I’ve taken many trips in United Polaris but my family hasn’t had the chance until now. Here’s what they thought of United’s business class experience.
Winter Trip to Europe
In the late fall or early winter, my family returns to Manchester, England. This year, that trip included a surprise trip to Paris and then a departure out of Munich all on Star Alliance partners. I held United 1K premier status for the last few years, dropping to Premier Platinum this year, I’ll hold no status on United next year. In the process, I had flown long-haul international business class on United Polaris a dozen times but my family had never joined me and I wanted them to experience it.
I would have loved to fly directly into Manchester, which formerly had flights to Houston, Chicago, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Detroit. Some of those destinations (Chicago and New York) had multiple flights on multiple carriers. Sadly, almost all of those flights vanished during the pandemic and almost none of them have returned. That meant that we would need to fly into London (for the second year in a row) and take a train north.
The best-priced availability for award flights using United MileagePlus miles was from Fort Myers to Washington Dulles to Newark to London. We prefer to fly more directly than two domestic flights but took what we could get for our desired dates and family of three. That said, due to high winds in Newark, we would miss our London flight and secured three of the last four seats directly out of Washington to London.
United Polaris Lounge
Part of the draw, for me personally, is the Polaris airport lounge access. United limits access to Polaris lounges to those flying long-haul international flights on business class tickets. Flights in business or first class to nearer international destinations like Canada, Central America, and the Caribbean do not qualify for entry, though those United international premium customers and elites can utilize the United Club which in our case was across from the Polaris lounge in the C terminal of Washington Dulles. Our trip would have given us access to the Polaris lounge in both Washington and Newark had we flown the last segment.
Both Matthew and I have reviewed the Washington Dulles Polaris lounge before, but as this was my family’s first experience, I wanted to see if they saw it the same as we have. The lounge is huge and objectively beautiful.
Inside the Polaris lounge is its own restaurant with hosts, waitstaff, and menus. I clarify that unlike the Cathay Pacific Wing lounge in Hong Kong which also features a restaurant for top oneworld elites inside its lounge but pairs it with a buffet, this is entirely separate from hot and cold buffet items offered outside The Restaurant.
My family wanted to make the most of the experience and didn’t intend to eat on the plane so everyone ordered a starter, entree, and dessert and got to share that with you here.
The food is of very high quality and we really enjoyed it. Not everything was a hit (just not to our taste) but it was all well made and felt like a premium restaurant.
The duck was a little too gamey for me, again, nothing wrong with the dish itself, it just wasn’t for me.
The Polaris cheeseburger never disappoints and was a reliable mainstay for my daughter. The desserts were all superb though in order of our preference were: warm cookie, caramel sea salt gelato, then the olive oil chocolate cake.
Showers, and “Offices”
Flights to Europe, especially the UK, and Ireland, can be incredibly short. For this trip, we would depart at 10 PM and arrive at about 10:30 AM locally but immediately drag our luggage through the city to the train station and wouldn’t have a chance to shower until later that night.
With three hours before our flight, we all grabbed a shower and for our daughter, Lucy, this is one of her favorite parts of the experience. The staff member working the showers provided slippers for us to use in the shower and another pair to take on the plane in case they weren’t offered on our flight. I didn’t catch the attendant’s name but she was sweet, generous, and even showed our daughter the resting rooms.
While we waited further for our flights the lounge nearly emptied out entirely. Lucy explored the “offices” (quiet phone rooms) and loved pretending to make big calls and close deals. Though they weren’t needed by other passengers, we thought we would let her set up her office in the regular seating sections.
We all had a chance to fully charge our devices, download content, and get a little tired before our trans-Atlantic flight.
Onboard Polaris Experience
Due to the last-minute switch to the Dulles flight from the Newark flight, instead of the desired seating arrangement of two windows and a middle (on the 767-300ER in a 1-1-1 configuration), only middle seats were left. I wouldn’t feel any which way about asking another guest if they would mind switching so we could be nearer to our daughter, I don’t expect United to do this for me, nor would I have an issue if a fellow traveler didn’t want to switch. I have switched with others in the past (both for families or just couples), but that doesn’t obligate anyone else. Matthew notes that families should pay for seat assignments together, but in our situation, it was impossible to do so.
