While United Airlines’ soft product still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, I enjoyed a comfortable flight with 10 hours of solid sleep from Newark to Johannesburg onboard a 787-9 in Polaris business class.
United Airlines 787-9 Newark – Johannesburg Business Class Review
This trip report is bit different than my usual format because I have reviewed United’s 787-9 so often…most recently here. Rather than focus on the nuances of the soft and hard product, I’m offering a shorter report of my journey which should still give you a good idea of what to expect onboard a United Airlines longhaul flight in 2022.
We ran into a catering delay at the gate in Newark, which delayed boarding by 45 minutes. Even so, the captain announced we would arrive ahead of schedule due to favorable tailwinds. The flight is normally blocked at 14hr, 35min (including taxi time on the ground) but actual flight time on my journey was under 13 hours.
United Airlines 188
Newark (EWR) – Johannesburg (JNB)
Monday, December 13
Duration: 14hr, 35min
Distance: 7,989 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 9K (Business Class)
Go for row one or row nine if you can on United’s 787-9. Those are bulkhead rows and consequently have a much wider cutout for your feet:
It’s not that the other seats are bad (they are just fine), but bulkhead seats have even more room to spread out.
On each seat was a:
- large pillow
- gel pillow
- amenity kit
United’s bedding remains best in the business (the duvet is the perfect weight, keeping you warm but not smothering you). Mattress pads are available upon request and I always request one – it makes for an even better rest.
I did not open the amenity kit – why waste it, I thought? United has a new faux-leather case, but the contents are the same (eye shade, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, pen, and Sunday Riley toiletries)
I was also offered pajamas, which United only offers on flights over 12 hours. I chose L/XL, which was a mistake…they were HUGE (especially the pants). I should have realized this wasn’t ANA!
The flight crew, at least working business class, was all male and laid back, but still professional and friendly. The purser, Jules, welcomed me onboard and his colleague took my meal order after I had a few moments to settle down. They were attentive during the short time I was awake at the start and end of the flight.
United still has not brought back paper menus (and really doesn’t have to if it could just find a way to display them on united.com and on the in-flight-entertainment screen onboard), but I was offered a choice between three meals:
- Seared beef short rib
- Bordelaise sauce, mustard mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetable
- Grilled chicken
- fire-roasted pepper sauce, white rice, ratatouille and fried plantain
- Jumbo burrata ravioli
- Pomodoro sauce, basil pesto, roasted tomatoes
I chose chicken, which is a dish I had not seen before on a United longhaul flight.
Just 30 minutes after takeoff, the entire meal was served on a single tray:
It included salad, a warmed pretzel bread roll, mixed nuts, the chicken main course, and salted caramel gelato for dessert.
While it’s great to see real glasses back onboard, I hope United will bring back its pre-pandemic service that includes multi-course servings with an appetizer, bread basket, cheese course, and ice cream sundae service. It’s time to do that, especially as United talks about becoming the best airline in the world. The all-in-one tray can still be an option for those who prefer it, but I enjoy a more leisurely meal service.
I had worked a long day and the main point of this flight was simply to sleep, and sleep I did. I just love longhaul flights because you have plenty of time to sleep…even a West Coast to Europe flight does not allow quite enough time to enjoy a long rest sandwiched between two meals. But with 11 hours and 22 minutes remaining, I fell asleep and did not wake up until less than 90 minutes prior to landing.
Well rested, I awoke as we were flying over Namibia.
A flight attendant noticed I was awake and offered me a choice for breakfast between:
- Tomato kale baked egg with fire roasted red pepper sauce
- French toast with vanilla sauce
I chose the egg kale dish, which is one of my favorite breakfasts on United. It was served with hot coffee, a warm croissant, fruit, and yogurt.
As we neared JNB, I looked out the window and marveled at how the world had changed since I was last in South Africa in March 2020.
