Overview: United Polaris Enterprise Class Boeing 777 (NRT-SFO)

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For the final segment of my Allegris round the world journey, I flew United Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER Polaris business class on the 8hr15min overnight flight from Tokyo (NRT) to San Francisco (SFO). While people love to poke fun at US airlines, the truth is that in many ways, they offer a solid experience.

In the case of United’s Polaris business class, you can consistently expect a comfortable seat, excellent bedding, and extensive entertainment. On this flight, I also lucked out with a stellar flight attendant, who provided genuine, friendly, and informal service, exactly what I like on US airlines.

Unfortunately the food was a real weak point of the United Polaris business class experience. I don’t have high expectations of food on US airlines, but even with those low standards, this disappointed me. Gosh, how far United’s business class catering has fallen since the Polaris concept was introduced…

How I booked my United business class ticket

I booked this last portion of my trip using Air Canada Aeroplan points. Specifically, I ticketed the following award in business class for 75,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points plus $94.09 in taxes and fees:

5/05 UA838 Tokyo Narita to San Francisco departing 5:05PM arriving 10:25AM

Aeroplan points are easy to come by, as the program is transfer partners with Amex Membership RewardsBilt RewardsCapital One, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. On top of that, Aeroplan often sells points at a discount, and also has the Aeroplan® Credit Card (review), which is pretty lucrative.

United Polaris business class boarding

I had a fairly short connection at Tokyo Narita Airport, as I had just gotten off a Thai Airways 777 first class flight from Bangkok. As a result, I didn’t have time to use the lounge. However, for those who do have time, you have lounge choices. In line with Star Alliance lounge access policies, United business class passengers can use either the United Club or All Nippon Airways Business Lounge.

My flight was departing from gate 31, where I found a seven-year-old Boeing 777-300ER with the registration code N2136U, in United’s old livery.

United 777 Tokyo Narita Airport

Boarding was initially scheduled for 4:15PM, 50 minutes ahead of schedule. However, it ended up being delayed by around 35 minutes, due to a late inbound aircraft. Personally I find United’s boarding process to be a bit of a circus, with the number of groups that can pre-board before business class. But I also know the people who get to be part of said circus enjoy it, so to each their own. 😉

United departure gate Tokyo Narita Airport

United 777 Polaris business class cabin & seats

At the forward door I was handed a sanitizing wipe by one of the flight attendants, and turned right down the first aisle. United’s Boeing 777-300ERs have a massive business class footprint, with 60 seats, spread across two cabins.

The forward cabin (between the first and second set of doors) has 28 business class seats, while the rear cabin (behind the second set of doors) has 32 business class seats.

United Polaris business class cabin 777

United’s Polaris business class product is a customized version of the Safran Optima seat, which is a staggered configuration, with alternating rows having different layouts to maximize space (the footwell for a particular seat is underneath the seat in front and to the side).

In the center section, seats in every other row are in a “honeymoon” layout, ideal for those traveling together. These seats are closer to one another and have more distance from the aisle, so it’s a good way to enjoy the flight together. However, if you’re traveling alone, don’t worry, as there’s a partition that can be raised between seats.

The seats in the center section in the other rows would be my less preferred seats, since they’re closer to the aisle, and you don’t even get the benefit of being near a window.

United Polaris business class seats 777

Along the windows, seats also alternate between being closer to the aisle and closer to the windows.

United Polaris business class seats 777
United Polaris business class seats 777

The seats that are closer to the aisle are generally viewed as being less desirable, since it’s harder to look out the window, they have less privacy, and it’s also easier to be bumped by someone in the aisle. They’re still perfectly good seats, but just not the best.

United Polaris business class seat 777
United Polaris business class seat 777
United Polaris business class seat 777

The seats closest to the windows are viewed as being most desirable, given that they offer the most privacy, you won’t get bumped by anyone in the aisle, and they make it easiest to look out the window.

United Polaris business class seat 777
United Polaris business class seat 777
United Polaris business class seat 777

I assigned myself seat 17A, the “true” window seat on the left side in the second to last row of business class, right near the front of the wing.

As far as seat features go, each seat has a fairly modest 16″ entertainment screen, but then again, you’re not exactly seated far away from the screen.