Regardless, we were seated in rows 3, 5, and 11 all middle seats.
As is our custom, we changed prior to departure into pajamas once onboard the aircraft. During this period when the aisles are busy, some seats are overlooked for service. My wife didn’t receive a pre-departure beverage though my daughter and I both got one. I had a damaged set of headphones that I reported 30 minutes before the doors closed, but I didn’t receive the replacement until we hit cruising altitude. These are minor issues but on such a short flight (about six hours with tailwinds) they felt bigger at the time.
My daughter loved the Away toiletries kit which I first marketed to her as a suitcase for her Barbies. She loves the Sunday Riley amenities including the hand lotion and lip balm.
Our daughter didn’t love the Polaris business class seat due to the awkward position of the shoulder strap belt. Frankly, I don’t blame her and I bet the flight attendants hate them too because they were constantly reminding passengers before takeoff and landing that they had to wear both safety belts.
The in-flight entertainment was a hit for Lucy, and I casually watched a new feature as well. My wife caught a movie too, the selection was good and they both found plenty of options of things to watch.
We have been blessed over the years to be able to fly business class either using great fares, upgrade instruments, or miles and points. My daughter looks forward to “bed flights” and so do we. I find the lie-flat seat to be a little tight and this 767-300ER (my first time flying United Polaris business class on the aircraft type) was perhaps even tighter than the 777 variants and Dreamliner versions.
It’s possible that it’s the same amount of space but it felt cramped. My wife is smaller than me and also thought it was “narrow.” She liked the mattress pad that is not entirely unique to United, but is also not ubiquitous across other airlines. It was nice to see a return of the Saks Fifth Avenue blankets but it’s a lighter, cheaper version that the initial launch product which was truly premium.
My daughter, who loves being spoiled in the front of the plane, didn’t get the memo on not ordering dinner. She had what the flight attendant said was “spaghetti” but in actuality was zucchini noodles, globbed into a ball with a squash sauce. She would have preferred the steak. No photos were taken.
We found the catering for breakfast to be just ok. My wife and I were separated from the front to the back of the cabin but both ordered the waffle which needed syrup. It was a below-average meal even for a short trans-Atlantic flight on an American carrier.
We usually arrive into London on OneWorld carriers in either T3 or T5. The Star Alliance use of Terminal 2 (The Queen’s Terminal) welcomes Star Alliance carriers like United, Air Canada, among others like IcelandAir, and JetBlue which was at the gate next to ours. While remodeled, the distance from gates to customs to baggage and then ultimately to transportation options like the train or Tube is an exhaustingly long distance. After a short night, none of us enjoyed the arrival aspect.
I was hoping my excitement for the product would be matched by my family, but there were some genuine misfires. The catering was not good onboard but excelled on the ground. Our daughter loved the shower, but with the spa-like experience offered by Cathay Pacific in The Wing lounge, what shower experience isn’t going to fall short? Admittedly, the shower experience isn’t markedly better than peers in the US, but it’s finished to a high standard and we left for our flight feeling fresh. The restaurant met the high expectations that were set.
The seat experience was a little tighter than ideal, and more and more, the need for a door becomes important. It’s not because of the illusion of a suite but more because the sides can be so open that you feel exposed when sleeping. The shoulder seat belt is also annoying but many products now have the same requirement.
In the end, they both loved the ground experience and I believe that if we were flying for a longer distance (perhaps to Asia) and on a larger aircraft like the 777-300ER, we may have enjoyed it more.
The Away amenity kits are better than peers and the IFE left us wanting for nothing. I am glad they had a chance to try it and we would rank it above American Airlines for service and on the ground, but below for the onboard experience despite American Airlines’ appalling catering.
What do you think? How has your family’s experience been in United Polaris?