My journey home from South Africa clocked in at an amazing 16 hours and 5 minutes of flight time thanks to heavy headwinds which slowed our journey and left me plenty of time to explore United’s onboard Polaris business class product on the Boeing 787.
United Airlines 787 Polaris Review
I’m not sure if the crew was impressed or though I was crazy, but it was the same crew I flew out with. We both had spent about 26 hours in Johannesburg before flying back to Newark (EWR). In fact, I ran into the crew at the Marriott and we all shared a laugh about me going back so soon (I laid out my reason for the trip here). In fact, I was invited to use the crew shuttle to head back to the airport, which was a very kind gesture (I turned down the invitation because I wanted to get to the airport early to review lounges).
Leaving South Africa was even easier than getting in. I presented my BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen self test and collected my boarding pass, then proceeded through security then immigration where I was stamped out without a word. The airport was very quiet.
Prior to boarding my bag was searched, with the contents being dumped onto a table then hastily reloaded (I did not receive a SSSS – it appears that everyone had to endure this). It made me thankful I was traveling very light.
United Airlines 187
Johannesburg (JNB) – Newark (EWR)
Wednesday, December 16
Depart: 10:00PM [actual departure 9:52PM]
Arrive: 7:00AM+1 [actual arrival 7:17AM]
Duration: 16hr, 00min
Distance: 7,989 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 9K (Business Class)
Onboard, the flight attendants were positioned in the same places as the outbound and all smiled and greeted me as I boarded. Sadly for United, the flight was empty due to the omicron flight ban impacting South Africa. In fact, there were only five passengers in the rear 787-9 cabin, which includes 18 seats.
Obviously I enjoy empty cabins as a passenger, but it was a painful reminder of the consequences of governments acting upon fear, not science.
Before takeoff, the captain came around and introduced himself to every business class passenger, informing us of our delayed arrival into Newark and unusually long flight time. I appreciated that personal touch, though United’s app had already alerted us to our unusually long flight time.
After I got settled, Jules, the purser, welcomed me back onboard and took my dinner order.
- Beef Filet
- with green pepper sauce, sautéed spinach, honey glazed carrot batons, sweet potato wedges
- Chicken Cape Malay
- With with Saffron basmati rice, and Lentil Dahl
- Roasted Vegetables Ratatouille Style
- with brinjal, zucchini, carrot and red onion, 3 colors quinoa, peppers brunoises, sweet corn, fresh coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika seasoning
Each entree was served with a salad composed of mesclun lettuce, sundried tomato, herb grilled croutons, chard sweet corn, and a bocochinie ball.
United still has not brought back paper menus and should consider posting them online and including them as part of the in-flight-entertainment library.
We took off and dinner was served within a half hour, all on one tray, including dessert. As I mentioned on the outbound report, here’s where United could make a meaningful improvement to the soft product by improving the appearance of the meals and offering it in courses. Appetizer and additional dessert choices should be restored (United is trialing additional service on select flights next month).
That said, the meal was fine. Tasty, in fact. I ordered filet mignon and was cooked too long, but still tasty with the green pepper sauce and I enjoyed the sweet potato wedges.
The salad was fresh and I liked the bag of mixed nuts, which even had macadamias in it.
And who doesn’t love a simple vanilla ice cream from Häagen Daz?
It was time for more sleep. With 14.5 hours left in the flight, I got ready for bed. That included requesting pajamas from a flight attendant (this time, I received S/M instead of L/XL and they fit so much better), slippers, and a mattress pad. I then changed into my pajamas and made my bed:
I managed seven hours of sleep, which was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for more, but oddly my stomach woke me up. I was hungry and there was still 7 hours and 41 minutes of flight time left.
Pre-pandemic, United used to offer grilled cheese sandwiches and soup on longhfaul flights as a mid-flight snack (along with a second dish such as noodles or chili or beef stroganoff) plus cold sandwiches and packaged snacks.
These days, it is just cold sandwiches and snacks. José, the flight attendant who worked my section for most of the flight, offered me a chicken sandwich. It looked disgusting, but was actually very tasty (though I concede, maybe I was just hungry). It had a chicken breast, cucumbers, a sun-dried tomatoes paste, and olives which helped my stomach to stop growling along with some other South African snacks.
Now awake, I watched a movie called “Old” which was mildly entertaining, then I was able to fall asleep again for another few hours. I’ll add here that a wi-fi flight pass was available for $22.99, which I thought was a great price for such a long flight. Internet worked well through much of the flight (at least the portion I was awake). It’s nice to stay connected.
When I woke up, it was time for breakfast, with two choices on offer:
- Feta cheese omelet
- grilled tomato wedges, potato cake, and chicken sausage
- with mix berry compote, lemon zest mascapone cream, and icing sugar garnish
I ordered the omelet and found it tasty with a strong cup of coffee and croissant. Fruit was served on the side.
After finishing, I asked José if there were any waffles left and he gladly brought me a second breakfast. The waffles were a bit soggy, but still tasty with the lemon cream and powdered sugar.
The last 90 minutes of the flight seemed to drag on…it had been 15 hours already, after all. We finally landed in Newark and I made a sprint for immigration: I had less than an hour to make my way to Terminal C for my connection to LAX.
Once again, I was reminded of the great potential United has. It’s a great seat with great bedding. The flight attendants were charming. The IFE library was comprehensive and wi-fi worked fast and was cheap and without data caps. It’s just the food…the soft product really need a facelift. That’s a good thing: if United can move back toward the Polaris soft product when the product launched, I’m convinced United will earn universal praise from travelers.