Review: United Business Class 787-8 Papeete To San Francisco

Filed Under: United

United 114
Papeete (PPT) – San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, December 11
Depart: 10:40PM
Arrive: 8:45AM (+1 day)
Duration: 8hr5min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 3B (Business Class)

Since Papeete Airport doesn’t have any jet bridges, I boarded the 787 via stairs at the forward door. The crew seemed caught off guard that boarding began, and wasn’t fully set up yet.

This flight was operated by a Boeing 787-8, featuring 36 business class seats. There was a forward cabin with three rows of seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, and a rear cabin with the same number of seats.

While these planes should eventually feature United’s new Polaris seats, for now they have B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, which are a pretty common (and basic) fully flat business class seat.

United 787 business class cabin

United 787 business class cabin

There’s really no difference between the various seats, though if traveling alone there’s certainly an advantage to sitting in the middle, so you have direct aisle access, and don’t have to disturb your neighbor to get out of your seat (or be disturbed by your neighbor).

United business class seats 787

I assigned us seats 3A & 3B, the window and aisle seat in the last row of the forward cabin.

United business class seats 787

United business class seats 787

United business class seats 787

Each seat has a small exposed storage compartment to the back left of the seat, featuring outlets (both 110v and USB), as well as the headphone jack. This is also where you can store cords and a few other things during the flight — sadly it’s just about the only storage these seats have.

United business class seat storage

On the center armrest were the seat controls, which were easy to use. My one annoyance is that due to where they were positioned, I sometimes found myself accidentally hitting them with my elbow, adjusting the position of the seat.

United business class seat controls

Then the tray table also folded out from the center armrest, and could be folded in half.

United business class seat tray tables

While these seats are fully flat, one downside to them is that they only have small footwells. The reason for this is that your feet essentially go inbetween the seats in front. That’s how they’re able to fit more seats into a small area. As a side sleeper who sleeps with knees bent, this doesn’t bother me at all, though otherwise this is definitely a downside to these seats.

United business class seat footwell

On the plus side, every seat has an individual air nozzle, which is a feature that I really value, given how warm some airlines keep their cabins.

United 787 individual air nozzles

So overall this was a solid hard product for the quick flight from Tahiti to San Francisco,  especially since I was traveling with Ford, and could sit next to him. But I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if traveling alone on the 16+ hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore.

While the plane didn’t have the new Polaris seats, it did have most of the Polaris amenities. United’s Polaris bedding is exceptional, arguably the best in the sky in business class. There’s a thick duvet, a light day blanket, a thick pillow, and then a cooling gel pillow. This is in addition to the on-demand mattress pad.

United Polaris bedding

Also waiting at our seats upon boarding were the Polaris menus for the flight.

United Polaris menu

Then there were a pair of headphones — while not Bose or Bang & Olufsen, they’re fairly decent quality.

United Polaris headphones

There were also a pair of slippers.

United Polaris slippers

Then there was the amenity kit, which was well stocked, with eyeshades, tissues, socks, earplugs, a pen, lotion, lip balm, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.

United Polaris amenity kit

For the first 15 minutes onboard there was no service, as passengers tried to find their seats. Initially the flight was booked with 26 out of 36 business class seats taken, but after non-revs the cabin ended up full. As you might expect, it was a very leisurely crowd, with most passengers wearing flip flops.

At 10:10PM (20 minutes after boarding) we were offered pre-departure drinks. I asked for some champagne, though as it turns out they had already run out of champagne. I don’t know if they literally just load a single bottle for pre-departure drinks, or what. So instead I had some water.

While minor, I’d also note that one particular flight attendant was the type who wants to hand everything to you, rather than placing it down. So she handed me a napkin and then handed me the drink, rather than just putting it on the center console.

United Polaris pre-departure drinks

Two minutes later that flight attendant returned, looked at us, and said “first and second choice for dinner?” What a greeting!

That was followed by “breakfast?”