United Polaris business class seat entertainment screen 777

Underneath the entertainment screen is a small storage compartment, a USB-A outlet, and the tray table. The tray table can be extended by first applying some pressure to release it, and then it needs to flipped over. Be aware that once the tray table is extended you probably can’t get out, so I’d recommend using the lavatory before the meal service.

United Polaris business class seat tray table 777

Then on a panel along the side of the seat are all the seat controls, which are easy to use. There are buttons, as well as a knob that you can hold to further customize the recline setting.

United Polaris business class seat controls 777

Next to the seat is a counter where you can place things during the flight, as well as an enclosed storage compartment, plus a mirror. There’s also the entertainment controller, an AC power outlet, a USB-A outlet, and a headphone jack.

United Polaris business class seat storage 777

Then underneath that counter is an armrest that can be lowered during the flight (to make the bed wider), plus a literature pocket.

United Polaris business class seat literature pocket 777

The overhead console on the 777 has both reading lights and individual air nozzles. I appreciate how US airlines consistently have air nozzles, unlike so many other airlines.

United 777 overhead console

All-in-all, I’m a fan of United’s Polaris business class seat layout. Is it the world’s most cutting edge business class seat? No, absolutely not. But it’s comfortable, and what United does an exceptional job with is consistency, as you’ll find the same seat on all long haul international 777s, 787s, and 767s. That’s a huge advantage over airlines like Delta, where there’s such product inconsistency.

United Polaris business class cabin 777

I should also mention that while United’s Polaris business class seat doesn’t offer much privacy on the surface (in the sense that there are no doors or major privacy shields), United does a good job staggering the seats, so you don’t really have anyone in your line of sight. For example, below is what the view was like from my seat.

United Polaris business class cabin 777

United Polaris business class amenities

The area where United really shines in business class is with its Polaris bedding, in partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s not just that United is above average, but I’d argue United is the best airline in the world in this regard.

The airline offers an impressive amount of bedding, including a duvet, a day blanket, a thick pillow, and a cooling gel pillow. It amazes me how other airlines don’t try to compete with United when it comes to the comfort of bedding, since it seems like a fairly inexpensive investment to make in the scheme of things, and it greatly enhances the comfort of the seat.

United Polaris business class bedding
United Polaris business class bedding

United also offers some plush slippers in business class, which I appreciate, as they’re useful for going to and from the lavatory, without having to put your shoes on.

United Polaris business class slippers

Okay, while I’m a fan of United’s bedding and slippers, what’s going on with the Therabody fanny pack amenity kit? I mean, I might expect this on Condor, if you’re targeting German leisure travelers, but on United? Strange…

United Polaris business class amenity kit

At least United’s amenity kits are well stocked, and this one featured socks, eyeshades, a dental kit, earplugs, a pen, and tissues. There were also several products from Therabody, including lip balm, face cream, facial mist, hand cream, and a cleansing towelette.

United Polaris business class amenity kit

Next up, a pair of noise canceling headsets were at each seat, which are rather cheap, in my opinion. While United does a great job with bedding, American leads the way with headphones.

United Polaris business class headphones

Lastly, there was a bottle of Dasani water.

United Polaris business class bottled water

During boarding, the crew came around to offer pre-departure drinks, with the choice of sparkling wine, champagne, or orange juice. Bleh, US airlines and their plastic cups for pre-departure drinks…

United Polaris business class pre-departure drink

United 777 Polaris business class entertainment & Wi-Fi

United does a solid job with its inflight entertainment in Polaris business class. The airline has a huge library of movies, TV shows, music, and more, and you should have no issues staying entertained throughout the flight. I don’t know exactly how many movies and TV shows there are, due to how the system is organized, but it’s extensive.

United Polaris business class entertainment 777
United Polaris business class entertainment 777
United Polaris business class entertainment 777
United Polaris business class entertainment 777

On top of that, United has Wi-Fi on its 777s, which is available shortly after takeoff until shortly before landing.

United Wi-Fi system 777

All passengers can receive free messaging, and then there are several plans you can purchase, capped based on time rather than data usage.

United Wi-Fi pricing 777

On this flight, Wi-Fi options included a full flight pass for $21.99, a two-hour pass for $8.99, and a one-hour pass for $4.99.

United Wi-Fi pricing 777

United 777 departure from Tokyo Narita

Boarding was reasonably efficient by US airline standards, which isn’t saying a whole lot. All passengers were onboard within 30 minutes. While the Polaris business class cabin went out full, it was largely with non-rev passengers and employees in uniform, as the cabin was only a bit over half booked a few days out, and I saw that much of the standby list cleared into business class.

