United Boeing 777 Polaris Business Class Review
It had been a while since my last big trip, with the most recent being my Easter weekend in Hong Kong. I wasn’t able to spend much time there, given the restraints with my work schedule, but now that I had become a full-time travel hacker, I didn’t have to worry about my schedule as much!
I decided on Shanghai for a couple of reasons:
- I’m a bit of an Asia fanboy… While Europe and tropical destinations likely sit high on many travel wish lists, there’s something about Asia that I love, especially China. I love how far you can stretch your points/budget in Asia, and I find Europe a little overrated, though in fairness I probably haven’t been to the best spots yet.
- Shanghai has long fascinated me as a city of contrasts, rich with history and culture.
When searching for reward travel overseas, I always start by looking for the longest segments first. In this case it was North America to Asia, and I was lucky to stumble across some availability on United in business class. Normally I wouldn’t even consider United Airlines for transpacific flights, especially since Air Canada and Cathay Pacific both offer a great reverse herringbone product, but United had just released their new Polaris business class on this route and it looked great (or at least worth trying). I was able to find availability from San Francisco to Tokyo, and then easily found space on positioning flights from Vancouver to San Francisco on Air Canada in business class and Tokyo to Shanghai on ANA All Nippon Airways in business class. While I had flown ANA in first class in the past, this would be my first time on their 767 with a less than desirable looking regional configuration.
The Airport: San Francisco (SFO)
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My flight from Vancouver arrived a bit ahead of schedule, and I had a few hours to kill before boarding. My initial plan was to visit the American Express Centurion Lounge (access for American Express Platinum and American Express Business Platinum Cardmembers), but the overcrowding was ridiculous. The last few times I’ve transited SFO I’ve notice this, and wonder what their longterm solution is to fix it. I was there for about 15 minutes and watched a parade of staff bring in plastic chairs before I decided to check out the United lounge. United is in the process of phasing out their first class, and as such the lounge space at SFO is being repurposed, with a flagship Polaris lounge being introduced in the near future. Unfortunately until then, it’s business as usual, with a very underwhelming space to ‘relax’ before a flight. I didn’t even take any pictures because:
- It felt like nothing more than a huge open space with a sea of chairs
- It was also overcrowded and I’m ever comfortable taking pictures for the website with people in them (within reason).
Thankfully I found a quiet spot in the corner where I was able to work for a couple of hours before boarding began!
United Airlines Polaris Business Class, Boeing 777-300ER Flight Details
United Airlines 837
San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (NRT)
Friday, July 7, 2017
Arrive: 1:45pm (+1)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 9L (Business Class)
Boarding began right on time and was a bit of a zoo, as I find is the norm at SFO. As usual, first there was an announcement for customers travelling with young children, followed by premium cabin passengers.
I was greeted at the door by the cabin crew (normally I would say friendly but this crew definitely was not) who kind of pointed me in the direction towards my seat, which was seat 9L – a window seat at the front of the rear cabin. This new configuration is great, and a massive improvement over United’s old business class product on the 777-200, and even the new Dreamliner which still doesn’t have direct aisle access from all seats.
Compared to the old business class in a shocking 2-4-2 configuration, this is quite an improvement!
My first impression of the cabin was great. The blue mood lighting was a nice touch and I found the overall aesthetic quite nice with the rich blues and faux white marble. The configuration is unique, and depending on if you’re travelling alone or with someone, you will really want to select seats carefully. Odd numbered window seats are definitely the best for single travellers, as the even numbers point towards the aisle and offer reduced privacy.
The cabin felt really large, and it was a full flight, so boarding was a bit chaotic and I wasn’t able to get many good pictures of the middle seats.
As you can kind of see with the middle seats, they alternate with seats angled towards the aisle or forward facing and close together. For couples, I would think the forward facing seats in odd numbered rows offer the best privacy, but I wouldn’t want to get stuck in one of these seats next to a stranger on a 12 hour flight!
United has really upped their game with the soft product, with fantastic bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue, along with an improved menu. Waiting at the seat upon boarding was all of the bedding, noise cancelling headphones, menu, some chocolate, and slippers. Note that pyjamas are offered on some long-haul routes, but weren’t on this relatively short transpacific.
