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Review: United Airlines Polaris business class from San Francisco to London Heathrow

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This is our review of Polaris, United’s long haul business class, on the Boeing 777-200.

After heading to San Francisco in United’s Premium Plus, their premium economy cabin (review here), it was time to come home in business class.

United introduced its “new” Polaris business class seat back in 2016, with the intention of rolling it out across its entire international fleet. Thus took longer than expected: United only crossed the finish line last summer, with the last of its remaining 767s refurbished with a Polaris cabin.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Now that the roll-out is complete we thought we’d take a look. United is now one of the few carriers in the world to have a unified business class cabin across its entire fleet.

The trip was arranged by United Airlines for review purposes. HfP paid all of its other costs.

Checking in for my flight

I was on the early flight departing San Francisco, which leaves just after midday and arrives in London before 7am. There are two more flights later in the day, although you will lose the following morning in London as they don’t land until the afternoon.

United’s international departures leave from Concourse G at San Francisco Airport. It was fairly quiet when I arrived around 10am:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

A whole bank of check-in desks were available and there were zero queues. Economy looked almost as speedy:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I was seen straight away, dropped my bag and was passing through security within five minutes. You can’t get much better than that. You can be inside the San Francisco Polaris Lounge, which I reviewed here, within ten minutes.

United’s excellent app

It’s worth noting, as I did in my review of Premium Plus, that United has an excellent app.

It just works, from being able to select seats within the app to offering various add-ons such as wifi bundles, lounge passes, travel insurance etc.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

It is the first airline app I have used that integrates with iOS live activities, which is so useful when you’re travelling, and it is also super quick to show gate numbers, track baggage and more.

Onboard United’s Boeing 777-200

The Polaris business class cabin is split in two on the Boeing 777-200 aircraft I was on. Across rows one to eight there are 32 Polaris seats in a 1-2-1 layout. You then have the second doors and galley, before another, more intimate cabin of five rows.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I was in seat 8A, which is in the last row of the forward cabin. It was one of the last window seats still available which is why I selected it.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

United’s Polaris seat is the first generation of Zodiac’s (now Safran) Optima seat. It is not a hugely popular seat, although as Air France did just select a newer variant for its upcoming A350s, we we will be seeing more of it.

United’s Polaris is a semi-staggered design, with odd numbered rows forward facing and even numbered rows slightly angled. That also means that odd-numbered rows are more private, whilst rows such as mine feature seats closer to the aisle (and slightly more exposed to the comings and goings of cabin crew and other passengers) as there is no door.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I would have preferred one of the odd rows, as I like to be closer to the window, but unfortunately all the seats were already booked.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

It’s slightly odd to think that the seat is now seven years old, as it certainly doesn’t feel that long since United announced Polaris. It was introduced just before Qatar Airways and Delta introduced their ‘suites with doors’ – a watershed moment in business class seat design – although United Polaris still feels contemporary.

To the left of my seat was a large console table, beneath which would normally be the foot cubby for the person behind you. There is plenty of space here and the in-flight entertainment remote, USB socket and headphone jack are prominently placed.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

There is also a spacious cupboard. This features a mirror on the inside of the door and is also where United hangs its headphones:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Opposite is a small lamp which you can either turn on or off. I find these ambient lamps add a lot to a seat like this, although I did find it a little dim – so much so that I wasn’t sure if it was on during the day. It was only once the sun set that I saw it emit a very low light.

Underneath the console table is a long arm rest, and you also have a collapsible arm rest on the other side, effectively extending the size of your seat in bed mode:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

There is a small amount of storage underneath both armrests which was perfect for putting small items like an amenity kit – still easily accessible, but without cluttering up the side console.

Opposite the seat is the in-flight entertainment screen. Again, this featured a nifty little shelf underneath it which is ideal for a passport, iPad or just the Polaris menu. I love this feature and wouldn’t mind seeing it in other seats.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Underneath is the foot cubby. I would say this is of an average size when compared to competitors. There is room to store a pair of shoes underneath.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

The tray table extends out from under the IFE and is a bifold format. It is absolutely vast when it is extended:

The photo makes it look very dirty but I couldn’t see any of these blemishes in real life so I’m not sure what was going on there!

