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I don’t think United Polaris First class is on anybody’s bucket list, including mine. Furthermore, United is in the process of eliminating first class on all long-haul flights, and the following information will be obsolete in the near future. Unfortunately when I booked my 11-day trip around the world, United was the only option crossing the Atlantic ocean without carrier imposed surcharges, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to try the product before it’s gone and compare it to some of the best Asian first class products from previous flights this trip.
I arrived into Paris at 7:30am from Bangkok on Thai Airways in first class and had about 4 hours to kill before my flight to Chicago. For those of you not familiar with CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport, it’s a bit disorganized, especially if you’ve been spending some time in Asia with their ultra efficient systems. Since I was flying United Polaris First, I had access to the Star Alliance Gold Lounge. The Lounge is located on floors 10 and 11 in Terminal 1, and the signage to find the space was fairly straight forward. The business class area is on the 10th floor and quite spacious, though overcrowded while I was there, with a separate first class space on the 11th floor. The lounge was nice enough, but seemed lacking compared to the Qantas First Class Lounge at LAX or the Cathay Pacific Lounge at YVR.
Seating in the lounge was limited, though there were never more than 3 people in the space at once, which made for a very intimate setting. The style was simple but appealing, with large windows overlooking some airport scenery.
I settled into the small seating area near the door, and found the furniture very comfortable. I was dead tired after my flight from Bangkok and appreciated the no frills lounge as it allowed me to relax for a couple of hours.
Food Selection was simple, with minimal hot and cold options available. I didn’t eat anything as I was still quite full from my in-flight breakfast and didn’t find the options too appealing.
The Liquor supply was surprisingly good considering the time of morning and completely self serve. I may have had one or two mimosas while I waited….
Unfortunately I had to clear security and get another boarding pass issued before boarding, so I decided to leave the lounge about 40 minutes early on the advice of the friendly lounge agent. Thankfully I did, because even with priority security it took more than half an hour to get to the gate. Boarding was delayed about 10 minutes while they fixed something mechanical on the ancient Boeing 767 and was chaos once it began. Luckily I was seated first and had a great view of the organized mess as every single passenger boarded through the most forward door, passing through first and business class on their way to economy.
United Airlines 986
Paris (CDG) – Chicago (ORD)
Saturday, February, 4
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 1A (First Class)
Boarding seemed to take longer than it should have, with a very confused group of passengers walking all over the place. This was the first time I’ve experienced the entire plane being loaded through the front door, and watching the process was kind of painful. Most of the cabin crew seemed stressed out as people walked back and forth down the wrong aisles for the better part of 30 minutes. At least I had a glass of ‘champagne’ in a plastic cup attached to a tray while this unfolded.
It was a rainy day in Paris and I wasn’t able to get any clear shots of the runway as I normally like to do. I did get a blurry picture of the Airbus A380 that brought me to Paris on our taxi to the runway!
The Polaris First cabin on this outdated 767 has some serious pros and cons. What’s good? 1-1-1 configuration over two rows makes for a very intimate cabin comparable to Cathay Pacific First class on the 777. Also, seat 2k was blocked for crew rest, meaning there were only 5 passengers including myself!
What else is good? The Seat it actually very comfortable with fantastic bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue. Storage space was sufficient, though I did struggle finding space for all of the bedding that was provided.
The food was also quite good, especially comparing it to United’s older offerings. I decided on the salmon, which was recommended by the cabin manager, and it came out quite good, though the presentation could use some work. Lunch service also included fresh bread, an appetizer, soup and dessert, and a wide selection of wine, beer and spirits. Unfortunately I was spent by this point in the trip and forgot to take picture of the menu! The cabin crew on the flight were super friendly, which was a nice surprise compared to previous United flights. They came around shortly after takeoff to offer drinks and setup the tray table for lunch service. Overall I found the food quality and presentation to be more comparable to business class, and definitely not on par with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines First Class.
The meal service started with an amuse-bouche consisting of some warm nuts with a cube of rubbery cheese, some sort of rotten vegetable and a wrinkled olive…. Needless to say I asked for a second dish of nuts and left the spear of sadness alone.
Next came an assortment of fresh bread and a sashimi style appetizer with quinoa. The fish was actually delicious, but the bread was a bit stale. I did find it a bit odd that a salmon appetizer would be served with a salmon main, but it was good so I didn’t mind.
Next came a mushroom soup, which was hot and delicious!
After the soup came the Salmon main, which was presented terribly, but tasted quite good. It was served with rice and some very overcooked vegetables. As an aside, I really dislike the golf ball salt and pepper shakers….
The crew then rolled around a cart of desserts with a large selection of fruit, cheese, and sweets. I was quite full but forced myself to try something. Everything was quite forgettable.
After the meal service concluded, the cabin crew retreated to the galley and wouldn’t be seen for the remainder of the flight, save for when someone was brave enough to ring the call button for service. Personally I didn’t do that, remembering my flight to Hawaii when the first class cabin manager would roll his eyes every time we wanted a drink…. Instead I took the opportunity to snap some pictures of the seat, watch some of the in-flight entertainment, and eventually sleep for the better part of 5 hours.
Seat controls were basic but very simple to use. There were also USB connectors and a headphone jack on the left side of the seat.
Seat storage was adequate with a large cupboard and space under the ottoman for larger bags.
The in-flight entertainment selection was fantastic, with more than enough content for a long-haul flight. Unfortunately the system seemed quite outdated with a small screen and limited functions. The ‘noise cancelling’ headphones provided were the worst I’ve experience in a premium cabin.
The remote for the IFE was stored on the left side of the seat and had very basic functions.
My biggest complaint, by far, was the lack of curtains! There was nothing separating the first class cabin from the front galley OR the business class cabin, so even with the lights dimmed it was shockingly bright, and very loud. On the plus side, at least I managed to get caught up on some of the more recent cabin crew gossip….
Despite the late departure, we started our descent into Chicago ahead of schedule. After being in Asia for over a week I was scared to see how cold and frigid the city looked on our approach…
United Polaris First was exactly as expected: underwhelming.
Although I appreciate the updates in food and service, the seat is too outdated to be competitive and the in-flight entertainment system was just plain bad. This product could never compete with the Asian or European carriers, and maybe that’s why United decided to put more effort into their business class and remove this cabin on all long-haul aircraft.
I can’t think of a scenario where I would choose United over other Star Alliance carriers using Aeroplan miles, except maybe if I wanted to minimize taxes and fees from Europe to North America and fly non-stop. If you keep expectations low and imagine a solid business class product with unpredictable service from cabin crew, you should find United Polaris First completely acceptable. For me, I was happy to try something new but am glad to see United phasing this product out for good.