Quick take: Excellent lounges, a high degree of in-seat privacy and nice onboard amenities make United Polaris a pleasant, if not over-the-top luxurious, experience on long-haul flights.
- Although they don’t have closing doors, United Polaris seats — especially those closest to the windows — offer a decent degree of privacy.
- United’s Saks Fifth Avenue bedding is still among the best offered by any airline.
- Good entertainment systems are a plus, with responsive touchscreens that include accessibility features and are loaded with extensive content selections.
- The layout of Polaris seats feels dense compared to business-class seats on some other airlines.
- Though easy to use, simple seat controls mean the variety of positions passengers can enjoy is limited.
- Light-sensitive flyers might not like the Dreamliner’s lack of window shades.
United revealed plans for its next generation of long-haul business class, dubbed Polaris, way back in 2016 to much fanfare in the aviation world.
The seats were a stark departure from any the carrier had offered before, with an innovative staggered layout and high-end finishes like faux-marble countertops and individual lighting sconces, not to mention luxurious soft amenities like Saks Fifth Avenue bedding plus a burgeoning network of Polaris-branded lounges in the airline’s hubs.
The new seats and cabins began rolling out on the airline’s Boeing 777-300ERs and 787-10 Dreamliners, followed by retrofits to its other long-haul jets. Seven years after the project began, the rollout of Polaris across United’s long-haul fleet was finally completed over the summer.
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Here’s what it was like flying United Polaris aboard the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and what passengers can expect from the airline’s long-haul business-class experience. (TPG recently reported that United intends to overhaul some of its onboard amenities like bedding and pajamas in the coming months, so certain facets could be different by the time you fly.)
How much does it cost to book United Polaris?
Like many other airlines these days, United uses a type of dynamic pricing system for awards where the number of United MileagePlus miles you need for an award ticket corresponds somewhat to the price of airfares. That means that when fares are high, you’ll need more miles for a ticket than when they’re low.
For that reason, it sometimes pays to look into partner programs whose miles you can use to book awards on United.
Case in point: For my recent one-way flight from San Francisco to Singapore, United MileagePlus would have required 100,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees.
However, Air Canada Aeroplan required just 87,500 miles plus 75 Canadian dollars ($55) for the same ticket. It seemed worth spending $50 more to save 12,500 miles, so that’s how I booked it.
Here’s a look at round-trip airfares and mileage prices from San Francisco to Singapore over the next year.
|Class||Economy||Premium economy||Business class|
|United MileagePlus miles||104,000-200,000 + $69 taxes/fees||204,000-400,000 + $69 taxes/fees||200,000-500,000 + $69 taxes/fees|
|Air Canada Aeroplan miles||120,000 + $168 taxes/fees||N/A||175,000 + $168 taxes/fees|
If you’re looking to stock up on Air Canada Aeroplan miles, you might consider applying for the Aeroplan® Credit Card.
Remember, you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio if you have a card such as:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
- American Express® Gold Card
- American Express® Business Gold Card
Additionally, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio if you have cards such as:
Leaving elite status out of it, United Polaris passengers also receive the following services compared to economy and Premium Select (premium economy) flyers.
|Class||Seat selection (cost)||Cabin baggage allowance/cost||Checked baggage allowance/cost|
|Economy||Varies||1 carry-on, 1 personal item||2 bags of up to 50 pounds for free (1 for basic economy)|
|Premium Select||Free||1 carry-on, 1 personal item||2 bags of up to 50 pounds each for free|
|United Polaris||Free||1 carry-on, 1 personal item||2 bags of up to 70 pounds each for free|
Checking into and boarding United Polaris
United Polaris passengers can take advantage of the following priority services at the airport.
|Priority check-in||Premier Access|
|Lounge access||Yes, United Polaris lounges and Star Alliance partner lounges|
|Does the airline participate in TSA PreCheck?||Yes|
|Priority boarding||Yes, in Group 1 after preboarding|
My flight from San Francisco was scheduled to depart at 11:20 a.m. and arrive in Singapore the following day at 6:20 p.m. local time.
I arrived at the airport at around 9 a.m. and found the international terminal fairly empty. Thanks to my business-class ticket, I could use a priority line reserved for Polaris passengers and United Premier 1K elite members for check-in, and since there was no one else waiting, I stepped right up to the counter and checked in in under two minutes.
Given the amount of time I’ve spent in this particular lounge, including a six-hour stint I recently documented, I won’t go into a detailed review of it since I feel like I’ve covered every inch of its 28,000 square feet (making it the largest Polaris Lounge in United’s network) quite thoroughly.
