Review: United’s NEW Polaris San Francisco – Auckland on 777-300ER

Before we knew it, it was time to board our flight to Auckland. I was really looking forward to this flight since this would be my first time trying out United’s new Polaris hard product and that too on their new 777-300ER. For a good 4 months before my flight, I kept checking back to make sure that the product hadn’t changed before my flight over.

I was among the first people to board the aircraft so it gave me some time to take pictures before a throng of passengers made there way to their seats. United has the highest ratio of business class seats of any U.S carrier with there being 60 business class seats out of the total of 366 seats available seats (16 percent). The seats are split into two cabins. There are 28 seats in the forward cabin and 32 seats in the cabin behind it where I was seated.

United has 4 across arrangement in Polaris and has a bit of a staggered configuration with these new seats, meaning it alternates between one being closer to the window and one closer to the aisle on the sides. And then it alternates between the honeymoon seats and a little more separate seats in the center. I luckily grabbed the ones closer to the window as soon as the aircraft swap happened for my sister and I. My parents ended up getting the middle 2 seats (the honeymoon variety).

United has some swanky mood lighting in their new Polaris cabin with a blue and orange colour scheme for this late night departure to Auckland.

Now United may get a lot of trash talk for recent PR nightmares, but they’ve actually put together a wonderful hard product for their new Polaris cabins. The seat is private, spacious, has direct aisle access as well as ample cubby hole space for your leg. On top of this Untied offers great amenities such as the gel cooling pillows, Saks 5th Ave bedding, and pajamas (only on nighttime flights). They’ve done all of this while actually keeping the number of business class seats almost the same (this means the same number of seats available as award seats). So credit to United where it is deserved!

 

There are also power sockets and a small cupboard to store the United issued headphones. The end table that this area forms for the seat is quite useful for keeping small items while you are using the tray table for the meal service or work.

United has done a great job with privacy with the middle “honeymoon” seats as well with a screen coming up in between seats. This is a great feature especially if you get stuck next to someone who you really don’t know (happens quite often on United).

Coming back to my seat, which was 17A. As soon as I sat down an amenity kit was handed out along with the choice of beverage being champagne, water, or orange juice. United had recently eliminated the choice of beverage feature at the start of the flight.

Anyway as soon as I got settled, we bag on our push back from the gate in San Francisco. I tried looking outside my window, but it was quite dirty already despite this being a relatively new aircraft. And no it was not raining outside in San Francisco.

After the safety video, the captain came on to inform us of our rather longer than usual flight time of 14 hours due to some storms we would be circumventing near the Hawaiian Islands. We actually ended up being delayed in our departure out of SFO because of some air traffic holds.

The FAs then came around taking meal orders at which point I ordered myself the cooling gel pillow as well as some pajamas. While the FAs seemed nice enough when they took meal orders, when they came around giving out amenity kits and other stuff, they pretty much threw the amenities at the passengers. The FA on my side literally knocked my glass of water over when he threw me a pair of pajamas and kept moving on. Certainly not the way you treat premium cabin customers. 

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about United’s new IFE screen was the presence of what looked like two cameras at the top. I guess United likes spying on its passengers while they sleep?

The purser on this flight was a very nice and courteous gentleman.  He came by to introduce himself after the flight took off and brought me some dessert when he saw that I wasn’t eating dinner.

 

This flight was pretty much a midnight departure from San Francisco (~2 AM CST)  so I pretty much conked out right after this. It was pretty much a smooth ride all the way through and I got 9 straight hours of sleep. I woke up just as the sun was rising over the South Pacific, about three hours out of Auckland.

The light outside was signaling an arrival into Middle Earth. The sky looked like it was being colored by the fires of Mt. Doom.

I went back to sleep after sunrise and woke up just 5 minutes before arrival into Auckland. I had missed breakfast, but was extremely refreshed and ready to explore a bit more of Middle Earth.

CONNECTION IN AUCKLAND:

Auckland airport is setup as two separate terminals: foreign and domestic. So transfers can take a little longer than you bargained for after taking a long flight from the U.S.

The actual annoying part about this entire ordeal was that even though our award tickets were booked all the way to Christchurch, United decided that 90 minutes wasn’t enough to make a connection at AKL and confirmed us on the next flight out of Auckland. As a result of this, our bags were not checked all the way through and we had quite a hard time, at the Air New Zealand check in counter, scanning our bags using their automated kiosks. Air New Zealand only allows one free checked bag and the agent was confused when I said that I arrived in United Business and that I had 5 bags in total for 4 passengers. The time it took to get this sorted out made us miss the opportunity to take the earlier flight and delayed our arrival in Christchurch.

THERE IS NO AIR NZ LOUNGE ACCESS FOR UNITED POLARIS PASSENGERS (Unless you are  Star Alliance Gold Member)

The second annoyance was that we couldn’t access the Air New Zealand lounge despite our travel all being on the same reservation. The lady claimed you had to have an Air New Zealand business class ticket even though Air New Zealand didn’t even fly the cabin to Christchurch. It ended up being not so bad because of how little time we had, but we could’ve used a shower before the flight to Christchurch and the long drive to Tekapo.


Bottom Line:

This was an all time record for me (12 hours) in terms of number of hours slept in an airline seat, so I think that says a lot about how good the seat really was. United’s new Polaris Class seat and amenities are a significant improvement over the legacy Continental BusinessFirst product. The seats are comfortable, private, and have direct aisle access, which are all wins for the consumer. I would easily consider it the second best business class seat in the sky after AA’s reverse herringbone arrangement, which allows for the same level of privacy for all passengers regardless of where they sit. My experience with service on this flight was mixed. While the purser was very accommodating and helpful, the rest of the crew just plunked plates down and threw amenities at the passengers rather than placing them gently. In general I feel as if United’s FAs are less helpful than AA’s or Delta’s, but that could just be the experiences I’ve had. There is no doubt that I will continue to fly United Polaris since they release a good amount of award space and have a decent hard product.

TRIP REPORT INDEX:


United Club SFO Concourse F Rotunda
United Global First Lounge – SFO (Now Replaced with the Polaris Lounge)
United Polaris SFO-AKL 
Air New Zealand Economy AKL-CHC
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Crowne Plaza Christchurch
Manaia (Priority Pass) Lounge Christchurch
Qantas Economy Christchurch – Melbourne
Westin Melbourne
Focal Point: The Twelve Apostles
Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge Melbourne
Singapore Airlines First Class Melbourne – Singapore
Singapore Airlines Private Room @ Changi
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge @ Changi
Singapore Airlines Economy Class Singapore – Hyderabad
Westin Hyderabad Mindspace
Focal Point: Hyderabad – Old City
Plaza Premium Lounge Hyderabad
Etihad Business Class HYD-AUH-DFW
Etihad Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi (US Departures)