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United Polaris business SFO-HKG on 747 upper deck

United Polaris business SFO-HKG on 747 upper deck

Old Jan 22, 17, 12:01 am
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United Polaris business SFO-HKG on 747 upper deck

I just completed my first flight on United's new Polaris business class product (link to United's webpage). United launched Polaris on Dec. 1, although none of their planes have the new Polaris seats (those will roll out over the next 3 years or so). It's a fairly substantial re-brand including new lounges at hub airports (only one open now, at Chicago O'Hare), upgraded pillows and blankets, improved meals and wines, etc. The discussion of Polaris is a hot topic in the United forum: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...periences.html. I thought I'd provide my experiences and impressions of Polaris as it continues to roll out.

Polaris lounge in Chicago


Fortunately, I started in Chicago and had about 90 minutes in their new Polaris lounge (for more, see this thread: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...ec-2016-a.html). I arrived around 7:30am (the lounge opens at 7:15) and it was fairly empty. This lounge is a HUGE step up from the typical United Club lounge, with lots of spacious seating, impressive alcohol offerings, sit-down meals, and a la carte foods and beverages.

I thought I'd try the sit-down meal service and ordered one of the egg options. The quality was very good, but it took about 20 minutes for it to arrive after ordering, which seemed long considering there were only a few other people there. Service was good and there seemed to be a manager or two who were watching over things.



Here are two pictures showing the cold a la carte options, plus there was a hot shelf with small egg dishes.





The only other photo I took was of the large, private bathrooms, and I estimate there are around 16 or 18 of them:



My flight from ORD to SFO was nothing special. It was on the newly configured 777-200 with 2-4-2 in first and 3-4-3 in economy. I had a middle seat in first and found it quite crowded (elbow to elbow), although the in-flight entertainment and lie-flat seat were fantastic. Service was fine at the beginning but the flight attendants were almost non-existent until soon before landing (as with many United flights). My flight arrived late into SFO so I went straight to the departure gate for the flight to HKG.

Polaris business on 747-400

I love the 747s and their days are limited on United (scheduled to end service in late 2017), so I was happy to have another chance to fly on the plane, especially upstairs in the bubble. I had an exit row seat, which doesn't offer any more room than other seats but I like it for it's middle location (less noise from the galley and bathrooms).

To put my comments in perspective, I fly very frequently and have 1K status on United and Premier Executive on American. I'm also a million miler on Delta but fly them much less now. I'm fortunate to usually travel in business on long haul flights, often by upgrading coach fares with systemwide upgrades, but have increasingly been purchasing business fares (especially on foreign airlines) when they are reasonably priced. In the past 3 years, I've flown in business on American, ANA, Asiana, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, China Southern, Emirates, EVA, Finnair, Hainan, Malaysia, Qantas, Swiss, Thai, and United. Having said that, probably 70% of my long hauls have been on American and United.

During boarding (which was quick and efficient), the cockpit door was open, so I took the opportunity to take a photo as the pilots were making pre-flight preparations.



I had been keeping up with the Polaris thread in the United forum mentioned previously, and was looking forward to this, my first Polaris flight. I knew the seats were still the same and had read a lot about the new bedding, which includes two pillows (one small, good for lumbar support) and two blankets (one thin, one thick). These are all of excellent quality and a dramatic improvement. I also tried a gel pillow (available upon request) and while novel, it was a bit too firm for my liking. Folks have been complaining about where to put all of this stuff, but it was no problem in the 747 upstairs cabin because it has a lot of storage room for such things.



Also available upon request are mattress pads and pajamas, as noted in the menu. I tried the mattress pad (nice) but didn't ask for the pajamas. Interestingly, I didn't see anyone else in the upper deck with the gel pillow, mattress pad, or PJs. (Note: the PJs are only offered on flights that average 12 hours or more). There were also slippers, which are of improved quality, although too small for my size 10.5 feet.





The quality of the menus has improved, as has the amenity kit. The wine selections are also better, although United still doesn't compete with many foreign carriers. Nonetheless, I was very pleased with the red wines and meal options.





A pre-departure beverage was offered and I had the sparkling wine. The addition of a little chocolate was a nice touch. Newspapers were not offered, which I don't know was intentional or not.



About 15 minutes after takeoff, hot towels were provided. United has among the best hot towels of any airline, and are substantially better than what Delta or American offer. The scent was better and stronger than before.



In addition to the improved bedding, my favorite new aspect of Polaris is the option to taste all of the reds at the same time. All three were drinkable and two (the cabernet and red blend) were quite good. After mulling it over, I chose the cab. The second photo shows the larger (also new) wine glass, which holds more than United's old wine glasses.





The appetizer and salad were both good but not particularly flavorful. The breads were also fine, but they were pre-served rather than choosing from a selection, as was done before. For the entree, I was given my first choice (short ribs) but was disappointed. First, the food was barely warm and second, the beef was very tough. I thought about asking them to heat it more or for another option, but didn't, partly because the two flight attendants who served us seemed to be rushed. I don't think two attendants is sufficient to serve customers well; drinks were not refilled very often, for example.





I skipped the cheese course and finished with an ice cream sundae. The ice cream was rock hard so waited 10 minutes before eating it; someone apparently had forgotten to take the ice cream out of the deep freeze.