“I’ll have the panini, please.”
“Hmmm, you mean the quiche?”
“No, the panini, it’s the other option.”
“The other option is fruit.”
“Maybe they catered it incorrectly then, because the menu says the options are quiche or panini.”
“Oh, you’re right, sorry, I hadn’t looked at the menu.”

Is it too much to hope that the flight attendant would look at the menu before taking orders? Like, I don’t expect Singapore Airlines levels of service, where they’ve memorized the exact description of everything on the menu, but…

I realize I’m stereotyping here, but as a general rule of thumb if I were to sum up service at American, Delta, and United, I’d say:

  • Delta flight attendants are the most consistently friendly and eager to please
  • American flight attendants are the most consistently indifferent, and just going through the motions
  • United flight attendants are the most consistently extreme, and are either extremely professional or militant and actively unhappy to be there

So while one flight attendant working business class was just awful, the purser was a delight. She took all the plastic wrapping from my bedding as I removed it, and she even offered me a pre-departure drink refill. Oh, and she smiled.

At 10:15PM the captain added his welcome aboard, informing us of our flight time of 7hr22min, and anticipated early arrival in San Francisco.

At 10:25PM the main cabin door was closed, and five minutes later we began our push. At that point the welcome aboard announcement was made, and then the safety video was screened. Announcements on this flight were in both English and French, and my gosh does United have long announcements (and this crew in particular really seemed to enjoy making announcements).

We had a quick taxi to our departure runway, and at 10:40PM were cleared for takeoff on runway 4.

Moving map from Tahiti to San Francisco

As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. United’s 787 entertainment selection is excellent, with a variety of movies and TV shows.

United entertainment selection 787

United entertainment selection 787

United entertainment selection 787

United entertainment selection 787

United’s 787s also have wifi, with the following pricing:

  • 1hr costs $4.99
  • 2hr costs $8.99
  • Full flight costs $18.99

The pricing is reasonable and there are no data caps, though I also find United’s wifi to be among the slower offerings out there, so that’s not ideal.

United wifi 787

United wifi 787

About 20 minutes after takeoff warm towels were distributed (I like that United actually has big towels), and then 25 minutes after takeoff tablecloths were distributed.

United Polaris warm towel

At that point the meal service began. The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

Then there’s of course United’s reminder not to steal their bedding:

About 30 minutes after takeoff the flight attendant got to our seat to offer us drinks. I ordered some still water and champagne, which was served with warm mixed nuts.

United Polaris dinner — mixed nuts and champagne

50 minutes after takeoff the starter and salad were served.

The appetizer consisted of smoked salmon, quinoa salad with papaya, tomato, goat cheese, and celery. Then the salad consisted of mixed greens, cherry tomato, and cucumber. I think United and I have different definitions of what constitutes “mixed” greens. I was also offered a selection from the breadbasket, and chose garlic bread.

United Polaris dinner — starter and salad

The main courses were served about 65 minutes after takeoff.

For the main course I was surprised there were no fish options on the menu, given that we were on a flight departing from a Pacific island. So I ordered the Chinese-style chicken noodle soup with chicken broth, sautéed chicken, egg noodles with sesame oil, carrot, and spring onion.

This was disgusting, and I think pictures do justice to that. There was virtually no broth, the noodles were hard, and the chicken was tasteless. This has to be one of the worst meals I’ve had in international business class in a long time.

United Polaris dinner — main course

Ford had the sautéed chicken breast with guava pepper sauce, taro potato, and green beans, which he said was alright but not amazing.

United Polaris dinner — main course

Then 85 minutes after takeoff the dessert trolley was rolled down the aisle. The menu indicated that the options were a sundae, cheese plate, or sweet treats. I asked for the sundae, and again, the flight attendant looked at me like I had two heads.

“Huh? We don’t have that.”

Apparently they catered pavlova for dessert instead. That’s totally fine, but you’d think she could say “I’m sorry, the menu wasn’t accurate, this is still a new station for us and they are figuring out catering,” or something.