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

United’s Polaris also comes with a substantial amount of pillows and blankets, as you can see by the stacked mountain on the seat:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

All in all, you get the following:

  • Large white pillow
  • Small memory foam pillow
  • Casual herringbone blanket
  • Saks Fifth Avenue quilted duvet

…. plus, of course, an amenity kit. Bizarrely, the entire cabin received the soft ‘sports pouch’ style premium economy amenity kit, rather than the hard-shell Polaris amenity kit. United has just unveiled a new Therabody amenity kit so it may be that they were trying to get through old stock.

That said, it is not a bad amenity kit – for premium economy – and is a collaboration between United and Away, with some Saks Fifth Avenue products thrown in as well.

The new amenity kits (United posted me a sample) come in a grey cross-body bag and are stuffed full of products, including some tissues, ear plugs, dental kit and non-slip socks. There are also some Therabody Theraface items including lip balm, hand cream, cleansing towelette, eye serum and hydrating mist:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

After take-off the crew also came round offering slippers, which surprised me. These were surprisingly good quality and better than many hotels I’ve stayed at.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Mattress pads were also available on request, and whilst these weren’t memory foam like on some other airlines it did help.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I surprised myself by getting some of the best sleep on an airplane, which I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know what it was, but I found it quite comfy and managed to get a good four or five hours sleep.

In-flight entertainment and wifi

United’s Polaris seats feature a 16″ screen, which is slightly smaller than some more modern seats but still a good size, especially at the distance you are sitting from. It is good quality and very responsive and features United’s excellent IFE software.

For example, close to arrival, it makes recommendations of shows or films based on whether you have enough time to finish them or not – a great feature that I wish existed on other systems.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

It also shows you the service pattern for the flight which I thought was very helpful, including when there would be meal services and how the lights would be dimmed.

There was a decent selection but nothing really spoke to me except to re-watch Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicate. I needed something fairly light hearted and the various Oscar nominated films seemed a bit too heavy. The supplied headphones were fine but nothing to write home about.

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Wifi was also available throughout the flight, with free messaging for all. For some reason, the full-flight ‘surf’ package was twice as much as it was on my outbound flight, at $16.99 (T-Mobile customers get it for free). However, it did seem to work better overall with less congestion.

Food and service in United’s Polaris

As mentioned above, the in-flight entertainment previews the service pattern for your flight, which in my case was:

  • Lunch
  • Light snacks
  • Breakfast

Before departure, a glass of water, orange juice or prosecco is offered (yes, it is prosecco, despite champagne being served later on).

Hot towels are also provided, which I always appreciate.

After take-off, a second drinks service came round and this time I had the Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut, which came with a little bowl of nuts:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I had already pre-ordered my dinner in the app when I checked in for my outbound, so they didn’t come round taking my order. It was just delivered when it was ready. I had a choice of:

  • Seared asian short rib with Asian-style BBQ sauce, coconut-jasmine rice and stirfried vegetables
  • Barbecue chicken with sweet potato puree, braised collard greens and BBQ sauce
  • Sauteed cajun shrimp with jasmine rice and tomato fondue
  • Stir-fried vegetables with Udon noodles and Thai-style coconut ginger cream sauce

All are served with a leafy salad and ‘lemon zest prawn confit’ (don’t ask me why it’s cajun shrimp but prawn confit ….)

I went for the short rib. It would’ve been nice if they had been a bit more specific on the ‘Asian-style BBQ sauce’ – it’s a bit like describing a vague pasta dish as ‘Italian’ or ‘Western’…

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Unfortunately, United is still operating a one-tray service in business class with no choice of starter. Whilst I am told this is changing very shortly, it is a shame it has taken so long.

I did enjoy the short rib. I’m not sure why they call it prawn confit – it was more just a couple of cooked cold prawns on a bed of lettuce with some lemon dressing. I liked the prawns but throwing things on a bed of lettuce doesn’t feel particularly modern or upmarket. There are so many more interesting things that can be done, in my opinion.

The crew also forgot to take a drinks order delivering my food, as I would have liked to have had the Oregonian pinot noir. By the time I could catch their attention I’d already finished my meal.

This is a problem I’ve encountered a couple of times recently, where meals are delivered from the galley but the crew don’t do a drinks service until they’ve served everyone. By the time that has happened, most people have already finished. They ought to serve each passenger individually, bringing the meal and drink at the same time.

That aside…. the famous United ice cream sundae service redeemed things a little. The crew offering a scoop of vanilla with a choice of toppings, including:

  • Chocolate sauce
  • Caramel sauce
  • Chocolate sprinkles
  • Glace cherry
  • Almond flakes
  • Whipped cream

There is a novelty in enjoying a freshly prepared ice cream sundae on a plane and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

I must have missed the mid-flight snack service as I went to sleep shortly after the meal service. According to the menu grilled cheese toasties and roast tomato soups were available on request throughout.

