Tried & Tested

Flight review: United B767-300 Polaris business class

10 Jun 2018 by juliangregory
United B767-300-Polaris-Seat

BACKGROUND

United flies five times a day from New York’s Newark airport to London Heathrow. These typically operate with the 767-400ER, although presently one flight a day is a 767-300 which has the newer Polaris seat.

United is adding an aircraft with this new business class to the fleet every ten days (either new aircraft or retro-fitting existing aircraft), but it is likely to be summer 2019 before you can be sure of getting it on every flight to/from LHR and Newark.

I was lucky to be on a B767-300 with this new product having flown over to New York from London the previous day on the older seat on a B767-400ER.

Flight review: United B767-400ER Polaris business class

CHECK-IN

I arrived very early for my 1900 (seven hour ten minute) flight from Newark Terminal C on UA14. The premium check-in area is on Level 3, but my transfer from the airport hotel dropped me off at Level 2 with the economy check-in, so I went up to level 3 to check in.

Once there, I used the self check-in machines which are in a line in front of the check-in desks. You place your bag on a weighing scale and the machine prints out your boarding pass and baggage tag which is then attached to your bag in the normal way and a member of staff picked up the bag and placed it so it could enter the system.

I then returned to Level 2 for security and as the Premier Access queues were longer than economy, I slipped through the barriers and went through the economy lanes immediately.

THE LOUNGE

A new Polaris lounge opened on June 4, which is a superb facility

United unveils Newark Polaris lounge

but I was flying a few days earlier.

I therefore had the choice of a pop-up lounge (by gate 124 and nearest to my gate) or the permanent United Club (at gate 74) which was furthest from my gate.

Thinking that the permanent facility would be bigger and better I went for the United Club at Gate 74.  It was bigger, but packed, and hard to find a seat. The food choice included salads, soup and small squares of cheese. All they needed was a bit of pineapple and a cocktail stick to take me back to the 1970s. There was also a cake.

It was disappointing and unappealing, made worse by the people swarming over what was a small area. I just wanted a diet coke and found it frustrating to queue at the bar for a small glass which was half ice rather than just help myself to a can.

I eventually got fed up with the lounge and sitting on a stool and decided to see what the pop-up lounge was like. On the way I stopped for a chicken burger as I did not want to eat on the flight.

The pop-up lounge was simply a relatively small part of the terminal with some temporary walls around it. It consisted of seats and a small snack/drinks area and I found a seat easily and walked over to the fridge to get a diet coke. If you had wanted an alcoholic drink, the choice was less than the United Club, as was the food choice, which consisted of things in packets (crisps, popcorn, Oreos, trail mix etc). I did prefer it though, as the lounge was calmer and I had a comfortable seat rather than a stool.

BOARDING

The flight was boarding from Gate C128 which was a minutes’ walk from the lounge. When I got there at 1820 the crew were preparing to start boarding and there were lines laid out for each group. Polaris customers are in Group 1 and within a few minutes I was walking down the air bridge to be greeted by the crew. The crew then came round offering a pre-flight drink and took my jacket and then took meal orders. As it was a night flight I declined.

The captain came into the cabin to introduce himself personally to us all and gave an overview on the flight time, where there might be turbulence and the weather in London. This was a nice touch. The plane pushed back a few minutes late due to ATC at 1912 but we were not airborne until 1945 as the captain announced he was waiting for the final weight manifest from the central computer.

THE SEAT

There is one cabin of business class with a 1-1-1 configuration (A, D-F, L) with all seats having direct aisle access – the seatmap can be seen on the version 3 tab here.

D/F is the middle seat but the letter changes depending on which aisle it has an exit on. There are 30 seats across ten rows. I was in window seat 2A.

I found the seat very comfy to sit in. It had a dark blue cloth with grey leather adjustable head rest. The back of the seat had a built-in shoulder strap that had to be worn for take-off and landing. Each seat had an adjustable reading light, shaded light, multi power sockets and USB. There was a small cupboard to store the noise cancelling headphones with a mirror on the back of the door.

For working the table pulled out from below the screen and was very sturdy and large in size. The controls for the seat were beside the seat with the main control being a slider to turn the seat from fully upright into a bed. To the side of the seat by the adjustable armrest was the magazine holder and a small area for storage.