The pavlova was actually decent, and lighter than ice cream.

United Polaris dinner — dessert

The meal service was completed just over 90 minutes after takeoff.

I’m not even sure how to describe the service during the meal, other than to say that it sort of felt like being at a dinner party… only the hosts don’t actually want to have a dinner party… and they also forgot that they planned it until the first person showed up at the door.

Like I said above, the purser was super friendly and professional. But then one of the other flight attendants was a grouch, and a third flight attendant alternated between being friendly and grouchy by the minute.

I just don’t understand United’s flight attendant training. I almost feel like a couple of these flight attendants took pride in making their jobs as hard as possible. For example, wouldn’t it make sense to look at the menu before you start asking people what they want to eat? Like, not just because it’s good service to know what you’re offering, but because it will make your own life easier? Or when one flight attendant on one aisle ran out of something, they’d just yell across the aisle at the other flight attendant.

The whole service flow almost felt like a parody to me.

Anyway, the cabin lights were dimmed about 90 minutes after takeoff, so I appreciated that the service was at least pretty quick. I needed to get some sleep, because the day I was landing at SFO I’d be flying that same night to Melbourne, Australia, so it would be a long day.

Moving map enroute to San Francisco

Before going to sleep I visited the lavatory, of which there were two right behind our seats. It was a pretty standard 787 lavatory, with some basic toiletries.

United 787 lavatory

At this point we requested mattress pads, and reclined our seats.

United 787 mattress pad

United business class bed 787

I slept extremely well, and woke up about 90 minutes before landing, meaning I got just over four hours of sleep. I’d say that’s pretty good.

Moving map enroute to San Francisco

Upon waking up I pushed the call button in hopes of getting some coffee. That was ignored, so I pushed it again, and then finally a flight attendant showed up.

United business class breakfast — coffee

About 75 minutes before landing the cabin lights were turned on, and the breakfast service began.

For breakfast I ordered the tomato, zucchini, and cheese panini, which was awful. The bread was hard, and there was barely anything between the two pieces of bread. I had one bite and left it.

United business class breakfast

Ford had the quiche lorraine, which seemed like the better of the two options.

United business class breakfast

One thing that’s probably worth mentioning again is that these seats really lack any storage space. So while United’s bedding is excellent, there’s not any place to put it. This is the bedding we had, not even including the mattress pads (which we left on our seats, even when upright).

United Polaris bedding overload

Anyway, at around 7:35AM PT the captain announced that we’d be descending in about 10 minutes, and would be at the gate by around 8:15AM.

Sure enough we soon began our descent, and it was a beautiful morning in the Bay Area.

View approaching San Francisco

View approaching San Francisco

View approaching San Francisco

We touched down at 8:05AM.

Landing at SFO

From there we had a 10 minute taxi to gate 95 at the international terminal. We passed a United 777-300ER, and ended up parking next to a United 787-9.

United 777-300ER SFO

United 787-9 SFO

Immigration was quick thanks to Global Entry, and we headed to the Polaris Lounge.

United 787 business class bottom line

For a flight of just over seven hours, United Polaris was more than sufficient. The old seats are comfortable, especially if traveling with someone, and United’s bedding is exceptional. On top of that, their entertainment and wifi are above average.

Unfortunately the food on this flight was really bad, though that may just be a function of Tahiti still being a new airport for them, and maybe they need to revise their catering budget a bit. Tahiti is really expensive, so I’m not sure if United is just not willing to pay for better quality, or what.

On top of that, service was a mixed bag. The purser was great, while the other flight attendants weren’t nearly as good, and one was even comically bad.

  1. So Ben, is usually take to heart your reviews but this time your reviewing a plane and company I fly predominantly. While I agree with some of your assessments, i know question your overall detail. Why? The restroom located directly behind 3A/B is the larger handicap accessible lav that that United has on their Dreamliners. Your normal lack of detail says to me you glossed over this review since it wasn’t on your preferred airline of choice.