The morning I visited, though, it was bustling with folks either arriving from overnight flights and connecting, or preparing to depart on some of the airline’s long-haul routes to other continents. I found a lot of people snoozing in the quiet seating area on the first floor, and there was even a lineup of passengers waiting to use the shower facilities.
The wait to get a table in the small dining room on the second floor was about 20 to 30 minutes, according to the host.
No wonder, since there were enticing dishes to try, such as Meyer lemon curd zeppole and pancakes with fried pork belly, egg, sesame, pickled ginger and okonomiyaki sauce.
Luckily, the buffet was well stocked with hot items like scrambled eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, cold cuts, fresh fruit and pastries.
At about 10:15 a.m., 15 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin, I went to the nearby gate. Everything looked like it was on track, and I saw the crew make its way onto the plane. But the boarding time approached and passed. Then there was an announcement about a technical issue on the aircraft, with additional announcements every 10 minutes or so until a full-out delay of an hour was announced. Then another half-hour delay was declared.
The gate agents kept passengers informed, checking in every 15 minutes or so with updates, and about an hour after our original departure time, we were told to head to an adjacent gate since we would be flying on another aircraft.
Because the gate staff kept us current, I didn’t notice much grumbling among the other passengers, who dutifully filed over to the other gate. Once there, the crew reboarded and the gate agents announced that boarding would begin shortly after.
Passengers were allowed on board about 20 minutes later. However, catering was still provisioning the aircraft, so while economy passengers could head to their seats immediately, business-class flyers were asked to stand in the aisle briefly while the food was onboarded. Then passengers were hustled on as quickly as possible so the door could be closed without a moment to spare before the crew would time out.
Speaking of which, despite the hustle, the crew remained calm and cheerful throughout, commiserating with passengers about the delay, getting them to their seats quickly, helping with baggage and generally making the best of the tardiness. The captain also made an announcement that though we would be departing just over two hours late, we would try to make up time in the air, so the overall mood among passengers remained sanguine.
At about 1:30 p.m. local time, we finally pushed back and were on our way to Singapore.
How comfortable was United Polaris?
United’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have 48 United Polaris business-class seats in total — eight rows of four seats each in a large forward cabin and four rows of four seats each in a smaller aft cabin.
There are overhead bins running down both the sides and center of the cabin, which means passengers should have no fear about finding space for their luggage.
Here are the dimensions and configuration of United Polaris seats on the Boeing 787-9.
|Number of seats||48|
|Seat recline||78 inches, fully flat|
|Seat width||20.5 inches|
|Screen size||16 inches|
These have a unique footprint where those in odd rows (on this aircraft) are closer to the walls on the sides and to each other in the middle, while those in even rows are angled closer to the aisle on the sides of the cabin and away from each other in the center section.
All seats have one large console with a marble-like surface to one side and a narrow armrest to the other and are about 20.5 inches wide between the two.
Depending on where you sit, the larger console might be separating you from the aisle, the window or someone sitting next to you.
All seats do have direct aisle access, though, and the opening between the armrest and the preceding seatback that you have to slip between is just over 9 inches wide, so be prepared to shimmy a little.
Given this layout, the best seats for solo travelers are A and L in the odd-numbered rows (I chose 7A), while those best for travel companions are F and D seats in the odd rows. All seats have a privacy shield of sorts that extends 8 inches from their aisle-side shells to screen off noise and activity from the aisle, while those in the center have privacy dividers that can be raised or lowered between them.
The main portion of the seat shells has a brushed-metal effect with blue accents above and below that lend the cabin a dynamic look.
The chair component of the seats has textured blue upholstery with gray leather headrests and shoulder straps that hook into the waistband seat belts for takeoff and landing.
They have narrow leather armrests to either side, including the one bordered by the wide console.
Above that console, there is a sconce-style light that passengers can illuminate or dim, plus a small cubby holding a set of provided headphones with enough space for an amenity kit or a few personal items. There is a small flip-out reading light just next to it
Running along the side of the console, there is a universal power adapter, a USB-A port, a two-pronged outlet for headphones and a handheld remote for the entertainment screen that can also be used to call flight attendants and illuminate overhead lights.
Speaking of what’s overhead, each seat also has individual air nozzles, which help passengers regulate the temperature in their seating area to their personal preferences.
Although the large counter surface of the console is more of a parallelogram than a square (though still 14 by 14 inches), the plug made this a good place to set a small laptop to charge between meals or while sleeping.
The seat controls consist of a wheel that scrolls one way or another to put the seat into lie-flat mode or raise it fully upright. There are also buttons to maneuver the individual seat components like the backrest and armrest into comfortable lounging positions, though these movements are somewhat limited.
