This is a review of United Airlines’ new Polaris business class seat products on board its Boeing 777-300ER travelling from San Francisco to Hong Kong – a new seat product that the airline first debuted back in March 2017 on this exact route. United has since expanded this to include other aircraft, notably its B767-300s – Business Traveller recently reviewed the seat on this aircraft flying from New York (Newark) to London Heathrow.
In the 18 months since the launch of the new Polaris seats, United has also recently been opening a range of new Polaris Lounges, in particular a new space at San Francisco Airport that opened in April this year (click here to see our dedicated review of the lounge).
Flight UA869 is a daily service that takes off from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) at 1330. My flight was on a Tuesday, and I arrived a little under two hours ahead of my scheduled departure, at 11.45, courtesy of the rather grim traffic leading towards SFO and into the drop-off area.
Fortunately, almost every step of the landside check-in and security process was incredibly swift – surprisingly so. Practically the entire Aisle 1 (located at the far-left end of the international departures terminal) is dedicated to checking-in Polaris customers and, having already checked myself in online that morning, I dropped off my luggage and got my boarding pass in a matter of minutes. The check-in attendant even managed to throw in directions to the lounge and a reminder to add my frequent-flyer number to the booking without prompting – very helpful.
Security was also surprisingly pain free for a US airport. Polaris passengers are permitted to use the Priority lane that enables them to bypass the extensive queues, and I breezed through security in under 10 minutes.
As mentioned, the new Polaris Lounge at SFO is a relatively recent addition, having opened up just over a year after the new Polaris business class seats first took off from San Francisco. Located just beyond security by Gate G93, this lounge is huge coming in at just over 28,120sqft (2,612sqm) covering two floors.
For a business traveller, this space has some of the most diverse and plentiful working spaces I’ve seen in a lounge – everything from small cubicles and enclosed meeting rooms to an entire quiet space at the end of the top floor called The Studio. If you’re looking to freshen up there are a few individual, unisex shower rooms on both floors, and from an F&B perspective the swift table service at the Dining Room is well worth trying over the regular buffet.
I also have to give a special mention to the members of staff that man the bar on the second floor. United has three people at the bar, meaning you hardly have to wait to be served, and each are jovial and generous with their pouring. This being the US, just remember to leave a tip.
For our full review of the Polaris Lounge at SFO, click here.
The flight to Hong Kong takes off from Gate G100, about a three-minute walk from the lounge by G93. While there are a couple of screens with flight information in the lounge, there weren’t announcements as far as I could tell so you’ll need to keep an eye on your flight yourself. I left at 12.45 – the scheduled boarding time – and by the time I arrived at the gate boarding was already underway and I went straight on through.
United’s business class cabin on its 777-300ERs are laid out across two sections in a 1-2-1 formation, though it’s a set up that I’ve personally never experienced on a flight before. The rows alternate between seats facing forward (odd-number rows) and at an angle in a herringbone formation (even-number rows). The result of this is that seats in odd rows are further from the aisles with their side tables separating them from the passenger slightly, while the odd-number rows have their side tables on the inside, angling seats towards the aisles.
I was situated in seat 9A, a bulkhead window seat at the front of the second section and one that is angled directly forward and is closer to the window. On my initial flight over from Hong Kong to San Francisco, I was on the opposite side of the cabin but further back and I was keen on this occasion to see how the bulkhead seat differed from the rest.
An immediate difference with the bulkhead seat can be seen in the foot well. As you aren’t situated behind a seat, you have a little more space and the foot well is definitely wider – a good thing for someone such as I with large, cumbersome feet. However, the bulkhead seat did feel ever so slightly shorter – United lists pitch on all of its Polaris seats as 6’6” (198cm), so it’s possible this was simply subjective.
The seat itself is incredibly comfortable. At 6’5” it was phenomenal to be able to properly stretch out when lying fully flat in the seat, something that was definitely made easier with the greater space in the foot well.
Controlling the recline of the seat is straight forward with a simple slider that can be pushed to go from taxi to fully flat and back again in a single effort. There are also more nuanced adjustments that can be made, though with the exception of the footrest I didn’t find I had a need for them.
The finish on the seats is also impressive. I particularly like the cylindrical lamp perched above the white marble side table that provides a warm but subtle glow to the area…
…while there is also a hidden reading light next to your head and the usual spotlights overhead.
There’s also a reasonable amount of space in the side cabinet where the headphones and amenity kit are kept. Speaking of which, this is a very unique offering in that rather than a bag United has gone for a metal tin that includes earplugs, an eyemask, socks, tissues, dental kit, a miniature pen and lip balm and moisturiser from Cowshed.
If I had to pull United up on one area of these new seats, however, it has to be in-seat storage space. While there is this side cabinet as well as a great little alcove by the USB in the seat in front for small electronics, that’s about it.