  2. ‘My one announce is that due to where they were positioned, I sometimes found myself accidentally hitting them with my elbow, adjusting the position of the seat.’

    That should be ‘annoyance’.

  3. @ Justin — Good attention to detail, and maybe I didn’t express that correctly. There are two lavatories by door two. The one immediately behind my seat was occupied, while the one behind and across was available, so that’s what the picture is of.

  4. Sadly, United has been making several cuts to in-flight Polaris service. Hopefully they will reevaluate this new route and make efforts in Tahiti to improve caterings. Quality & Presentation of Polaris food has decreased over time, and United might not improve on this route. Not having a sundae would be a dissapointment.

  5. “I’m not expecting Singapore levels of service”

    How about JetBlue levels of service? Or Alaska levels of service?

  6. @ Stvr — Space opened about three months out. I set an ExpertFlyer alert, and it seemed that at one point they made some award seats available on almost all flights. Sadly they haven’t been as consistent since.

  7. You mentioned that they ran out of champagne during PDB, but I see you have it served with water and nuts later into the flight. Did they suddenly find more champagne during the flight?

  8. One thing that *really* annoys me about the United Wifi pricing is that it is often (well) above $18.99 for even domestic flights. Sometimes I see it as high as $40! It is so inconsistent even based on flight distance.

    However, I do like that they have monthly subscriptions and per-flight options with usage of miles instead of paying.

    I so much prefer Delta’s more reliable gate-to-gate 2Ku wifi.

  9. @ Misha — Airlines often have to pay taxes on alcohol that’s consumed on the ground, since it’s not technically during an international flight. So it’s normal for airlines to only allocate a certain amount of their champagne supply to be consumed pre-departure.

  10. @Lucky – you went to Melbourne?!

    Anyway, after two years of living in the US, we can’t wait to escape it soon. The service culture is so bad, it’s irritating (even when they get tips). Sick of these big words in their marketing..
    “Welcome aboard, create the perfect setting”….
    “Welcome dining service”….
    “Because your journey deserves [something] taste”…. etc etc.
    The reality? Running out of champagne after 2 rows. Not knowing the menu. Crappy food. Grumpy flight attendants. It’s all lies. How about actions for a change, rather than words?

  11. As an ethnic Chinese, I testify that the Chinese noodle is just some random Panda Express food, and if they ever dare to use this to serve routes to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong or Taipei, their service center will be filled with subsequent complaints.

  12. Ben, my husband and I flew SFO to PPT a few weeks ago and I am still can’t believe the flight attendant situation. I am debating whether or not to complain to United.
    We were in the first business row behind the galley (A and B). It was obvious the rest crew had not been on this plane before because all said so except the purser. Only she seemed to know what to do but I say that with a grain of salt because she did something to the door when arming it and maintenance had to be called. We also had a mechanical issue in the cockpit.
    Probably the worst thing we encountered were how unprofessional the crew was as they only wanted to argue with each other. Everyone was trying to sleep. The captain came out and very loudly said: “I did not say that! We are going to have a meeting on this. I would never say anything like that and did not.”
    One thing after another went wrong – before departure my husband and I were asked what we wanted for dinner but had not been given a menu yet. We also were given two different menus. While I dealt with that (with my back turned) my full glass of sparking wine had been taken away. They ran out of one of the red wines, lights were turned on in the middle of the flight only to be turned off by resetting the electrical and then they would not come back on so we had to fill out the customs and immigrations forms by using our flashlight phones. Still couldn’t get the lights back on when we landed so we disembarked in the dark (I lost an earring because I couldn’t see where it went). Trying to reset the lighting also messed up the entertainment. The lavs were filthy. It was one thing after another.

  13. @XX This is even a fail at American-Chinese food, I’d say.
    Some of them are actually not bad.

    Although tbh, ordering Chinese, on a non-Chinese route on UA/AA, the joke is partially on you too.