We passed by a trio of former South African Airways A340s that had been painted white (not sure why…) and also passed a beautiful Lufthansa 747-8 and SWISS A340.
As a fun comparison, you can compare this review to my Newark – Cape Town review from March 2020, which I flew just a week before the pandemic shut down the world.
Other than the missing appetizers and more elaborate dessert choices, not much has changed.
> Read More: United Airlines 787-9 Business Class Newark To Cape Town
Finally, I did not connect to wi-fi during the flight, but a flight pass with unlimited data was $22.99. That’s not bad for such a longhaul flight.
I slept like a baby for the majority of the flight: United gets the basics rights. The bedding is great and the food was edible. The Polaris seat is quite comfortable, especially if you choose a bulkhead. Service was friendly. IFE choices were wide and wi-fi internet were available. If United would just restore its soft product to pre-pandemic levels (or even exceed it), it would truly be a world class product.
I wonder if the white painted planes are due to the new partnership of Kenya Air and South African Air?
Nice trip report! I agree re wishing they’d return to full service. I miss having a choice of quick one tray “express” service (for shorter flights) or a longer, fuller meal service.
Was the fire-roasted pepper sauce you had for dinner and breakfast the same, or were there subtle differences in flavor?
“ I had worked a long day and the main point of this flight was simply to sleep”
Remember, it’s not work if you enjoy what you do. I would like to believe you love what you do and while I’m sure at times it has its headaches and financial challenges, most would love to have your “job”.
Appreciate the life you live!
I still don’t care and did not read a single word of your review. Nor do I intend to.
Matthew would like to thank you for the click and the traffic.
You should read what you’re writing, it doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of you. Perhaps if you have a gripe, stating what you disagree with might be more productive and draw people to your side on whatever your point is.
Why are you even leaving a comment at all?
This review was great – and you are just behaving like a troll.
We’re not picking up the toys you threw out of your pram, dear.
Are mattress pads available on all Polaris branded flights? Recently flew the IAH to EZE route and didn’t see a single one.
In my experience over the last year, mattress pads have been available on all flights. They are usually located in an overhead bin toward the rear of the Polaris cabin in a clear plastic bag.
Last week I had the opportunity to experience this flight in United Polaris as well, but it was nothing like described.
They must have cut back their service quality quite dramatically in the Polaris Business class since January. The cabin staff was unfriendly bordering to rude. For the food service, they didn’t even have a menu. The options they had where advertised as “vegetarian” and “non-vegetarian”. The food didn’t come as nicely served as on your pictures, but in some tinfoil cups. My primary goal for the flight was sleep as well, so I didn’t care that much about the food options anyway. The beverage service was sub-par. So better buy yourself a water before you board this plane. I requested a Mattress pad as Matthew suggested in the review, but they told me they don’t have this. I tried to use the entertainment system, but the keyboard was grossly covered in some sticky sauce.
The entire experience was probably the worst international business class experience in my life. It definitely does not live up to the expectations that are set by the UA marketing team.
Sorry for your bad experience. Please share with United in the post-flight survey and on social media.
Did you use a lounge in EWR? If so, which one?
Did not have time. Would have loved to use Polaris Lounge, which is open again.
@Matthew – One thing I don’t understand is how you’ve repeatedly said of late that you’re fairly poor on miles yet you’ve recently burned through miles at an astounding rate, including flying to Germany on Lufthansa first class simply to procure a rubber duck, flying the entire family on Lufthansa first class to Switzerland, and now this trip. The miles are yours and I greatly enjoy reading about your travels but it seems that there’s a major disconnect between what you’re saying and your actions. I think it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway that this is meant entirely without rancor or judgement, it’s just puzzling.
I didn’t use miles for this trip.
While I am (rather quickly) depleting my supply, I had a lot to start with. Now, not so much. No seven digit balances and frankly most are dropping rapidly.
Very nice report! Now if they/we could all just stop wrapping everything in plastic that would be a good step forward. 🙂
Agreed! Time to reduce unnecessary waste.