After working on my laptop, I only had two choices for where to put it – on the side table among my other possessions or back up in my bag. And while there is space beneath the foot well for a small bag, I found much of this ended up being storage for the bulky bedding when I wasn’t using it. For much of the flight, I ended up placing a number of things by the window on top of the vent that runs down the small gap between the seat module and the cabin wall.
On the plus side, however, I did find the HD touchscreen incredibly easy and intuitive to use, and it’s also a good size. I also have to commend United for the smoothness of the tray table mechanism, which has the table slide effortlessly towards or away from the seat from a neat hidey-hole beneath the screen.
Which seat to choose?
With the storage space limitations just mentioned I’d have to recommend one of the individual window seats if for no other reason than the little extra room you have next to the cabin wall where you can place a few of your items. Definitely go for the bulkhead seat if you’re looking for a bit more foot space – surprisingly I never found myself disrupted by people going to the lavatory or galley despite them being immediately in front – and generally I’d be in favour of choosing a forward-facing seat on an odd-number row just for the small amount of added privacy it affords.
Boarding the aircraft in Polaris business class is a slightly curious affair for one small but key reason – crew make no attempt to make you open your windows for take off (nor landing). Again, this is something I’ve personally never encountered but the effect it has is incredible. The cabin remains dimly lit aside from the soothing blue hue of the lights scattered throughout the space, which combined with the rest of the dark blue and grey colour scheme give the entire cabin a sleek and futuristic feel. The overall darkness also sets passengers up nicely to start winding down before their meal and eventual sleep.
Prior to take off (which was just a few minutes after the 1330 scheduled departure) I was asked whether I wanted a welcome drink and went for one of the beers they have on offer (United has six in total), before being asked for my meal selection shortly after and whether I wished to be woken for breakfast. I also took the opportunity to secure a set of pyjamas.
The menu on this flight is definitely impressive with ample choices for dinner. I went with the spicy chicken for dinner and the Chinese congee for breakfast.
The former, I was delighted with. This is a light and zesty dish with plenty of flavour, following a fresh and subtle seared tuna appetiser and salad starter. I only wish I’d reserved my, which was served with my starters – for dipping in the coconut-ginger broth when I was done.
But perhaps the finest part of United’s meal offering is its dessert trolley. This has an impressive selection of fruits and cheeses, and sweet baked goods, however neither could compete with the signature sundae that comes with all manner of different toppings (personal recommendation – caramel with walnuts and a couple of maraschino cherries on top).
Feeling a food coma coming on, I opted to slip into my pyjamas before settling down to a bit of work and a movie.
If you’re not already accustomed to requesting pyjamas for long-haul flights I heartily recommend you do, and the attire offered by United is incredibly comfortable and plenty big enough for someone at the taller end of the spectrum.
United has a strong selection of films on offer, including a number of new releases I’ve yet to see available elsewhere, even online, however I was befuddled by the fact that the Audio segment only appeared to have a few podcasts and no music options. While I’d definitely recommend watching on the in-seat screens, it is possible to access the library through the in-flight wifi.
Unfortunately streaming online videos from YouTube or Netflix isn’t really viable with the wifi plans United offers, and usage is best reserved for emails, messaging and general web browsing. There are three price points available for the wifi: US$4.99 (or 770 miles) for one hour; US$8.99 (or 1,390 miles) for two hours; and US$21.99 (or 3,390 miles) for the full flight. Compared with other carriers, the shorter duration packages are actually quite inexpensive, while the full-flight offering is about standard.
I just about managed to finish one movie before drifting off to sleep for much of the remaining flight, before being woken up (as requested) by a member of the cabin crew for breakfast just over an hour before departure.
With the Chinese congee option I was a little less impressed – the offering was slightly bland and could have done with a little soy sauce on the side to lift the flavours a little, however the rest of the side plates were all enjoyable.
We came in to land about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, eventually arriving back in Hong Kong at 1818 (the flight’s scheduled arrival is 1845 local time the following afternoon). Ten minutes later we were leaving the plane and it was a short three-minute walk to the security gates and 10-minute wait at the baggage carousel for my luggage.
Overall United offers a comfortable seat with the Polaris product and impressive service. The timing of the flight is well suited to offering a short sleep that coincides with the change in time zones notably better than the flight in the other direction. Additional in-seat storage options definitely would not go amiss, though the overall experience with the Polaris seat product is certainly one I would try again in future.
- Best for… Lounge experience and F&B (both in-flight and at the lounge).
- Price Fares for a return business class ticket mid-week in October start at US$7,374.41 (inclusive of taxes and fees).
- Flight time 14h40m
- Configuration 1-2-1
- Recline 180 degrees fully flat
- Seat width 23” (58.4cm)
- Bed length 6’6” (198cm)
- Contact united.com