  14. How did you find saver availability on this route? It’s hard to find. Maybe one way from PPT to SFO is a bit easier?

  15. I’m always annoyed when I come to my seat and all the bedding is already at my seat with nowhere to store it. Sometimes I put it in the overhead bin, but if there isn’t any room, then what? United is a joke. Their catering is dog food at best. I’m shocked you didn’t have to ask for the gel pillow and slippers lol.

  16. @ Mike — I set ExpertFlyer alerts, and to my surprise space opened on exactly the date I needed.

  17. You would think the flight attendants were being paid peanuts. They make more than nurses and probably have a degree you cannot use. I think I can say this responsively as I flew international for 10 years.

  18. @Linda @Lucky, It’s United, the worst of the big 3. What else were you expecting? Their food is god awful and the flight attendants very rude.

  19. While I haven’t flown Delta and AA in years and can’t comment on their service, I do have to agree with Lucky’s analysis of UA FAs. Most of the good service I’ve experienced on UA happened to be on domestic flights while the worst have been international particularly SYD to SFO flights.

  20. Unfortunately your business class experience is what I’ve seen as well. Flight attendants who are awesome and those that don’t give a crap. My last flight I felt like I was a huge inconvenience to the flight attendant. She pretty much dropped the food on my tray and was pissed off when I asked for a wine that was on the list but not in her cart…

  21. @Lucky, thank you for flying United and writing these reviews so the rest of us know to never fly them. Their flight attendants sound repulsive. I’d imagine people in jail receive better service.

  22. I take the Amsterdam-Houston route frequently and generally think the service is quite good. Appreciate those are generally operated ex-continental staff, maybe that makes a difference?

  23. I think you knew what you were getting into when you actively chose the riskier food options. Seriously,
    Chinese chicken noodles? = Ramen + Chicken McNugget

  24. I get it. PPT is a mixed yield and predominantly leisure market. But did they have to go so far out of their way to make the flight so miserable? Kirby will confirm that in order to make a profit UA doesn’t have to be the best; they just have to be equal to or above the worst (AA). UA is increasingly taking that message to heart in everything they do.

  25. Could it be that the food was so bad because it was doubled catered? I couldn’t imagine United paying for catering in Tahiti (probably quite expensive) and because it’s a new flight might not be set up with united glassware, plates etc

  26. Many many years ago I worked for a hotel by the San Francisco international airport. Our hotel had a contract with Pre merger United airlines. They would cycle in flight attendants every week for what they called IST training which was international service training. You could not be a FA on an international carrier without the training. The training was very in-depth and very service oriented. They also had an International Purser training program. I stayed in touch with one of the trainers through the years and she told me recently that the new UNITED doesn’t care too much about service. She wishes that the service standards would be brought back to the standards of the pmUA times.

    Considering that the management of modern day United is all ex Continental…and they were previously People’s Express….the writing is on the wall.

    After the merger, the CO people wanted to change the purser title to “in flight services coordinator”! No which do you think sounds more professional from an international service point of view??

  27. Exactly reflects my experience too. Quite an odd flight catered by very senior crew some of whom are clearly counting the days to pension whilst others just love their job.
    I loved the dessert trolley and the menu back was better than outbound for me, but they also didn’t know what was on the menu which is just weird!
    The plane felt exceptionally clean and new despite it being an old product. One tip – bulkhead rows have a larger footwell than other rows!

  28. Isn’t sitting right next to the restroom a bad idea? Flying from San Francisco to Singapore, that spot would not be pleasant.

  29. Why do you always ignore the wine in your reviews? Are you sure it was champagne and not generic sparkling wine? What kind of champagne was it? What was the other wine? Does United not have a wine list in the menu? You do this all the time.

  30. @ FNT Delta Diamond — Sorry about that, wine list was somehow accidentally deleted from the post, but should be in there now. Sadly I didn’t see the champagne — they don’t list it on the menu, and they never even brought the bottle into the cabin.

  31. @ Memento — In general certainly true, but I always like to sit towards the back of the cabin so I can observe the service flow, and I figured sitting by the bathroom on this short flight wouldn’t be a huge issue (and it wasn’t).

