

    Space – Not having enough space to put the bedding items this is another issue that needs to be addressed

    I’d like to read up on your SQ 2013 J review and how it compares with Polaris 🙂

  8. United needs to outsource Wifi to someone reputable like Gogo…no matter what the plane type, there are always, always connectivity issues. I’ll take a lesser speed for a 100% chance of working, vs. the ~50% I get these days.

    But hey, it’s easy to get a refund at least…

  9. The wine tasting reminds me of a curious flight I had with Northwest back in the mid 1980s. The flight was from Glasgow (Prestwick) to Boston aboard a domestically configured DC10. I guess it was sold as business class but everything about it was domestic first: the seats, the food, the service. It really was no different than flying in first from Orlando to Minneapolis.

    Except for the single malt whiskey tasting!

    After the lunch service was completed, the flight attendant wheeled out a cart of single malts. It was a brilliant collection, featuring single malts from “boutique” distilleries throughout Scotland. My favorite was from the Hebrides; the label was written in Gaelic and it had this wonderful mound of peat floating on the top. The flight attendant wrinkled her nose at it and asked how I could enjoy drinking “mud”.

    The whiskey tasting successfully made that flight one of my most enjoyably memorable.

    As far as United Polaris: I’m excited that the US Big Three are stepping up their game. I will have no opportunity to try it (I’m delegated to BA & QR) but I’m glad UA is making a strong attempt at bringing back some excitement and glamour to its premium cabins. Actually, my curiosity is now so peaked that I am really tempted to book a United flight somewhere just to experience Polaris.

  10. Did you get a refund on the wifi fee since it was broken for half the flight? How complicated was that?

  11. @ Jim — I haven’t requested a refund. I suppose that would be reasonable, though it worked for the second half of the flight, and that’s when I bought my pass and agreed to the price, so…

  12. @alian

    ITA How can there not be enough bedding and panamas for passengers who paid for this service. Did they think that passenger on a 12 hour journey didn’t plan on going to sleep?

  13. As per what Ben noted there is not enough PJs so one needs to request as soon as possible to avoid disappointment which is something I would not think it’s fair.

  14. As appealing as United Polaris may be the rollout has been a disaster.

    Between a bad seat manufacturer that seemingly can’t deliver any seats for any airline on-time and a rollout schedule that will delay “a majority” of the fleet from having Polaris until 2021, it’s a case study for other airlines. United should have waited until a reasonable number of airlines had the new product.

    Regardless, this forces Delta to keep innovating — especially since its business-class product with the exception of food hasn’t significantly changed since the rebranding from business-elite to Delta-one.

  15. @Lucky – So I have never flown business on a flight that offers Pyjamas… The question is are these unused Pyjamas that you get to take with you like the amenity kits or are these like the noise cancelling headphones you return at the end of the flight and they then launder them for the next flight?

  16. @Lucky
    Was the food “on-demand” and was there a menu book at each seat? The Do Not Disturb” sticker is usually helpful in coach class so that they don’t wake you up for meals.

  17. @ AA — There was a menu, but they don’t offer dine on demand, aside from the mid-flight snack.

  18. Just flew American to Cancun and back. Received my choice of pre-departure beverage on six different flights (outbound and return).

    Not sure why United offering a choice of pre-departure beverage on Polaris is news. A choice of pre-departure beverage is expected.

  19. LUCKY – On which date did you fly SQ, SFO to HKG, that allowed you to
    fly the UA flight, also SFO to HKG? You are amazing.

    Thanks for the update on POLARIS. But remember, on the new 777’s being delivered it is called POLARIS CLASS, replacing First and Business. It’s not
    POLARIS BUSINESS CLASS.

  20. Flu DL and AA to Asia in business and write a comparison. That would be the only way to put UA in perspective.

  21. On my first flight Sydney to LA waited for pyjamas but never received them. On return flight I requested pyjamas but by the time I received them the toilet floor was too ???? to change. No mattress pad was offered – which you would expect if requesting pyjamas – I just thought that the quilted rug was the mattress? I also agree with Linda the kit bag itself is useless – what else can you use it for – this is were Qantas have a zipped kit bag (Kate Spade) which is reusable. I thought the food was a bit better.
    Overall the flight attendants (all US United based) on both flights were substandard and I think need retraining. Previously Continental attendants have commented that the United staff are referred to as “walkers” on my Polaris flights they seemed to be “runners!!!”

  22. I continue to find any negative comments directed at Polaris to be laughable. The fact simply is that this is a massive improvement for the airline and that is 100% positive. Good news not only for United flyers but the industry on whole.

    Sure, the champagne flutes are a tad silly and most certainly will be replaced. Yes storing the industry leading bedding is slightly problematic (oh what troubles we have) and it is correct to say that the solid catering will not ever be considered among the world’s best.

    But wow, what a stellar transformation this is shaping up to be and Ben missed the best domestic airline lounge (Polaris Chicago) nonetheless. The new seats, soft product, lounges and crew attitudes combined not only reinvent United business class, not only does it place the experience on whole well past the other domestic carriers but it even places it in completion with very well respected international carriers.

    It’s just all good news. AA and Delta may very well leapfrog United again in the coming years, if so GREAT! Not giving United credit for a clear and genuine desire (and action) to improve woukd just be silly and sour grapes.

    I wish it was not taking half a decade and I agree that United deserves some criticism for that but otherwise this is simply win / win for all involved.

  23. Mark wrote: “Thanks for the update on POLARIS. But remember, on the new 777’s being delivered it is called POLARIS CLASS, replacing First and Business. It’s not
    POLARIS BUSINESS CLASS.”

    That’s false. While it’s referred to colloquially as “Polaris,” all of United’s promotional materials make clear that the official name is “Polaris Business Class.”

    http://view.ceros.com/united/polaris-business-class

  24. I find interesting the main course of your meal is the same that I had in domestic F. I flew yesterday from FLL to DEN and the main course was the same exact short rib and rice (different plating of course). It tasted very good also.

  25. How would you rate this against Asian carriers like ANA? I am going to fly from US to India and I have options from United Polaris + Brussels airlines or ANA. I really want to try United Polaris but I also have never tried ANA so I could get some help from you guys.

  26. United Polaris Business Class dining in 10 pictures you mean. Cant seen anything about the actual Business Class HW here?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *