I’m Polarising To Hong Kong!

Filed Under: United

Late last year United introduced their new Polaris international premium cabin experience, which includes new seats, new service, new lounges, etc. I’ve been fascinated by the new product (largely from a marketing standpoint more than anything else), and have been wondering if the product lives up to the hype.

However, I haven’t been sure about the best way to review the product, given that United is already offering the Polaris soft product across the board, yet only a few planes have their new seats so far. It will be at least five years until all planes are reconfigured with the new Polaris seats (and we recently learned about delays with the seat manufacturer, so it could be even longer).

While United is advertising the heck out of the new product, a vast majority of people will only experience the new soft product anytime soon. To me this seems like premature marketing, since it inevitably leads to disappointment when you advertise a product even before it’s available on any planes.

However, I may be wrong on that, because it seems to work in a way, and it even convinces some people that their old seats are the new seats. I can’t tell you how many people have told me “I flew the new Polaris seat on the 787, it was amazing.” None of the 787s have the new seats yet…

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to think of what the best way to review Polaris product would be:

  • Should I fly the brand new 777-300ER, which represents the best Polaris has to offer, but is only available on a few planes?
  • Should I fly one of the old United 777-200s with eight business class seats per row, to see what many people will actually be experiencing for the next several years?
  • Should I make an effort to fly into/out of Chicago, since that’s the only airport with a Polaris lounge so far (which Travis has reviewed)?

Well, in the end I figured I might as well review the best that United has to offer, so I can review what United’s future looks like at its best in terms of the hard and soft product. So I’m headed to Hong Kong briefly, in United’s brand new 777-300ER business class product. I’ll be taking the flight later this week, and am really looking forward to it. United seems to make some last minute saver level business class awards available on the route, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

United Polaris seat (PRNewsFoto/United Airlines)

From a review perspective I’m especially excited about this. The airline is clearly very excited about the product, and I’ve heard service has been improving as a result, as employees take more pride in the product. Furthermore, on ultra-longhaul flights, United even offers pajamas in business class.

Stay tuned, as I should have some thoughts on the product in the coming days. I can’t wait to see how much substance there is to Polaris.

Has anyone flown United’s new 777-300ER business class? If so, what did you think — is the hard product better than reverse herringbone seats, Apex Suites, etc.?

  1. Hey Lucky, you want to review the Polaris product but at the end of the day, any excuse to go to Hong Kong for you is one you have to take upon am I right ;)?

  2. Since I understand Mileageplus isn’t an option, wonder where you usually credit Star alliance flights: Singapore, Aeroplan, Other?

  3. Ben, I flew United Polaris soft product in a 767 between Washington Dulles and São Paulo. I used to be a Continental Platinum and then United 1K who gave up on the airline after trying for 2 years post merger. I have to admit in general I was pretty impressed: the food on the way to São Paulo was great (not so on the way back but I am sure that was a problem with the catering in São Paulo), the wines so, so. The rest of the soft product was great, and the configuration in Business (2-1-2, no First Class) helped. I always thought that United had a pretty crappy Business product compared to Continental Businessfirst, so they could justify their crappy First product. Sorry for the long preamble, here are my questions: despite all this, United, like Delta and Continental, tend to be clearly sub par compared with their international competition, so everything else being equal (direct flight, comparable pricing/mileage availability) why in heaven’s would you fly them when an alternative is available? Why are you and other bloggers hyping United up when they are simply blowing a lot of hot air on a product that will take years to be implemented? I am not trolling, these are honest questions I hope you can answer.

  4. Since this is an inevitable comment. No, Lucky is not banned from flying UA. He was banned from the mileage program. Hopefully that settles an unnecessary discussion.

    Lucky, looking forward to your review!

  5. “Furthermore, on ultra-longhaul flights, United even offers pajamas in business class.”

    Don’t try to wear your pajamas as a “pass-rider”! “Sleepwear” is listed as banned attire! hahaha

    From their list of banned clothing: “Attire that is designated as sleepwear”

  6. I was really impressed by the Polaris Soft product on a recent 787 flight. The crew were some of the best I’ve ever experienced on any carrier never mind just US. They seem to love the new product and really enjoy serving it.

    Add in the new seat and that should be an amazing experience for you.

    Look forward to the review.

  7. Why don’t you take the new flight from EWR to TLV? That way you can test out the New Polaris seat, but the old one as well (772 return) along with Phase I of the Polaris Lounge at EWR.

  8. Lucky,

    I just flew the new B777-300ER on SFO to EWR on ps. Seat is a much improvement over the old seat however didn’t get the full “Polaris” experience (food, amenities, etc.). Also, I was given a seat in the middle section (9D to be exact) and if you aren’t traveling with someone, you will be pretty close to the person next to you and it can get awkward really fast, even with the partition.

