I tend to avoid inaugural flights because you often get special service and special meals onboard, making the review somewhat unique, but much less valuable. Rather than fly United Airlines’ new San Francisco – Manila route on its first day of operation, I flew it on the second day in Polaris business class on the 777-300ER. That provided a better idea of what you can expect on this route and I will say at the outset that it was a very restful flight.
United Airlines 777-300ER Business Class Review (SFO-MNL)
I booked a one-way ticket from Burbank to Manila for $1338.73 in premium economy, then used 20 Plus Points to upgrade to business class (a business class ticket was only about $2300 one-way, which wasn’t bad at all).
After a smooth flight up from Burbank and a hearty dinner in the Polaris Lounge, I walked over to the gate area for boarding, where I found it quite crowded.
United Airlines 191
San Francisco (SFO) – Manila (MNL)
Sunday, October 29, 2023
Depart: 12:35 AM
Arrive: 06:50 AM+1
Duration: 15hr, 15min
Distance: 6,987 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 7L (Polaris Business Class)
Stepping onboard, I was very (and I mean very) warmly greeted by the Filipino-American purser, who took a very hands-on approach in interacting with passengers.
The 777-300ER is United’s largest widebody aircraft, with 60 seats in Polaris Business Class. Polaris is divided into two cabins, with rows 1-8 in the forward cabin and 9-16 in the rear cabin. Seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and odd-numbered A and L seats are “true” window seats and offer the most privacy. These seats are custom for United, but modeled on the Safran Optima platform.
If traveling with someone close, you might want to choose the odd-numbered D and G seats. These so-called “honeymoon” seats make it very easy to chat with one another. Every seat, however, has direct aisle access and if you find yourself stuck in one of these honeymoon seats while traveling solo there is a privacy divider that can be raised.
The seats are 20 inches wide and convert into a lie-flat bed that is 78 inches long (6 foot, 6 inches). I always prefer bulkhead seats (row 1 and 9) when available due to the wider footwells, but they were all occupied when I booked just two days before departure.
Each seat has a universal A/C outlet and a USB-A charger. The mood lighting was on for most of the flight and I do not find it a disturbance to sleeping.
Sitting at each seat was a Saks Fifth Avenue branded bedding bundle in a zippered back that included a duvet, cooling foam gel pillow, and larger pillow. There was also a limited-edition day blanket featuring a pattern by fashion designer Claude Kameni and also made from 100% recycled plastic.
The larger pillow had a stain on it, but I got it swapped out.
Mattress pads, slippers, and pajamas were available on request and I did change into pajamas shortly after takeoff. With excellent bedding and cool cabin, I slept very well during the flight.
We ended up departing 48 minutes late at 1:23 am due to a slight mechanical issue plus the requisite paperwork necessary, however still landed 29 minutes early at 6:29 am. That meant one hour less of sleep, but also took out the pressure from my connection in MNL.
In looking at the flight history, it appears the flight rarely is in the air for longer than 14 hours.
IFE + Wi-Fi
With such a long flight time, I did enjoy a movie called Inside (sort of a psychological thriller) in between sleeping.
Noise-canceling headphones were offered, but were unremarkable (and frankly I prefer that than to having fancy ones like on American and JetBlue that are collected an hour before landing).
Wi-Fi worked flawlessly through the flight and was only $8 to connect for MileagePlus members ($10 for non-members) and free on mobile phones for select T-Mobile customers, so I was connected on both my laptop and phone.
Food + Drink
Dinner was served after takeoff with breakfast served 90 minutes prior to arrival. During the flight, an optional snack service was available.
Menus were already placed at each seat, along with a bottle of water:
Flight attendants offered a pre-departure beverage, a choice between water or sparkling wine. Note, I was grateful to be offered water such that I did not have to consume my water bottle prior to the flight even taking off.
The meal service flow was quite efficient and I appreciated that, as it had been a long day and I wanted to sleep, especially after the delay. Meal service took 40 minutes to commence, but once it did it was quick.