Finally, there’s a button with a lamp icon to control the sconce fixture and a crescent moon-shaped icon that turns red to indicate that you do not want to be disturbed when you press it.
Opposite the seatback, there’s a narrow shelf under the entertainment screen with another USB-A port under it, making it a convenient place to charge a mobile phone without cords getting in the way.
Then below that, the bifold table unlatches and pulls forward, extending to a full size of about 15 inches wide by 19 inches long with a flip-up shelf that you can use as a backstop for a personal digital device.
In lie-flat mode, the seat extends to 78 inches, and I measured the foot cubbies to be 13 inches wide at their opening, 12 inches tall and 18 inches deep. I was able to move around easily when lying down, but if you have large feet, you might have to scrunch up a little or find a position that suits you best without cramping your toes.
After the first meal service, I reclined my seat to lie-flat mode, laid a provided light blanket out as a seat cover and then snuggled up with the Saks bedding and got a solid nine hours of sleep (with a bathroom break or two in the middle).
Although there was no privacy door to separate me from the aisle, the larger console sufficed to isolate me from noise and activity on the aisle, and the dimensions of the seat were roomy enough to accommodate my rolling one way or the other without bumping into anything.
United’s 787-9s have three lavatories for up to 48 passengers, but there didn’t seem to be much of a wait at any time. Two of them are located at the front of the cabin near the forward galley, with a second located at the aft galley (which Premium Select passengers also used).
In this post-COVID-19 era, passengers should appreciate the touchless flush function on the toilets and the touchless sinks, which are also stocked with Sunday Riley facial mist and lotion.
Amenities in United Polaris
Polaris passengers boarded to find a variety of goodies waiting for them on their seats, including full-size Saks Fifth Avenue pillows and duvets (wrapped with a ribbon), smaller memory-foam pillows, lightweight blankets and sets of slippers stowed in the foot cubby.
There were also amenity kits in the form of gray fabric Therabody cross-body bags. They contained the following skincare and other products:
- Therabody TheraFace lip balm
- Therabody TheraFace cleansing towelette
- Therabody TheraFace Recover hand cream
- Therabody TheraFace Refresh facial mist
- Therabody TheraFace Revitalize eye serum
- A dental kit with toothbrush and toothpaste
- Foam earplugs
- A fabric eye mask
- A pen
Although compact, the amenity kit contained all the essentials. The TheraFace products felt light and refreshing to use on the long-haul flight itself, while the Therabody bag was a fun souvenir that came in handy for carrying small items on outings during my trip.
The eye mask came in especially handy because Boeing Dreamliners don’t have physical window shades. Instead, they have digital shades, and while the crew kept the cabin completely dimmed, if you are light-sensitive, you might still have trouble sleeping.
Flight attendants came through the cabin to offer passengers pajamas (which are usually available on flights of 12 hours or more on United). I asked for a large set, which I find to be more breathable, and though I was swimming in them, they were very comfortable.
On the entertainment front, United stocks each Polaris seat with basic overhead noise-canceling headphones that you can plug into the seat-side jack. These aren’t high-quality fixtures, but they do cancel out a certain decibel level of noise and work well with the entertainment system. Unfortunately, you cannot pair your own headset via Bluetooth to the entertainment system (though that will hopefully change in the next few years based on United’s current planning).
The seats’ screens are 16 inches across diagonally and have sharp imagery, not to mention accessibility features for passengers who have specific visual or auditory needs (and United was a pioneer on this front).
The entertainment selection on my flight included a crystal-clear map function and hundreds of film and TV selections, including new releases like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Chevalier” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” plus HBO Max titles like “The Big Brunch” and “Chernobyl.” Meditation sessions by Alo Moves, various concert albums, multiple podcasts and plenty of games to keep both adults and tykes occupied were also available.
I logged onto the plane’s Wi-Fi after we hit cruising altitude and was able to choose from three packages:
- One hour for $18.99 or 1,900 United MileagePlus miles
- Two hours for $24.99 or 2,500 United MileagePlus miles
- Full flight for $39.99 or 4,000 United MileagePlus miles
I chose the full-flight option, and though I experienced speeds of just 0.28 Mbps download and 0 Mbps upload for the first few minutes, that eventually rose to a respectable 13.36 Mbps download. Speedtest continued to register 0 Mbps upload, but that didn’t seem to be accurate, and I was able to browse the internet, send emails, use messaging apps and upload some photos at decent speeds.
How was the food in United Polaris?
A few days before my flight, I received an email from United asking me if I’d like to preselect my meal.