    Enjoy it.

  9. I took it yesterday (first HKG-SFO flight on the new plane). Definitely was impressed, the new seats are a big step up. 9A and 9L bulkhead window seats are the ones to go for IMO — footwell is much bigger, and traffic didn’t seem to be issue, perhaps because the window seats are much more private. The bathroom ahead of 9A is much bigger, and didn’t feel cramped at all changing into the provided PJs.

  10. Please check out the new Singapore SilverKris and United Club lounges at Hong Kong. Both lounges are gorgeous and definitely worth visiting.

  11. @David asked: “despite all this, United, like Delta and Continental, tend to be clearly sub par compared with their international competition, so everything else being equal (direct flight, comparable pricing/mileage availability) why in heaven’s would you fly them when an alternative is available? Why are you and other bloggers hyping United up when they are simply blowing a lot of hot air on a product that will take years to be implemented?”

    The short answer is that the world is not static. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Germans were once dominant and then they were no more. You inferiority complex notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that a USA-based airline could not make its product competitive. I was in UA’s Polaris Lounge at ORD and TG’s First Class lounge at BKK within the same month, and, frankly, I found UA’s Polaris lounge to be much nicer (maybe ’cause it was newer, but there was much more to it than that).

    Translation: your negativity and inferiority complex cannot be taken seriously considering what we’ve seen UA accomplish with their Polaris lounge, and I am sure they will accomplish when the Polaris hard product is rolled out… I hope you will be the first to say about it what you just about the soft product while at the same time disparaging it:

    “The rest of the soft product was great…”

    ..and so will be the hard product. Munoz has staked his career and reputation on it, so that barring another coronary, UA will be transformed. Just you wait…

  12. Negativity and inferiority complex. I will check that with my shrink. Thanks for the tip! To think I may have continued to lead my life like this, how can I ever repay you?

  13. Well, just reread your post. It’s hardly positive or exuding confidence, despite [admitting in general to have been pretty impressed]…

    I always offer my perspectives pro bono…


  14. I cannot abide the increasing trend of verbing. It’s almost enough to compel me to stop reading this blog. My only solace comes in knowing that “verbing” is already a verb and cannot be further verbified.

  15. Ben, I flew on the window seat closest to the window is narrower than the even row window seats but definitely can’t wait for your review!

  16. What’s business award availability like on this route? I’ve been checking, both close-in and advance, and don’t see any saver availability… How’d you snag an award?

  17. @DCS:

    United is an inferior airline. Full stop. That’s not open for debate. It’s not *just* an opinion, either. David is absolutely correct in asserting that their hard product is inferior to the vast majority of their competitors on international routes. This is a legacy US carrier that’s just now introducing all-aisle access to their fleet using an incredibly cramped configuration (if you’re over 5’8”) that won’t even be fully implemented for several years. On top of that, it’s an already semi-outdated product compared to the offerings you now see on many other carriers, which Ben has addressed in many previous posts as his favorite J offering.

    UA is woefully behind the power curve and to claim otherwise is disingenuous.

  18. Go for it Lucky. I been waiting for you to do a review of the SFO to HKG business polaris seats. I was wondering what was taking you so long.

    To the people that talk about Lucky and United, get a life. Move on! Lucky, ban those people that are stuck in the past.

  19. @AdamR — You are not even worth addressing, but just for the record so that you’d know why, when was the last time you were on a UA flight?

  20. Def 777-300ER for the real Polaris, otherwise the ‘friendly’ hard product can be seen everywhere, from domestic AA/DL/UA to the int’l carriers’ 787/777 2-2-2 config you’ve reviewed.

  21. My spouse and I flew back on the new Polaris yesterday from HKG to SFO – United so-called first inaugural international flight originating outside of the US.

    Definitely go with the window seats on the odd numbered rows which affords more privacy, and also access to 3 windows. Due to the curvature of the fuselage, these window seats have additional space for you to store some small personal items like iPads and etc.

    The even row has access to only one window but you can hardly see out of it as this is a seat staggered out towards the aisle. And less privacy too compared to the even numbered seats. The air vents are also in a position that is almost impossible to reach for these seats.

    I certainly like this hard product. The seat is also much more comfortable than those offered by ANA business which are also staggered. The number of blankets and pillows provided can be a little overwhelming, including mattress pad upon request.

    Food and beverage wise, the new Polaris service has improved quite a lot. However, cabin crew service, even though they are friendly, but still cannot compare to those Asian airlines.

  22. Any chance of HKG back to YVR in Cathay Pacific A350 business class or is your roundtrip booked?

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