At around 5:20PM, the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us that we’d be pushing back in about five minutes, and would have a flight time of 8hr15min. At this point the cabin got some nice ambiance, thanks to the blue mood lighting.

United 777 Polaris business class cabin

At 5:25PM we began our pushback, and at the same time the safety video was screened.

United 777 pushing back Narita Airport

Then at 5:30PM we began our taxi, with the typical waving from the ramp workers. I sure do love Japan…

United 777 taxiing Narita Airport

It was only a very short taxi out to runway 16R, where we were cleared for takeoff right behind a Thai Airways Boeing 777. Funny enough, that was the jet that I had just arrived on.

United 777 taxiing Narita Airport
United 777 taking off Narita Airport
United 777 taking off Narita Airport
United 777 taking off Narita Airport

We had a smooth climb out of Japan, and then began our transpacific crossing. The seatbelt sign was turned off about 20 minutes after takeoff.

United Polaris business class dinner

After takeoff, dinner was served. You can find the United Polaris business class menu below.

United Polaris business class menu

You can also find the United Polaris business class drink list below.

United Polaris business class drink list

Meal orders had already been taken on the ground, with the flight attendant asking for both the first and second choice. 20 minutes after takeoff, service began with warm towels being distributed.

United Polaris business class warm towel

Then 30 minutes after takeoff, the first round of drinks was served. I didn’t want any more alcohol (come and think of it, I’m not sure why — it was a fairly “dry” trip), so I ordered a Diet Coke, served with a ramekin of warm, mixed nuts.

United Polaris business class dinner — drink & nuts

Around 45 minutes after takeoff, the first course was served. I wasn’t given an option for the starter, and was offered the steamed scallop and crab, with dried tomato, polenta, tapenade paste, mikro leaves, and basil mayonnaise. This was served with a baby red leafy salad with cucumber, fennel, and yellow bell pepper, plus a bread roll.

I’m sorry to say, but this wasn’t good, plain and simple. It was flavorless and mushy. It honestly tasted like slightly fishy nothingness. Then there was no choice of bread, and the roll was also stale and tasteless.

United Polaris business class dinner — appetizer & salad

The main course was served around 65 minutes after takeoff. I ended up getting my second choice, which was the the tofu isobeage, with Japanese pepper, happo carrots, taro, shishito peppers, rice, and teriyaki sauce. I generally love tofu, and the description of the dish made it sound great (well, at least to me), but once again, this whole thing was just bland. I tasted teriyaki sauce, and nothing else.

United Polaris business class dinner — main course

Lastly, the dessert trolley was rolled down the aisle around 90 minutes after takeoff. There was the choice of an ice cream sundae, strawberry mousse, or a cheese plate. I figured I’d go with the tried and tested option — the ice cream sundae — and had it with berry sauce and sliced almonds. Unlike everything else with the meal, it didn’t disappoint.

United Polaris business class dinner — dessert

Other than the ice cream, the best aspect of the meal was the beautiful sunset I witnessed during this time.

United 777 sunset view enroute to San Francisco

Based on my experience with this flight, United’s catering is sad, and even makes American’s catering look good by comparison, which is saying something. I remember when the Polaris product launched, and United put so much effort into its meal service. Suffice it to say that things are totally different than before.

United 777 Polaris business class lavatories & snack bar

After the meal, I checked out the lavatories onboard. United has four lavatories in business class on the 777-300ER — two are by the first set of doors, and two are by the second set of doors.

Three of the lavatories are pretty standard in terms of size and design.

United Polaris business class lavatory 777
United Polaris business class lavatory 777

However, the lavatory by the second set of doors and on the left is by far the largest, and fortunately that was the one closest to my seat.

United Polaris business class lavatory 777
United Polaris business class lavatory 777

The only special thing about the lavatories was the Therabody products, including hand cream and face mist.

United Polaris business class lavatory toiletries 777

Also by the second set of doors, United has a small snack bar, where you can pick up packaged snacks, leftover dessert (in this case a cheese plate or strawberry mousse), or bottled water.