  32. Ben – Why don’t you ever detail (or even briefly describe) your booking process and the points/miles/cash you paid for the experience? This seems vital to any review, especially on a points/miles blog. Thanks?

  33. “only the hosts don’t actually want to have a dinner party… and they also forgot that they planned it until the first person showed up at the door.”

    I see you have had Thanksgiving at my parents home.

  34. Honestly, it’s just United being United. When typing this out my phone autocorrected flight attendant to fight attendant and that’d what United flight attendants seem to think they are. On my SFO-ICN flight last Saturday the flight attendant tried to coerce me into drinking the whole can of my seltzer water by telling me that she wouldn’t give me another drink if I don’t finish it. She also didn’t know what the Goose Island wheat ale was and then asked me if I’m over 21 (maybe I look young because I’m Asian, but the flight attendant was also Asian) when I asked for a Miller light instead. I think they know that nothing really matters to airlines except for corporate contracts, and corporate contracts are handed out to the highest bidder, not the best service or product. United simply relies too much on corporate contracts and doesn’t actually give a rat’s ass about leisure travel, competitive pricing, or hard or soft product. You have Scott Kirby to blame for this who has been the real leader of the airline since the moment he was hired.

  35. I flew for UAL for 37yrs. I retired in 2003. Before Continental we were a well rehearsed group of professionals. Now the F/as look like a wrinkled mess. No two look alike. I’m actually concerned about these things going on. The food the f/as have is not up to them nor is the quantity of wine or the make. But I can tell you the service is. I know a few flight attendants that are still out there and it’s not the same company. This guy from Continental doesn’t have a clue and only looks at bottom line. The retirees have taken a big hit. I lost 9yrs seniority and am now paying tax on benefits. Plus we were promised unlimited non-rev travel and now we have limits. After 37yrs no one really gives a crap. Bad enough we lost our pensions in 2005 now our yrs of service. Maybe that’s why they’re grumpy. Passengers shouldn’t be treated badly just because of how the company treats their workers.

  36. This is why whenever I complain about Air Canada my husband tells me to be thankful I’m not flying on a US airline. “It could be worse” he always says.

  37. Please start making a concerted effort to record the names of the wine and ask if it is actually champagne. For all you know, United is serving $4 Andre sparkling wine.

  38. “I’d also note that one particular flight attendant was the type who wants to hand everything to you, rather than placing it down”: I noticed that this is more and more frequent on United, even when you are watching a movie or if your hands are already occupied, and he attendant being able to reach easily your tray or the middle section does not seem to be relevant.

    No more Champagne after 20 mns: shame on you, United, especially when you other wines are inferior to what they used to be.

  39. You commented 3A/B are just like any other 787 lie flat. While I understand what you mean, they aren’t all alike. The bulkhead lie flats on United have a much larger foot well area. Being 6’4″ and not having dainty feet it actually makes a big difference in comfort on any flight, but especially on long haul.

  40. 2 quick points,
    That wine list is bizarre. “Sauvignon blanc aren’t all heavy-handed herby wines that New Zealand made famous.” Aside from being disparaging to NZ, did anyone proof read the grammar?

    Hit Subway or somesuch, the only thing one can probably count on in Polaris is a good lie flat seat and bedding.

  41. I fly United all the time between Tokyo and the US, both SFO and Newark. Perhaps it is because I am 1K but generally I find the service fine 90% of the time – which is what I found with Cathay when I lived in HK (and was Emerald). I agree no all the menu items are great, but it is pretty easy to tell what to expect (I would never order the Chinese bowl you did). You love your Middle-Eastern airlines, but I will always avoid them at all costs given the lack of human rights in those countries and the way they treat women. As for Singapore, I recently flew them to and from South Africa from Tokyo via Singapore and while service was fine, I didn’t find it exceptional and the meal service was not better than what I get on United (in business class). Sometimes I think your reviews reflect what you expect, not the exact experience.