The main course options included:
- Barbecue chicken with sweet potato puree, braised collard greens and barbecue sauce
- Seared Asian short rib with Asian-style barbecue sauce, coconut jasmine rice and stir-fried vegetables
- Stir-fried vegetables with udon and Thai-style coconut-ginger cream sauce
- Fried cod with red curry sauce, stir-fried vegetables and Shaoxing wine served with jasmine rice
- A selection of other preorder meals including vegan, vegetarian and kosher
Without casting aspersions at United (at least, not any more than other airlines), I decided to order ahead since on some of my other recent flights in Polaris, the galley had run out of my top option before flight attendants came to take my order. Based on the description and picture, I selected the short rib figuring the rice and vegetables would be nice, light accompaniments to the meat.
After serving and then cleaning up predeparture beverages that included a choice of water, sparkling wine or orange juice, the flight attendants working my side of the plane came by to verify my order and ask what else I would like from the menu that had been placed at my seat. They also took my order for a post-departure beverage.
The starters included:
- A leafy green salad with English cucumber batons and cherry tomatoes served with a bottle of vinaigrette
- Lemon-zest prawn confit with orange-parsley gremolata, frisee and oven-dried cherry tomatoes
Passengers could choose an express meal if they wanted to get some rest, but seeing as this flight was over 16 hours long, I figured I had plenty of time for a leisurely meal.
United recently updated its wine menu to include some good choices, so I was eager to try a couple of them throughout the meal.
The wine list on my particular flight included:
- Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut Champagne
- Catena Alta chardonnay from Argentina
- Château de la Greffière from France
- Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc from California
- Jean Marie Berthier pouilly fume from France
- Whispering Angel rosé from France
- Justin cabernet sauvignon from California
- Pike Road pinot noir from Oregon
- Albert Bichot Burgundy from France
- Emilio Moro tempranillo from Spain
About 30 minutes into the flight, the attendants came through with a beverage cart serving the preordered drinks and ramekins of warm nuts.
Twenty minutes after that, meal service commenced, with both starters and mains being served on a single tray. After those were distributed, the flight attendants came through with a hot selection of bread, including pretzel rolls and garlic bread, and refilled drinks.
The shrimp starter was generously portioned and savory, while the salad looked and tasted fresh, even if it was mostly lettuce. I was pleasantly surprised by the Asian short rib, which was more substantial, juicy and flavorful than I thought it would be.
Then for dessert, there was a choice of:
- Fruit and cheese plate with grapes, crackers, Gouda, Gruyère and butterkase
- Peach-blueberry tart
- Served-to-order ice cream sundaes
I nibbled on the cheese plate and took a few bites of the sundae (chocolate sauce and shaved almonds for me, thanks!) before calling it quits.
During the long middle portion of the flight, passengers could ask flight attendants for bites like:
- A grilled cheese toastie with tomato soup
- Fresh fruit
- Chips and nuts
- Miniature portions of the cheese plate and blueberry tart
I saved my appetite for the pre-landing meal, which was served about 90 minutes before landing and consisted of either:
- Poached shrimp with chicken-broth congee, ginger and scallions
- Egg-white bites with Monterey Jack and red pepper with roasted fingerling potatoes and chicken-apple sausage
Although we would be landing in the evening, I chose the egg dish. It was both fluffy and filling and went perfectly with a mug of mild coffee I ordered to keep me awake a few more hours after we landed. The meal was also served with a bowl of surprisingly tasty fresh fruit, a cup of Chobani yogurt and a croissant with Bonne Maman jam.
Would you recommend United Polaris?
I’ll be honest: I prefer a business-class seat with a closing door for the utmost privacy and a feeling of personal space. However, United Polaris continues to offer a high-end experience that manages to balance passenger density with individual space.
In addition to comfortable seats that transform into roomy beds, United Polaris has also recently upped its food and wine game so that the meal service feels more premium than before — and that certainly came through on this flight.
Although the airline will be switching up the amenities on board soon, it will hopefully retain the Saks Fifth Avenue bedding that has become a fan favorite while replacing amenity kits and pajamas that could use some improvement.
In terms of service, I have had a long-haul United Polaris flight or two since the pandemic where the crew has not seemed overly dedicated to serving passengers. That said, this flight was the exact opposite.
Despite a bumpy departure experience, the flight attendants put passengers at ease with good humor and friendly service. Those working in the Polaris cabin were on hand at all times, passing through regularly to make sure passengers had everything they needed and remaining on call in the galley between meal services to offer travelers snacks and drinks. In short, the crew on this flight could be training models for the airline’s long-haul service.
Throw in the robust entertainment selection and stable Wi-Fi, and United’s Polaris business class shines in several ways that both leisure and business travelers should appreciate.
Now, if only there were more award tickets available at affordable redemption rates using United’s own MileagePlus miles.
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