I woke up around 90 minutes before landing, which is usually when crews wake you up for breakfast. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see United run a very late breakfast, just how I like it, at around 45 minutes before landing.

Whilst I was already awake and had enjoyed a good nights sleep, I much prefer having the option to sleep as long as possible. Some airlines seem to think everyone needs a whole hour to eat breakfast!

Before serving breakfast, the crew came around with another hot towel.

For breakfast, I had a choice of:

  • Monterrey Jack and red pepper egg white bites with fire-roasted red pepper sauce, charred tomato with fingerling potatoes and chicken apple sausage
  • Brioche french toast with blueberry-lemon-vanilla compote, lemon zest and mango

I went for the egg white bites:

Review: United Polaris business class from San Francisco to London

Don’t ask me why they’re only egg whites: they look like little frittatas and could easy have included the yolk.

The fruit looked a bit anaemic so I skipped that but I did enjoy the pastry and the yoghurt.


As with my review of United’s Premium Plus, my verdict on Polaris comes in two halves. 90% is good, whilst 10% has room to improve.

Let’s start with the meal service. By now (July 2023) we really should be past one-tray service in business class. I thought it was bad when British Airways was still doing it last year. Fortunately, I believe this is changing very shortly.

On the other hand, the seat, despite now being seven years old, is really quite good. I would have preferred a true window seat but 8A was still very comfortable. I surprised myself how well I slept in it: proper bedding helps, including a very large pillow and the Saks Fifth Avenue duvet. The mattress topper is good, although it could always be thicker.

You can find out more about United’s Polaris business class on the website here.

In the final part of this series, in a couple of days, I will look at the United and Air Canada Arrivals Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 2.

PS. Don’t forget that you can earn Avios when you fly with United by crediting your flight to an Aer Lingus AerClub account – see here for details.

Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.

Comments (31)

  • patrick C says:

    When I took it recently (Washington zurich), the seat was ok, but it fells cramped on a 767 where basically the entire plane is business class.

    As for the service, the welcome drink is indeed pathetic. Prosecconis something to clean toilets with. I just don’t get why someone drinks that stuff. Just get some cava or even better crement (alsace, bourgogne or luxembourg) instead. Same proce, much better experience. (Cremant is maybe a touch more expensive, but on a sest priced above 2k that shouldn’t matter).

    As for the food, it had taste due to overdosing the orange in the sauce, but otherwise it was a reminder of BA pre D&O.
    The crew was ok at best (though I don’t care too much about that).

    The product already looks dated, though still functional. The color scheme on the shell themselves just looks washed out

    • lumma says:

      Like all wines, you can get decent prosecco and bad prosecco. Although in this instance, it looks like they’re trying to save money by serving it on the ground over the champagne they serve during the flight

      • patrick C says:

        There is no such thing as good prosecco. Also partially due to the way it’s produced.

        • Richie says:

          Please tell us a bit more, I’m really interested in this point.

        • lumma says:

          That’s just not true though. I’ve tasted some fantastic prosecco made by small producers, even some larger producers make some tasty stuff, the house fizz they sell at Hawksmoor is very drinkable. Some champagne is truly dreadful too

          Most prosecco is mass produced dross and as such people aren’t willing to pay a premium for it

  • Qrfan says:

    I don’t really understand how an inferior amenity kit, own brand cheapo headsets, no drink service with the meal and a 1 tray main meal service gets a “90% is good” rating when a ticket in this class will cost many employers getting on for £10k. What’s the benchmark, other than BA old club? I’ve never had any of those issues with American transatlantic.

    • yonasl says:

      What food (if any) was available mid flight? AA for instance has a nice spread of vegetables, fruits, wraps and sandwiches in the galley. BA uses the fridge to store the crew M&S sandwiches. Etc.

      The ice cream sundae btw is also a feature on AA, which on my recent flights was doing proper meal service (but crew was just as clueless as United it seems, they forgot welcome drinks for instance).

      • R_b says:

        And maybe it’s the angle of Rhys’s pic but the AA sundae looks better (and bigger)!

        Also in agreement with the OP, this doesn’t ring true as a 90% is good. Reads more like 75% at best.

    • newbz says:

      Agree, doesn’t look like 90% good…

  • Catalan says:

    BA ended their single tray longhaul meal service in Club at the beginning of winter timetable 2022.