I didn't have any mid-flight snacks even though some sounded good. Breakfast was served beginning about 90 minutes before landing. It stopped about half-way through because the pilots decided to have their meal at that time. Fortunately the entree was hot and the quality was good. Again, service was a bit rushed but it could be that staffing isn't quite sufficient.

A few other remarks:
- My seat would only go to one of the three pre-set settings; I couldn't independently change the leg rest or the back recline. These seats are getting old so it's probably no surprise some aren't functioning properly.
- I tried to use wifi repeatedly during the first half of the flight and was only successful once, for about 20 minutes. I was going to pay for internet (around $20) but am glad I didn't considering how little it was available.

Overall Polaris impressions

- The Polaris lounge in Chicago was excellent, and I would rate it better than American's current Flagship lounges.
- The seat bedding options and quality are substantially improved
- The wines were reasonably good (not stellar) and I really liked the tasting option before selection
- The quality of the food overall was only a small improvement to previous catering in business
- The amenity kit is nicer but the head phones are the same low-quality ones from before with marginal noise cancellation
- As happens too often on United, there was essentially no service between the two meals. For example, my empty wine glass stayed next to my seat until I put it on my breakfast tray once finished. The attendants were back in the galley for things I needed (such as more water and the gel pillow) but they should go through the cabin every hour or so to check on customers, remove empty glasses, etc.
- The seats, although lie-flat and comfortable, lack privacy and many lack direct aisle access. Until the new seats are in place, I won't go out of my way to fly Polaris.
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Old Jan 22, 17, 12:11 am
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Nicely photographed with concise reporting. Well done! ^
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Old Jan 22, 17, 5:32 am
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Great photos... thank you....
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Old Jan 22, 17, 6:42 am
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Very nice summation, and mostly matches my opinion of the new service.

The lack of bread basket, along with the lack of salad dressing choice now, were significant reductions to me. It is nice having new entree options, but I wouldn't classify them as major improvements...just different.

Newspapers are apparently discontinued on board permanently now.

Thanks for the report with very nice pics.
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Old Jan 22, 17, 7:17 am
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Looks like at a time when other airlines are cutting back they are making an effort to up the game which is nice to see.
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Old Jan 22, 17, 9:16 am
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Thanks for the review FlyThe Tail, we have SFO/HKG coming up in six weeks so it is nice to get some idea of what to expect. 14 hours is one long leg, especially after the hop from LAS to SFO and a 3 1/2 layover so I am glad things like bedding have improved.
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Old Jan 22, 17, 12:14 pm
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Excellent report , the bathroom looks stunning unlike the CCR bathrooms at Heathrow terminal 5. I've had a few poor hot towels in my time and that one looks pretty damn impressive.
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Old Jan 22, 17, 2:57 pm
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Always a fan of seeing what the polaris product is like. Thanks for the report!
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Old Mar 14, 17, 7:47 pm
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Wow - same crappy F&B (Columbia Crest is swill) and same crappy seat (with no direct aisle access) - only improvement is a nicer blanket and slippers.

Will be taking a similar 747 flight from HKG soon and find this very disappointing. The only bright spot was that the food actually looked better - are you sure the photos aren't retouched?
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Old Mar 14, 17, 9:26 pm
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Looks like UA is really trying to step up their game. Thanks for sharing ^
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Old Mar 15, 17, 9:33 am
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Also sad to see the 747 go, great pic of the cockpit. Thanks for the report.
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Old Mar 15, 17, 10:45 am
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Nice report and pics. We flew this route pre-Polaris in November and had a Hong Kong based crew on the upper deck who were outstanding.
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Old Mar 18, 17, 3:36 pm
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Great report. The most meaningful improvement so far appears to be on the ground. Otherwise, food on board has not improved (an important factor if United aspires to match the standard set in J by certain int'l airlines). Wine tasting is gimmicky and if anything detracts from the efficiency of the meal service.
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Old Mar 22, 17, 9:49 pm
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So after flying SFO-CTU in Polaris I have to eat a little crow

The food was indeed much better than I have encountered in UA international business class over the past few years. I availed myself of the wine tasting but alas that was a mistake as they were all still mediocre. The slippers and amenity kit are adequate. The seat was still the same, but the seat pad adds a bit more comfort when trying to sleep. However for me the single biggest improvement was the offer of a gel pillow! I have a nice one at home, and normally have a great deal of trouble configuring the tiny airline pillows (much less hotel pillows) for decent neck support. So the gel pillow is huuuge! ^ ^ ^

Unfortunately we had a 3-year old who insisted running up and down the C cabin for a while without any parental intervention. I mentioned this to a couple of FAs but in typical fashion they did nothing. Fortunately I was not trying to sleep the whole flight and eventually he pooped out. Tempting to chew out the parent but that's really the FA's job no?

Anyway in sum I like the food and gel pillow, have not yet opened the pajamas, but wish they would change out the FAs which are the weak link and the most inconsistent part of the service. Used to see good FAs on international routes but lately I seem to draw the lazy ones who do the bare minimum or can't even master English.
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Old Mar 29, 17, 9:47 pm
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What I am seeing in this review and subsequent comments is what I expected. They would make some attempt to upgrade the hard products - seats (in the future), pillows & blankets, meals. However, unless they manage to change the staff culture, it will all be for nought.
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