United Polaris business class snack bar 777
United Polaris business class snack bar 777
United Polaris business class snack bar 777

United 777 Polaris business class bed

After dinner I was ready to get some rest, so I reclined my seat into the flat position, and got comfortable. As I said earlier, I find United’s Polaris business class seat to be competitive, but nothing too exciting. The seat is a bit on the tight side compared to some of the newer products, but I still find it easy to get good rest, especially thanks to the bedding.

United Polaris business class bed 777
United Polaris business class bed 777

The footwell is also a pretty good size, even if you’re a side sleeper, like me.

United Polaris business class footwell 777

I ended up going to sleep with around 6hr20min remaining to San Francisco…

United Polaris business class map feature 777

…and woke up around three hours later, with 3hr15min remaining to San Francisco. I’m more of a napper than a sleeper on a plane, so three hours of rest was enough for me.

United Polaris business class map feature 777

As I woke up, I was treated to a beautiful sunrise.

United 777 engine enroute to San Francisco

United Polaris business class breakfast

After waking up, I got some work done, until it was time for breakfast. The cabin lights were turned on around 80 minutes out, at which point breakfast was served.

United Polaris business class map feature 777

There was supposed to be the option of miso cheese grilled salmon, or belgian waffles. By the time I was served, the only option was the waffle, which was served with caramelized peaches, toasted pecans, and green papaya sauce. This came with a side of strawberry greek yogurt, plus a fruit plate.

I mean, while waffles are of course tasty, it seems weird that a super sweet dish is the only real option in business class, rather than something a bit healthier. Is United’s target demographic a birthday party for kids, or…?

United Polaris business class breakfast

United Polaris business class service

Aside from United’s consistently good seats and bedding, the other highlight of this flight was the service. I like United’s Polaris service flow, as there’s one flight attendant working in the aisle, dedicated to each section. Rahul was in charge of my section (the left aisle in the second business class cabin), so he was basically the only flight attendant I interacted with to any real extent.

Rahul was awesome, and provided what I’d consider to be perfect service by US airline standards. He was kind, genuine, efficient, proactive, and personable, and seemed like he wanted everyone in “his” section to have a good flight. I’m now two for two when it comes to good service on US airlines on long haul flights in recent months, as I also had a great service experience in American’s 777 business class.

United 777 arrival in San Francisco

At around 9:15AM San Francisco time, the first officer was on the PA to announce that we’d be descending shortly, and would be landing in around 35 minutes. 15 minutes later, at 9:30AM, the seatbelt sign was turned on, and the crew prepared the cabin for the arrival.

The views of the Northern California coastline as we approached over the Pacific Ocean were gorgeous, thanks in no small part to great weather.

United 777 approaching San Francisco Airport
United 777 approaching San Francisco Airport
United 777 approaching San Francisco Airport

At 9:55AM, we had one of the smoothest touchdowns I’ve ever had on runway 28R. I’m convinced that if you had put a cup of water filled to the brim on the console next to the seat, not a drop would have spilled. It’s not just that the touchdown was smooth, but we also slowed down very gradually, as we rolled to the end of the runway. Bravo to the pilots!

United 777 landing San Francisco Airport

Unfortunately once we were off the runway, we just stood there for some time. After a few minutes, the first officer explained that our gate was occupied, and that we’d have to wait for around 15 minutes.

United 777 taxiing San Francisco Airport

It ended up taking a bit longer than that, and we ultimately pulled into gate G9 at 10:20AM, still a few minutes ahead of schedule.

United 777 arriving at gate San Francisco Airport

Bottom line

United’s Polaris business class has a lot going for it. While United’s business class seats aren’t the best in the industry, they’re comfortable, well designed, and have nice aesthetics. Furthermore, I love the product consistency throughout the fleet. When it comes to soft product, United has exceptional bedding and great entertainment, plus Wi-Fi at a fair price.

What left me most impressed about this flight was the friendly service from Rahul, who took time to make each passenger feel welcome.

Unfortunately the weakest point of the flight was the catering. It’s not even that I have unrealistically high expectations of food on US airlines, but United’s catering is just really bad, at least based on my experience. What makes the current state of United’s catering even sadder is when you consider how great catering was when the Polaris concept first launched.

If United could consistently offer service on Rahul’s level, and improve catering, the airline would be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, I guess United’s unrivaled long haul network from the United States does most of the heavy lifting.

What’s your take on United’s Polaris business class on the 777?

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