  • TooManyUAFlights says:

    The fleet isn’t fully unified – its just unified on plane types. there are still old BusinessFirst and Continental seats running on the 757 on some international routes out of EWR.

  • rotundo says:

    I”m not sure why 1-tray vs 2-tray is a big deal. On the night flight from SFO, I value a quick meal so that I can get to sleep quickly, the same way the late breakfast is great. Sure you can eat in the lounge and skip the main meal entirely, this works better if you get the table service.

    • Qrfan says:

      Because if the flight leaves at midday and you’ve got 11 hours to kill, having a multi course relaxing meal is not a bad way to kill a couple of hours. The express meal is a great option if you insist on eating on a late evening flight, but it’s really not great if you’re flying during the day.

    • MKB says:

      Agree. Much prefer one-tray service. I don’t want to faff around waiting for the next course.

      • Rob says:

        It’s not so much about it all coming at once for timing reasons, it’s the fact that it comes at once because you don’t get any choice of starter.

    • Dan says:

      On a day flight, being served, restaurant style, course by course, with wine top-ups is a delight. One of the highlights of a Business flight. Sure, if you want to sleep you should have the option of express, but I’m so happy the 1-tray meal has now gone on BA.

  • Mikeact says:

    Peter asked a question in June that wasn’t answered…as I’ve booked a United flight for next Spring ,I too, would like to know?

    “So you can jet around the US on United and earn Avios? Or is this limited to transatlantic flights?
    If you can, then it’s an interesting intra-US Avios earn option beside American and Alaska”

  • Ollie says:

    It’s a bit depressing that this is the highest standard of service on United. Things like the tissue-thin, shiny-looking table cloth (cf. BA’s thicker, more rigid ones) just look a bit naff. Ditto prosecco/champagne (or “bubbles” as AA Flagship First has descended to) served in a high-ball glass. I know they probably think “more is more” but the liquid in that glass will be warm and/or flat by the time you get to the bottom of it.
    At least with BA, these things are done “properly” and you have the option to go First if need be. My benchmark of service is usually my London club (not one of the really stuffy ones, but affable whilst maintaining standards). Given that’s it’s called “Club World”, this does seem to match quite well!

  • TooPoorToBeHere says:

    Interesting review, thank you.

    I find it a stretch to call the cupboard “spacious”. It holds the water bottle and the headphones but I’ve never felt like it was going to be useful for anything else. Always manage to find somewhere for my soft squishy carryon on the floor/under the cubbyhole though. Loads of space overhead, but they’ve always been fine with my checked bags.

    $17 is the price I’m used to paying for the wifi.

    I don’t think I’ve been offered the slippers consistently and I certainly had no idea a mattress pad was available.

    I like the seat, it is comfortable. Agree about the tray – there is room for a little Macbook and food, or Macbook and iPad as second monitor. You’re right that the ones which face the window are much nicer, they feel very private and it’s much nicer for looking out. I wouldn’t call what you get a “duvet” – it’s two blankets, one thick, one thin. Both are needed for comfort if not wearing layers, it’s on the cool side onboard and this seems consistent. Never travel without my merino head covering and hoodie after a disastrous transatlantic in a BA Boeing Freezer a while back. One of the blankets leaves fibres all over my clothes, but they do look and smell clean.

    The 787-900 feels very spacious to me, not as good as a VC10 (!) but there’s plenty of space around the front toilets and galleys to move around, stand up, chat with the crew, stretch, etc. Perhaps I’ve been lucky but the toilets have always still been decent at the end of long transatlantic flights and there have not been queues.

    Again, perhaps just lucky with crews, but the seatbelt sign only seems to be on when needed – ie for actual turbulence in-progress or imminent.

    Now, the food…”United food is inedible garbage” is a meme amongst my well-travelled US colleagues; they are very skeptical of it. I feel like it has improved since year – and also the United aircraft I flew last year were between “grubby” and “revoltingly filthy” whereas this year they have been acceptable-to-good.

    It’s *crucial* to order in-app *as soon as ordering opens* 5 days from departure – at which point they should email you – if you have a strong preference. The “good” option (beef) switches quickly to “sold out” (I can’t remember the exact phrase it uses) after ordering opens. I’ve read on the FT United forum that there is additional availability on-board – ie they don’t allow the entire stock to be pre-ordered – but nevertheless you are not guaranteed to get it.


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