If you could see how much “turbulence” the food endures before it’s served you’d understand the plastic wrap
I am glad you are flying. Other bloggers just keep writing about credit cards and that american airlines miles sale. Bloody posers.
I’m disappointed to not see an econ entree supplementing your meal 😀
Ha! That dinner was my third United meal of the day and I had lunch at Cadillac Jack’s at IAH.
Cadillac Jacks, one of my favorite uses of my Priority Pass card at IAH. Sure beats what they serve in the United Clubs.
@Matthew, when was this flight since I did not see that in your review? Thanks.
Hi DavidM, flight was noted as 12/13 in the report above (and also in the picture of the boarding gate).
We recently had United Polaris flights, IAH-LIM and EZE-IAH. The first was on a 767-300ER with new Polaris seating, the second on 787-9 also with newer Polaris seating. Both flights were excellent. Glad to see real glassware for Pre Departure Beverages. We also always ask for the slippers and mattress pad, makes for a much better experience. We were lucky that the IAH Polaris Lounge opened the day of our flight down to LIM, so enjoyed that, as well. United has really stepped up.
So I am not an experienced premium class flier, but over the past two years have been lucky enough to fly JFK-JNB twice in Qatar business class; followed by the route you just flew in United economy. My first thought on entering the plane was, “thank god I didn’t spring to upgrade us to business!” The difference in the two products, just from the looks of it, was so stark, from the narrowness of the seats to the lack of privacy that I found myself happily contemplating the extra travel time to accommodate a stop in doha when next I am able to fly premium from New York to Johannesburg. (and the current united soft product you show doesn’t measure up, in any way, to qatar’s pandemic soft product)
So as someone without tons of experience, my question is: why is anyone paying (with cash, miles, or points) for premium class that doesn’t include a door? Flying in a qsuite actually felt worth the money, whereas nearly every other long haul business class experience just looks like a slightly better seat. I have a bunch of cc points I can’t use for Qatar, so this is an honest question about how to get the best premium experience.
The point is that you are able to get some sleep.
I don’t know how Matthew manages to sleep so much, but, unless I am sleep deprived from previous days and/or completely exhausted (I mean physical exhaustion- a demanding day at my desk-based work actually makes it harder for me to switch off and fall asleep) I never exceed 6 hours of sleep on the ground. That is usually enough to get me out of bed in the morning.
Trying to sleep in an economy class seat is a complete waste of time, particularly if you have selected an aisle seat and other pax try to squeeze past you every so often. With a decent business class product (virtually all long-haul seats nowadays as long as there is no neighour trying to squeeze past you), I can get a solid 4-4.5 hours of sleep which is usually enough to help me maintain acceptable levels of energy while adjusting to the new timezone. In fact, I would go as far as claiming that 4 hours of sleep are actually better than a full rest as I can’t imagine waking up from a 10-hour sleep at 17:00 ZA time would be really helpful in going to bed at midnight (for earlyish morning arrivals from overnight flights, the solution to possible low energy is an hour of afternoon siesta).
Sorry, Matthew, this just seems incomplete to me. I wish more trip reviews would cover what it was like to get your PCR or other test, where you got it, how they checked it on departure, any other Covid documents required, and then upon landing what they checked, getting any arrival test, what the Covid protocol was, and then the reverse on the return. I have not traveled internationally since 2019, but will likely be doing so in about two months. From this kind of review, you would think there is nothing different to the international travel experience than fewer dishes, but we know that is not the case. We all know what a Polaris seat is like, and the food. But I sure would like to know what to expect from the Covid test and document angle.
That’s fair. I’ll add a blurb about this or do a dedicated post.
I live in LA and am a United fan thru and thru (been GS for 4 years now)….wish there were a few more direct international options from LA to fly on United besides London, Sydney and Tokyo ONLY….appreciate if they add (With all due respect, Mexico and Canada options don’t count!)