  42. Two comments:

    First, the sloppiness of the tomato sauce on the edges of the breakfast plates shows a serious lack of attention to detail and professionalism.

    Second, I get that the same bean counters who worked out how much they could save by removing a single olive from each salad are in charge of the pre-departure champagne, but seriously? How much are they saving in taxes by restricting the champagne on the ground? $10 per flight? Given what they charge for business class seats this is just chintzy. Air Canada serves prosecco on the ground then champagne in the air. I like prosecco as much as the next person, but still, same comment. Chintzy.

    And, for your amusement, autocorrect just suggested China zydeco in lieu of chintzy.

  43. Reading this report is another reason why I only fly Delta and not United. Lackluster food, and surly service, in International Business Class!

    Sorry to hear about your experience. The main course and panini look terrible.

  44. Looking at the wine list, I’m curious to know what the difference is between a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine.

    And did he really personally handle every bottle of champagne on the plane? (“Hand-picked”) Maybe that’s why they ran out on the ground?

  45. +1 on Janet’s comments.

    Last year I switched to Star Alliance from One World and have flown international J multiple times from IAD and EWR on United. I’ve found the service to be very professional and pleasant in every circumstance.

  46. Lucky,as you mentioned the noodles were hard.So the problem was they forgot to add soup(broth?hot water?)in it.You should ask they to add some soup.But who knows what would happened if you ask for soup.

  47. “I’m not even sure how to describe the service during the meal, other than to say that it sort of felt like being at a dinner party… only the hosts don’t actually want to have a dinner party… and they also forgot that they planned it until the first person showed up at the door.”

    @Ben (Lucky) – omg – laughed out loud at that one… excellent description!

  48. +1 On Janet’s comment. I fly West Coast to Asia, on United, primarily Narita and Hong Kong. FA’s etc with seniority have a greater choice in which routes they fly. I’ve noticed that I often experience the same faces/crews flying the same routes on my 5-times/year flights to and from Asia. My experiences with service and food have been quite good with very little to criticize. Perhaps your less-than-stellar experience can be at least partly the result of a new route, with inexperienced flight crew, who may not have had a choice in assignment, or even an unwanted change in assignment, and new catering arrangements in Tahiti. I’m not sure, but it seems unlikely full meal catering for a return flight is going to be ferried from the U.S. This doesn’t excuse United for the mediocre service, just a possible explanation. From some comments here, I’m kind of surprised that some of us are willing to let a review of one flight, no matter how accurate, dictate our future travel plans. I understand for others it’s just one more validation of our own experiences with United. For me it shows how spotty their service is, and that’s what United really needs to work on.

  49. I agree those food options look pretty average for business class, but I don’t know why, given how fussy an eater you are, you don’t order vegetarian special meals more often on these sort of routes? I’ve read loads of your trip reports and it seems you are not that keen on beef, you only like certain types of chicken and you don’t eat pork. 9 times out of 10 it seems you’ll select fish, but if fish is not offered you’re kind of stuck. At least Ford to his credit, is a little bit more adventurous on the food side of things.

  50. @ Ivan — You’re right that I’m picky, but I never actually have problems ordering anything off the menu. It’s true I don’t eat pork, but I’ll eat just about anything else. I had no problems ordering beef, I just try to avoid it in general. For what it’s worth, if I were traveling alone I would have ordered the chicken Ford was having. However, when we’re traveling together I always order something different, so I can take pictures of and try two different dishes.

  51. @ tuotuo — Maybe I would have if the rest of the dish were good, but the chicken tasted disgusting as well, so I figured the meal wasn’t going to end well no matter what.

  52. Ben, your review is pretty spot on, and consistent with my last 4 Intl. Polaris flights.

    – Flight Attendants service is incredibly inconsistent; I feel like I’m always an imposition on the crew. Service seems to be rushed and highly transactional. (more so now following UA’s newest changes to intl. catering and FA reductions). In fairness, every once in awhile you will get an amazing crew member, but it’s not the norm.