First came a beverage (seltzer water with a lime wedge for me) and warmed mixed nuts (a mix of almonds and cashews).
For my appetizer, I chose the burrata (with cracked black pepper, balsamic glaze, cherry tomatoes, basil, and frisée [a curled endive]) over the salmon rillette. It was served with a side salad comprised of baby red leafy greens with English cucumbers, fennel, and yellow bell pepper and bread (both a pretzel roll and garlic bread).
On the same tray the main course was served and I chose the special for this route, beef kare-kare with jasmine rice, cilantro, fried eggplant, bok choy, and green beans.
The dish was good. To my unrefined palate, it tasted like Indian food…but I thought it was a fine dish. The green salad was partially frozen, but thawed out when I ate it French-style after my main course. I also noted that “real” butter ramekins are back.
For dessert, I had an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sliced almonds…I’m not a huge fan of the vanilla ice cream currently in use, but it still hit the spot.
I fell asleep with 11 hours left in the flight and woke up three hours from Manila, though we had gained time so I had slept for about 7.5 hours.
Stretching my legs, I took a look at the snack station set up between the business class cabins and noticed there was whole oranges and apples, bottles of water, nobles like potato chips and almonds, and leftover cake and cheese plates from dinner.
I love LilliesQ chips and the cheese and pretzel bites from Whisps.
I also ordered a grilled cheese toastie and a cup of tomato soup, both of which were served warm and really hit the spot. At home, I fast from about 9pm to 1pm each day and this part of the flight was at approximately 1pm Pacific Time, so I was right on schedule for my stomach to start growling (despite eating a very late dinner).
Breakfast service began 90 minutes prior to landing with a hot towel.
This flight had a choice I had not previously seen on the breakfast menu, a Spanish potato omelette with rosti potatoes, harvest apple chicken sausage and garlic tomato petals. It was on the dry side, but decent as far as airplane omelets go. It was served with a side of fresh fruit, a rather pitiful croissant, and a Chobani Greek yogurt (with peach).
I give very solid marks to the meal service on this flight. The presentation and the dishes themselves were all quite satisfactory.
Business class has two lavatories in the front of the aircraft and two lavatories between cabins. The Polaris lavatories are stocked with hand creme and hydrating mist from Therabody.
United now partners with Therabody to offer a fanny-pack style amenity kit. Contents included:
- TheraFace eye serum: Crafted with ingredients like niacinamide, caffeine, hyaluronic acid, Vitamin B5 and allantoin, the serum helps reduce puffiness, enhance hydration, soothe the delicate eye area and improve the skin’s barrier function.
- TheraFace face spray: Formulated to help soothe, hydrate and protect the skin, this spray features hyaluronic acid, Vitamin B5, calendula flower extract, aloe leaf juice and glycerin.
- TheraFace cleansing towelette: Wipe-off the travel day without drying the skin thanks to ingredients like Vitamin B5 and E, calendula flower extract, aloe leaf juice and glycerin.
- TheraFace hand cream: Avoid dreaded dry hands thanks to ingredients like niacinamide, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, sweet almond oil and Vitamin B5. Both the hand cream and face spray are available in the onboard lavatories as well.
- Other items: The kit also includes go-to amenities for arriving refreshed, including a bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, ear plugs, socks, and a pen.
I had an all-male crew in business class and these guys were quite attentive and polite – I was addressed by name and thanked for my 1K status when the meal order was taken and I did not have to wait long for one to notice that I was awake and offer a beverage (and the mid-flight snack).
Paper customs forms were distributed before landing, but be aware that you also need to register your travel here and generate a QR code to enter the Philippines (I’ll cover this in a separate post).
We landed early in Manila, taxiing past a mix of widebody aircraft including a Cathay Pacific A330, Cebu Pacific A330neo, Singapore Airlines 787, and ANA 787.
Shortly after pulling up to the gate the jetbridge was connected and I was on my way to immigration.
This was another good flight on United. Most importantly, the seat and bedding were great, but the internet worked well, the food was quite edible, and the service was excellent. I hope this new Manila route works well for United!