Climbing into bed at 35,000 feet, sipping premium wines, spirits and French Champagne, nibbling on honestly delicious food and actually feeling refreshed after a long-haul flight is every traveller’s dream. The question is: do you get that from United Polaris – United Airlines’ business class?
Flying from Sydney to LAX is never a fun flight. Back in the days of Inception (2010), this was the longest flight in the world – obviously not anymore. Nonetheless, it’s still a lengthy 13 hours and 45 minutes going there and an extra hour and 20 minutes on the way back.
That’s a long time to be in the air.
Christina and I have flown that route a number of times over the years and it’s never been fun. But this time we found ourselves praying to the aviation gods for a busy destination airport.
In fact, when the pilot announced that we’d be in a holding pattern over for at least another 45 minutes, we grinned, snuggled back down into our beds and popped another episode of Fleabag on our 16-inch screens.
But as with any high-end experience, the United Polaris flights aren’t just about the obvious things like the big seats that transform into full beds or over-sized TV screens. There’s a host of other things you get onboard that turn your long-haul into a comfortable, luxurious experience.
Business class with United Polaris
There’s always a moment when you’re booking any online flight that you click on the ‘business class’ tab to see how much it is. The price usually makes you quickly click back to the safety of the economy tickets, but there’s a very good reason why it’s more expensive to fly at the front:
You get so much bang for your buck.
Of course, when you’re flying on your own dime, flying business class on short or even medium-haul flights seems pointless. But the difference of stepping off the plane after 15 hours in the first row compared to somewhere back in coach is remarkable.
Here are the little things that make big differences to your journey:
If you’re flying to your destination, your journey really starts at the airport, and we do enjoy getting the airport early. When you’re flying Polaris, there’s no penalty for checking in a few hours earlier than you need to – in fact, you probably should (check out our next point).
As far as the United Polaris check-in staff are concerned, they’re happy to see you whenever you arrive at the Premier Access desks. They’re welcoming and friendly, and also give you fast-track tickets through the airport, which speeds up things like getting through airport security even more than our tips here do.
There’s no judgement on luggage either – especially when you have allowance for two cases of 32kg each.
One of the things that United Airlines is most proud of is its Polaris Business Lounge – you can read our full review and see our video walkthrough of LA’s flagship United Polaris lounge here.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Polaris lounge at Sydney Airport yet, but we’ve got more to tell you about the one in LA. It’s beautiful.
At Sydney airport, you have a choice of either Singapore Airlines or New Zealand Airlines business lounges. The coffee is better at the NZ lounge, but why not check out both if you have time – another virtue of arriving early!
United Airlines uses 787 Dreamliners, which are one of the largest long-distance jets on the market. It’s also one of the most fuel-efficient and most comfortable.
To start with, the 787s have a new air filtration system that provides cleaner air onboard – something we all yearn for by the end of a long-haul. It also gives better air pressure and higher humidity, which helps with fatigue and that horrible dry feeling on flights.
Windows are huge and have no shutters. Instead they have ‘smart glass’ – an electronic field within the glass dims and clears at the touch of a button. The cabin crew no longer have to go around asking everyone to lower their shades – they can dim the whole plane at the touch of a button.
You also have some control of the window shades, but it means you won’t be woken up by that person lifting the shutter to see outside when the cabin’s in ‘sleep mode’.
We were both amazed with the quality of food from United Polaris. Flight attendants take your order for dinner, but you choose a first and second choice, just in case they run out of one dish.
Dinner comes with a chilled entree, a hot main course and three different desserts – a cheese plate, an assortment of petit fours and a sundae trolley, where the attendants make up a sundae for you with your choice of toppings.
On the way to LA, our chilled entree was of seared prawns, kawakawa, pesto and rosemary melon salsa. For mains, I had Moroccan-style spiced lamb with Israeli couscous, honey-roasted pumpkin and baby zucchini. Christina dined on the roasted Tasmanian salmon fillet with lemon hollandaise, asparagus and cherry tomatoes.
On the way home to Sydney, our chilled appetiser was smoked duck, farro salad, dried cranberries, brined carrots and whole-grain mustard.
My main was an excellent cacio e Pepe ravioli (though I was tempted by the seared beef short rib) and Christina had the ginseng chicken bowl – a ginseng, lemongrass and chicken broth with grilled chicken, carrots, celery, green onion, and chicken and lemongrass pot-sticker dumplings.
There’s also the ‘anytime a la carte menu’ where you can help yourself to snack from the galley or ask for the hot option. On our SYD-LAX flight they were a chicken pot pie and grilled cheese with tomato soup.
But coming back – LAX-SYD – I had to have the grilled mac and cheese with lobster! And my goodness there was so much lobster in there. Amazing.
Breakfasts on board are even pretty good with Polaris.
Of course, any seat that reclines into a full lay-out bed is extraordinary. As soon as you sit down in the Polaris seats, you want to recline. And there’s almost enough compartments in front and in the caddy to the side, you almost don’t need any overhead storage.
You get an enormous amount of legroom, though as the plane tapers, you tend to get more space in front if you’re on the aisle. Seats B, D and K are the ones to look for if you’re tall.
The seats, which are soft and luxe to sit in, are indeed true flatbed seats and change like transformers into very comfy beds.
However, they still wrestle with the same problem we’ve seen in other flatbed seats: the join between the back and the base when the seat flattens out leaves a gap between the two cushions. Ultimately, the workaround we found was to pack the gap out with the lumbar cushion to make it more comfortable.
And then, once we got home, we discovered we’d missed out on the true solution.
As I was re-reading the menu I ‘borrowed’ from the flight, the literature mentions a ‘mattress cushion’. I remember reading this on the flight and thinking it was one of the cushions we already had.
It’s an actual mattress you can lay on your seat. Thinking about it though, it’s probably just as well we didn’t spot this little extra bit of comfort sooner. It was hard enough leaving our seats as it was!
Once you’ve settled into your wonderful seat, you look about you and realise you get a lot of extra stuff. There’s a luxuriant quilted duvet from Saks Fifth Avenue that covers your bed completely. You also have a herringbone woollen blanket also from Saks Fifth Avenue that’s wonderfully soft – though it can leave a bit of fluff.
On top of that, you have the memory foam lumbar cushion and a sleeping pillow, also from Saks Fifth Avenue.
And then there’s the amenity kit.
Inside the large leatherette washbag case, which by itself will come in handy, is a wealth of goodies. Socks, a robust sleeping mask, tissues, earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a pen that comes in handy for those pesky landing cards are in one section.
In the other is a set of Sunday Riley skincare: a facial cleansing cloth, hand cream, face cream and a lip balm.
Staff also come round to ask if you’d like pyjamas, which is a double-edged sword. Of course, you say yes, but then the attendants predict your size, which is fun. Take it from me: unless you’re a power lifter or the BFG, you’re a medium or smaller.
I’m the proud owner of a large/XL set of Polaris pyjamas. I look like a grey clown in them. I asked for medium on the way home and was much more comfortable.
Christina, however, looked very cool and somehow glam in her PJs – as is to be expected of course.
It’s really so comfortable in United Polaris Business Class I know it’s spoilt us for our next long-haul flight.
Zooming through the air in your very own bed, cosy and warm and wondering what adventure you’ll come to land amongst, it’s a wonderful way to travel.
But more than that, it’s the unusual feeling of getting off the plane and feeling well-rested and refreshed in your new destination.
Like I said: a wonderful way to see the world.