I wish they would too, but they don’t see the money there. We can only keep waiting.
10 hours sleep? Amazing.
Curious, do you sleep with or without earplugs?
No earplugs or eyeshade! Granted, in this case I was really tired, having only enjoyed three hours of sleep the night before. But as you will soon read when I write up the return journey, I also slept very well on the much longer return flight.
Great write-up, Matthew!
22.99 for internet is not cheap especially in the premium classes of travel. Qatar and Emirates areuch cheaper for similar long haul flights.
It’s pretty cheap considering United charges as much as $40 on some domestic flights and other carriers like SWISS and Singapore charge outrageous amounts for very limited data.
Yes, cheaper when compared to those charges. But outrageous nevertheless.
Gally/lav doesnt bother you in 1 and 9? That lav seems right on top of the L and F seats.
Would love to know this as well – cheers!
Hi Matthew; I read all of your reviews, even though I really post.
I enjoyed the review on the United Polaris as I am looking to use miles for a one-way
return from Paris. I am taking AA business NS MIA to BCN.
Hope to recreate the international trip that was canceled in 2020. This will be my
1st international flight since 2019.
I would also appreciate the info on COVID tests, especially with all the shortages
Thanks for all of the great reports.
Did you use the business lounge in JHB on your return and if so how was it and do they have showers.
I stopped by the South African Airways lounge and there were not showers available.
I just flew the EWR-TLV flight in Polaris Class on the 787-9. IMO, it was extraordinarily disappointing. The seat and space were quite cramped compared to other business class seats I have enjoyed. There is only one storage area, a box at shoulder height, with none of the below-the-window shelving and storage seen elsewhere. Everything, including the lavatory, felt small and minimal. The food was barely edible. The “vegetables” that accompanied the beef looked like Chernobyl survivors, barely recognizable and not appetizing at all. The meal service was no better than Economy in that everything comes on a packed tray with no sense of elegance. Finally, the flight attendant was gruff. Asking for another glass of wine felt like a giant imposition. All that extra money and all I got was a lie flat seat. Everything else felt cheap.
Sorry you had a bad flight. Have you flown the EL AL 787-9. How was it?
10 hours sleep on a 13-hour flight, amazing! I have heard you speak at various flyer events pre covid. I hope I can see you again as we finally get back to normal. I always enjoy your sessions which are funny and have a lot of info.
Flying United from Atlanta to Frankfurt in a couple months.
Is the 1 hour 20 min layover in Newark enough to make the connection ?
I am concerned.
It will be enough time to make the connection, with room to spare, if the flight is on time or delayed less than 15 minutes. Still, a longer layover is recommended so you can have a nice diner in the Polaris Lounge and then sleep on the plane. The Polaris Lounge is worth visiting.
How was proximity to the lavatory and galley? Were any of these noticeable and/or bothersome in 9L: light from the lav and galley, sound and vibration of the lav flushing, crew chatting away in the galley during the flight between meals?
I agree that bulkhead seats are more comfortable, but I’m always wary of these potential disturbances, especially on an overnight flight when I’m trying to sleep.
Noise was not a problem for me. But flight empty—may have been more problematic on a full flight.
Be aware this flight now experiences significant delays in departure. Maybe in Jan delays at EWR were not prevalent but recently this flight has achieved only a 30% ‘on time’ status.
Thanks for your review. Do bulkhead seats still have a TV in front of them unlike the bulkhead rows in economy?
Correct – a screen is still built in to the bulkhead in front.
Thanks for the great review. We will be on this very flight later this month to JNB. Were you able to use the a departure lounge and if so which one? Was it one of the SAA lounges?
Thanks again and great info.
Correct. SAA lounge. If you have an AMEX Plat or Capital One Venture X card you can also use the Virgin Atlantic lounge, which is superior.
Can you advise if you used your own headphone / earphones or the ones from the airline?
I used the ones provided by UA.