    – Polaris catering right now is a disaster- and I hope that UA is listening. The quality and presentation of the dishes as of late have gone completely down hill. UA has reverted back to the old “rectangular” dishes which make most of the dishes look like a coach meal from 1982 (except pasta dishes were are still served in bowls)

    – EVERY SINGLE UA POLARIS FLIGHT RUNS OUT OF CHAMPAGNE (@United- please board more than 1 or 2 bottles of champagne!!)

  53. Most people from the US are hacks at their jobs. They are not trained for their job. They just do their job the way they think they should do their job. So usually is a mess and unprofessional.

    If am from the US but refuse to live there anymore. Live in Asia where customer service is taken seriously everywhere but in China.

  54. Do you know if the seatback entertainment with movies, etc is available in Economy? We are booked on this route (both ways) but in the extra legroom economy seats.

  55. As for the service, it is worth noting that beginning in March, United removed one flight attendant from international flights, forcing the rest to work harder to make up the difference. United’s management told them that they needed to do it “to remain competitive”. The service standards, including the time alloted, remained the same, so all of the crew now must work faster and harder to make up the difference. Sadly, it has a negative effect on morale, which of course affects the customer’s experience.

    To help mitigage the new reality, United has boarded frozen meals in pre-plated dishes, rather than having fresh food cooked in tins that are then plated onto china and arranged nicely. Their thinking is that removing the one step of placing the food onto a plate will make up for the elimination of the extra person. (At least that’s how the tried to “sell” it to the flight attendants.) Pre-plated meals (almost exactly like the kind they used to serve in economy years ago) are cooked, then slapped onto small rectangular dishes and frozen. The result is food that’s mediocre at best, and usually swimming in water.

    It’s my opinion, but I believe that United forgot the importance of making their employees happy. A demoralized workforce cannot genuinely provide cheerful excellence. United needs to listen to their crewmembers, learn from them, and take steps to fix their morale problem. Only then will passengers begin experiencing excellence.

  56. Thank you for this interesting article. I flew United Polaris Business Class for the first time on a 777-200 this week from Chicago to Frankfurt and made exactly the same experience. My expectations were low since I had flown United in the US several times and in Economy between Europe and the US in the past. They definitely were not exceeded at all. Service levels were poor and the flight attendants were far from being attentive. They felt like robots doing their jobs and left the impression of a disorganized group of individuals. Until about one hour in flight, no drinks were offered to Polaris passengers, not even water. The meals were ok, but nothing to write home about. The best was the bedding and mind you, with freezing temperatures onboard, two blankets were very welcome. When ordering a second coffee after dinner, the flight attendant forgot it and when I asked again, she brought a cup of coffee to my seat with a wooden stick in it (it looked like a piece of wood to be used for a skewer to me) instead of a proper spoon. United lacks the finesse you will find on some European and Asian companies and definitely is not at the level of AA or DL. An experience I do not plan to repeat.

  57. ” Like, I don’t expect Singapore Airlines levels of service” That’s the main problem with United.
    Not only the Business Class food looks vile but passengers know they can’t expect anything positive from this company.
    I wonder if United ever takes into account passengers’happiness & satisfaction.

  58. Ben – regarding this comment – “Unfortunately the food on this flight was really bad, though that may just be a function of Tahiti still being a new airport for them, and maybe they need to revise their catering budget a bit. Tahiti is really expensive, so I’m not sure if United is just not willing to pay for better quality, or what.”

    Kirby is cutting Polaris food and drink to the bone, so your experience can’t be blamed on it being a Tahiti flight. This is the new normal in United business class.

  59. “Many many years ago I worked for a hotel by the San Francisco international airport. Our hotel had a contract with Pre merger United airlines. They would cycle in flight attendants every week for what they called IST training”

    @Andy – would that have been the Westin SFO? I recall that United flight crews seemed to make up half of the guests. There was also an United ticket desk there, which made it very convenient for UA travelers.

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