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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 (30)

  • TooPoorToBeHere says:

    I did successfully order the beef recently, but on boarding decided to sleep instead – a crew member seemed unduly relieved to be told that they could give my pre-ordered beef to someone else.

    In between meals there is a variable selection in the galley – the usual chcolate/biscuits/crisps type of garbage food, some fruit, and sometimes bits of unwanted meals – for example the quite sad “salad with a couple of prawns on top” or cheese selections. The cheese is decent. I think there were some desserts too.

    The breakfast is disgusting. I don’t rate the T2 arrivals lounge food, but it is better than onboard breakfast.

    The tea is poor. The bags are actually not too bad but the “service standard” is the usual “bring you a teabag in a sachet and a cup of lukewarm water” thing. Sympathetic crew (ie ones from tea-drinking countries) may do better.

    I’m 90% sure those amenity kits (the purple soft bag previously, now the new grey one) are standard for Polaris. I’ve Polaris’d a few times in the last couple of years and always had those.

    • Ollie says:

      “bring you a teabag in a sachet and a cup of lukewarm water”
      This annoys me endlessly in North America!
      See my earlier comment about things needing to be up to the standard of a London club.

      • TooPoorToBeHere says:

        I haven’t the faintest idea what a London club is like inside. I think we might be from quite different demographics 🙂

        I’ve found tea in the US can be surprisingly good in some places – I’ve had several good teas (made with boiling water using a decent quality tea bag) from random places I’ve walked up to while strolling around NYC. Even a run-down motel in a tiny backwater town in the midwest had acceptable bags (not poxy Liptons or Bigelows) and a kettle.

        Fancy Vegas resort though… 🙁

  • TooPoorToBeHere says:

    This reads like a long list of complaints, and I wouldn’t pay £10k for it, but overall *I am a fan of United and United Polaris*, and for £2000-£2500 ex-DUB to the West Coast, with nicely-timed connections and flights that happen to leave when I want to (for sleep), *and* £120 worth of Avios back via EI, I feel like it is decent value. I’m booked on BA for the next couple of trips and TBH regretting it – sadly the BAH offer ex-DUB with super-cheap hotel prices as part of the bundle was unbeatable value.

    LHR T2 arrivals lounge is a mixed bag but I guess that’s for the next article… T2 is fine IMV, clean and organised, but to walk from the far end through arrivals and on to the railway station is a real hike with bags and/or tired children, and it’s distasteful to pass so many HEX shysters along the way conning muggles into overpriced tickets.

  • Jeff says:

    Nicely done review. I particularly liked your discussion of the United app. I have found United’s app (and website) to be the most functional in the industry and very important to my overall travel experience. My travel plans often change at the last minute and United’s app and website are very helpful when I don’t have time to be waiting on telephone hold.

  • Doommonger says:

    Lovely review of united and the Polaris seat, personally I really enjoy Polari, unsurprisingly the US based carriers are not so in tune, but Virgin and the older members of the BA crew are very well versed…

  • Doommonger says:

    Fantabulosa even…

  • Abe says:

    The United app crashes when it can’t properly scan a passport! Poor design!
    The seats feel more like a casket. Difficult to turn while in lie flat mode.
    United employees seem to hate their jobs.

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