The new amenity kit is an improvement over the old ‘CD Case’ that was briefly offered, but still quite tacky in my opinion. Contents are standard and include some amenities from Cowshed, which aren’t my favourite.
Within a few minutes of being seated I was offered a pre-departure beverage. For anyone who travels frequently, you can probably relate that it’s generally easy to tell if the cabin crew will be good prior to take-off. For this flight, it was very easy to tell this cabin crew was foul, which was disappointing since the new cabin was so great!
Boarding seemed to be taking awhile, so I took the time to photograph the menu, which looked decent:
For my lunch I decided on the poached salmon and lentil chili, which ended up being a mistake – more on that later. With boarding finally complete, we pushed back and I enjoyed the views while taxiing to the runway!
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The climb out of San Francisco was smooth, and the seatbelt sign was turned off after about 20 minutes, at which point I checked out the bathroom. The lavatory was located basically right in front of my seat, but around the corner from the galley. For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice any increased traffic or people gathering, which can be really annoying on long flights!
The washroom was standard, and the crew did a good job at keeping it clean, except towards the end of the flight when it really deteriorated (must have been the lentil chili).
I had read some reviews that seat storage was limited, especially with the amount of bedding provided, but I didn’t find that at all. Seat storage was good, with different cupboards and lots of space in the footwell for in-flight storage.
The in-flight entertainment selection was good, which is always the case on United Airlines and generally one of the highlights of any flight. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to review much of the content on this flight, but you can always check in advance what’s being offered on their website (available through this link).
Of course, as expected, the seat provides individual power ports for all of your devices, and the noise cancelling headphones were decent quality.
The meal service began as soon as we levelled off, and started with mixed nuts and some champagne (I can’t remember what they were serving but it was tasty enough).
The tray table is stowed under the in-flight entertainment screen, and can be moved around nicely for aisle access during meal service. The surface of the table seemed like it needed some deep cleaning…
I found the meal service to be quick and efficient, but would it kill the cabin crew to smile now and then?! After the tray table was set, lunch began with an appetizer of smoked nori-wrapped salmon and edamame, which was delicious!
For the main, I selected the salmon and lentil chili. While the dish was good, the salmon was a bit dry (and I questioned the quality), and the lentil chili gave me some pretty serious heartburn, which didn’t help me sleep, but I guess I should have known better…
Meal service was completely done within 90 minutes, at which point the cabin crew dimmed the lights and forced everyone to lower their window shades. I kind of hate how they do this on a daytime flight, but wouldn’t want to challenge the authority of the cabin crew. I understand that many people want to sleep on transpacific flights, but let me have a view for part of the journey! Before I was forced to close my window shade, I managed to get a picture of us over the ocean along with a shot of the bed with some decent lighting!
The seat transformed into a fully flat bed with plenty of space to stretch out. For larger people, I would recommend a bulkhead seat as they do feature a slightly wider area for your feet. The seat controls were easy to use, but poorly located. Several times during the flight I bumped into them which caused the seat to adjust.
I actually didn’t sleep well at first, given it was 2pm and I was having some nasty lentil chili burps, so I checked out the galley snack area and had myself a couple glasses of wine!
I really liked the ambient lighting on this plane, and think United did a fantastic job with the design!
Of course, like most North American carriers, this new Boeing 777 has air vents, which are a blessing on long flights!
After my mid-flight snack (drink), I settled back into bed and managed to get some sleep. Actually, I slept so well for the last few hours that I slept through breakfast and woke up just prior to our decent into Tokyo, which was well ahead of schedule. The views arriving in Tokyo always remind me of the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver!
We landed just after 1:30, and after a very short taxi to the gate, I was on my way through transit security and off to the ANA business class lounge!
Is United Airlines my new favourite way to cross the Pacific? Absolutely not. They still have a long way to go if they want to compete with Cathay Pacific or even Air Canada – especially when it comes to service. I was unfortunate enough to get a very unpleasant crew, though it’s really luck of the draw with North American crews, as sometimes they’re fantastic.
All that said, I would absolutely fly them again if other options weren’t available, whereas I would never have considered the old business class product, and would still avoid their Dreamliner routes with 2-2-2 seating without direct aisle access for each seat.
For 75,000 Aeroplan miles each way and no fuel surcharges, United Polaris business class offers decent enough value, and is a product I would cautiously recommend for those looking for reward travel to Asia from North America!