The amenity kit on my seat came in a tin covered by a protective plastic bag saying Polaris Business. The tin contained socks, toothbrush and paste, earplugs, tissues, pen, eyeshades, and Cowshed toiletries including lip balm, hand cream and a chamomile towelette.

There was also a pair of slippers. On longer flight pyjamas are available. From July every seat will also have a cooling gel memory foam pillow. At the moment these can be on request but limited numbers are carried on the planes along with mattress covers.

WHICH IS THE BEST SEAT?

The best seat is probably 1F. There are three reasons for this. It is at the front of the cabin and has a ledge in front where you can place your food tray when you have finished with it. It is also the seat with the largest shelf area next to the seat and most importantly the width of the foot rest is about twice as wide as the others.

If you have to choose another seat I would choose A or L. You then need to choose the row as odd numbers are closest to the windows and are protected from the aisles (probably better for night flights but some people reportedly find this more claustrophobic) and even numbers are closer to the aisle. Seat 1A was used by the flight crew so will normally not be available.

THE FLIGHT

Service was quite prompt although as soon as the seat belt light went off I reclined my seat and tried to sleep, but it took a while and there were several spells of turbulence.  The new Polaris seat has a good size pillow quilt/duvet provided by Saks 5th Avenue.

There was also a blanket but I did not need that as I used the duvet. The seat is fully flat with a width of 20.6 inches and a length of six foot three inches. The bed was comfortable and I slept well although I was woken several times during the night when we hit turbulence. My only criticism is although the width at the feet is bigger than on the previous seat it is still not huge especially when you turnover or onto your side.

Had I decided to stay awake I would have had a drink (and nuts) followed by the main dinner service. To start there was seared tuna with kale salad, apple and red quinoa and wasabi or a salad of cabbage, bok choy and mango.

The main course choices were:

  • seared beef short rib bordelaise with grits, fava beans, shitake mushrooms and cherry tomato
  • Spicy Chicken in a Thai-style coconut ginger broth with udon noodles
  • Seared turbot with basil beurre blanc, risotto with mushrooms, fava beans and cherry tomato
  • vegetarian option of Portobello mushroom and caramelized onion ravioli in a garlic/parmesan alfredo, baby portobello, kale and leeks

For Desserts there was the usual choice from the trolley of cheese assortment with crackers and port, ice cream sundaes or what is billed as sweet treats (on a previous flight this had included macaroons and cake).

If you wanted a glass of wine there was a choice of Robert Weil 2015 Riesling, Joseph Drouhin 2016 Chablis, Bouchard Pere et Fils 2015 Cote de Beaune Village and Catena 2015 Cabernet Franc. There is also an extra choice from the sommelier advertised.

A basket of snacks including fruit, sweets, biscuits and seeds was available at the front of the cabin throughout the flight.

Apart from the turbulence once asleep I slept well and was surprised by how quiet the food service was. I heard the breakfast service about an hour before the flight was due to land and as I woke was offered breakfast. I declined but it included yoghurt, croissant with jam, cookie, a bowl of seasonal fruit, cereal and a hot option – Southwestern omelette (pepperjack, blackbeans, bell pepper and corn) served with chicken sausage, potato, black beans and corn.

Wifi is available during the flight at a cost of $33.99 for the whole flight or $18.99 for an hour. You can also connect your device to unitedwifi.com to get complimentary access to selected partner sites such as Hyatt and the United Private Screening where you can stream a range of films and TV to your device. The IFE system also has a good choice of movies and TV if you want to watch on the screen in the seat in front of you.

ARRIVAL

We landed late at 0740 and were at the gate at 0750. It was a fair walk to immigration which I got through quickly and when I reached the carousel my priority tagged bag appeared in the first ten.

VERDICT

A comfy seat with good bedding and direct aisle access. A great improvement on the previous seat and with good quality IFE and even the choice of wifi if you want to pay for it.

With the new Polaris lounge now open you will be able to enjoy a meal either in the seated restaurant or from the buffet before your flight, as well as help yourself to soft drinks and order from an extensive selection of drinks and cocktails from the bar. Also you can shower, all of which will significantly enhance the experience and, of course, give you more time to sleep on the plane.

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BTUK June 2018
BTUK June 2018
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