United Airlines - Is Polaris Worth The Extra Money?
Let's start with the elephant in the room, I hate flying. As much as I love to travel there is something about being on a plane that makes me loathe going in the first place. The older I get the more difficult it is for me to make these longer flights, so I figured I'd start experimenting with different travel options. What I've come to realize is that no matter how creative I get, there are some places that I just have to jump on a plane. As I write this article I am sitting in Beijing's airport on a 9 hour layover waiting for my connecting flight to Melbourne, Australia. I had two travel options for this trip, fly from NYC-Chicago-Beijing-Melbourne first class for 80k points or fly from NYC-Los Angeles-Melbourne economy for 40k points. The first multi-stop trip would include United's new Polaris class ticket while the latter would be crammed in an economy seat for 23 hours.
After considering my options, I figured what better way to spend the 100k points I earned signing up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card than fly Polaris Business on the longest trip I'll ever take in my life.
Thanks to my parents, I've flown United Global Business once before and had something to compare it to. I had high expectations for this new class considering the amount of hype United created claiming this should rival Emirates and Singapore Airlines. Unfortunately like everything thing United does, I was left unimpressed and wanting more.
My original flight from NYC to Chicago was delayed to where I only had 20 minutes to make my connection to Beijing. Much to my satisfaction United had an attendant waiting for me at the gate to escort me to my connection. This was a nice touch, especially if you know how daunting Chicago can be when in a rush.
The first impression I had when walking into the cabin was that this looked no different than the Global Business Class I took a year beforehand. It was worn down and had the same seats and atmosphere as before. I know not to base everything off what you see online, but there was no way that this cabin was just launched two months ago. Disappointing to say the least.
The next thing I realized was that they did have the amenities advertised online. The pillows, blankets, and padding were all new and embroidered with the Saks 5th Ave logo as anticipated. They were even topped with a little white bear. Cute touch, though unnecessary. How many people are going to haul around a bear with a United Airlines logo when they can use that space for precious souvenirs? Brownie points for the effort though. I was also given a pair of slippers, pj's, and a toiletry kit.
Let me dive into the toiletry kit as it was the second most notable upgrade. You can tell they spent some money on this to ensure you had everything you needed to enjoy the 12 hour flight, just take a look at the quality of the kit in the picture to the right. This can be kept and used for a long time, good job United. Even more impressive was what was included, pretty much everything short of a hair dryer. Cowshed was chosen to provide the relaxation portion of the kit which included hand cream, moisturizer, lip balm, and a pillow mist. The pillow mist smelled good, although much to my dismay the gentleman next to me enjoyed it a bit too much and felt it necessary to spray enough for everyone in the cabin. Next we have the sleep kit which included a face mask and a do-not-disturb sign for your cube. On the right hand side we have a pen, socks, and facial tissue. Last but not least we have the most useful section t refresh during your flight. This part includes a tooth pick, mouth wash, tooth brush with paste, a comb, hand sanitizer and even a cloth to clean your phone. Can't think of anything else I could have needed on the flight.
The service was very good, we had two attendants assigned to our cabin of about 12 people which was more than enough. They were available during the entire flight and didn't miss a beat. Some of the passengers seemed to be frequent flyers and knew them well which was comforting knowing that United was using their most senior people. I even had some time to pick their brain about the roll-out of the Polaris class, which they said was being rolled out in stages which explains the missing pieces. As for the food, it was most certainly improved but this is still not as if you're dining in a 4 star restaurant. I will give it the credit it deserves though, to this day it's still the best meal I've had on a flight. As expected, it's all you can drink with a full wine cart and an assortment of beers. They also had an ice cream cart with a few sundae options which people really enjoyed.
Last but not least is the Polaris lounges, or lack thereof. After speaking with the attendant I'm not surprised to hear that the only Polaris lounge is located in Chicago. You mean to say United launched this new hyped up global class and only have one lounge 4 months after its release?!? They're only opening a few more lounges in 2017 including Newark and London, even those will be rolled out in a few stages over the next few years.
In my opinion the United Polaris Class has improved the experience aboard their flights but have falsely advertised the product. United is advertising this as if it's a finished product where it's just being created. As passengers we have a higher expectation, United cannot advertise a product that only has a lounge in one airport and where the cabin hasn't been touched yet.
I'm not going to deter you from purchasing a United Polaris Global ticket, though please minimize your expectations in that there has not been considerable upgrades made at this time.