United Polaris Business Class Review: 787-10 Dreamliner FRA to EWR
My United Polaris Business Class review looks at a flight on the 787-10 Dreamliner from FRA in Frankfurt, Germany to EWR in Newark, New Jersey. This is a review during COVID-19 travel, so we will also look at what changes in services are in effect. My review will also compare this product with the older United business class product we flew recently. How different is the United Polaris business class compared to the older product? My review will cover that as well. As always, my United Polaris business class review will cover the hard product (things built into the plane) and the soft product (intangibles like service), but we’ll start with the booking process.
We booked this flight using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. I’ve mentioned previously that their South America-Central/Southern Africa price chart is a great sweet spot in award travel. For 50,000 miles per person, we flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Bogota, Colombia. Flights included in this itinerary:
- Nairobi to Frankfurt on Lufthansa business class, flying on an A330 – I’ve flown this product before, and you can read my review here.
- Frankfurt to Newark on United Polaris business class, which will be covered in this review.
- Newark to Bogota, Colombia on United “first class” / domestic business class product on a Boeing 737-800.
That’s a lot of flying for 50,000 miles per person in business class. We paid $76.92 each in taxes / fees. The cash price of this ticket was $2,262.92. Thus, we got nearly 4.4 cents per mile of value in our booking, which is slightly above the average value of KrisFlyer miles.
Another great thing about this booking is that we were able to change it multiple times without fees. Singapore / KrisFlyer has a flexible booking policy right now, and you can change without penalties or fees. We changed our flights twice without paying for it.
Prior To The Flight
Prior to this flight in the United Polaris business class, we asked the Frankfurt airport staff what lounges are open for business class passengers. Our flight departed from Terminal 1 zone Z, and the only open lounge was in zone B. The woman informed me that the lounge was not serving any food and just drinks in cans, so she advised us it wasn’t really worth the 30 minutes it would take to get there.
I was excited to check out this product, since we’d missed the chance previously. United changed the plane shortly before our flight, which is why we flew the old business class product back in November. This time, I watched the seat map like a hawk for any product changes.
The boarding process was quite disorganized, to be honest. Employees conducted document checks with as many passengers as possible prior to boarding. Despite that, they set up the “document check” booth right in front of the boarding area. This meant that what should’ve been separate lines (those who still need to do the check / those who don’t) got mixed up together and slowed everything down. The woman making the boarding group announcements also was a mumbler, so no one had any idea what she was saying.
Once we finally entered the jetway and got to the plane, the crew at the door greeted us with big smiles and indicated where to go. Boarding for the business class cabin, which was mostly empty, went really fast. I took a peek at the main cabin, and it was mostly empty also. Despite United’s attempts to mess it up, boarding actually went pretty quickly, simply due to not having a lot of people.
United Polaris Business Class Review – 787-10 From FRA to EWR
My United Polaris business class review will be in 2 parts. The first is the hard product, which covers things built into the plane (seat, entertainment system, etc.). The second is the soft product (service, amenities, etc.).
United Polaris Business Class – Hard Product Review
The United Polaris business class hard product gets a mixed review from me. First impressions and the actual flight experience didn’t match. Here’s a detailed look.
The seat looks impressive. It’s new, stylish, and has an interesting layout. The Polaris cabin on the 787-10 Dreamliner has 10 rows of 4 seats for 44 total seats in the business class cabin. The seats are in a staggered 1-2-1 layout. All seats are not created equal, though.
For solo travelers, the seats along the window are staggered. Some seats are closer to the window and more private. These are the odd-numbered rows. The even-numbered rows are closer to the aisle, which can feel more exposed, and these also have an obstructed view of the window.
The middle seats are not equal, either. Odd-numbered rows are closer together, while even-numbered rows are further apart and angled away from each other. When the divider is down, the odd-numbered rows feel very close together. These are the ideal seats for couples traveling together. Thus, we chose row 9.
That being said, getting “into” your seat space is a bit weird for the seats in odd-numbered rows. If you are overweight, I imagine the angle of getting into the odd-numbered rows to be quite difficult. You may be better off with the seats that are closer to the aisle and don’t require the bend & shift required to navigate the angled entrance.
Our seats felt really isolated. The nearest people to us were 2 rows in front along the window and 2 rows behind along the window. The entire cabin of 44 seats only had 7 passengers.
As a seat, the chair is comfortable. Everything is located within easy reach when in the sitting position. I found the chair, space around it, and everything else in the “sitting” position to be good.
Along the aisle, there is the arm rest and storage area. Under this, there is an adjustable arm rest that can be lowered. This is also where the safety information card and sick bag are located. The arm rest built into the divider-side wall cannot be removed, lowered, or adjusted. When I put this adjustable arm rest down, I actually thought I broke it. It got stuck (the button for adjusting stuck “in”). I asked my wife to play with hers, and the same thing happened. It seems like these are adjustable but don’t get much use, so they could use some WD40 perhaps. A few minutes later, the button popped out with a “click”, and I could adjust it again.
Storage is awkward, to be blunt. There are a few storage locations, but none is really sufficient. The arm rest area has a storage cabin, which is where I found my headset and bottle of water. I also had a soda and my passport, which I put in there, as well. However, the cabin is not big enough for a 13” laptop.
The other small storage area you can use is under the entertainment system. This was big enough for a glasses case and laptop charger. It’s tall enough to fit a laptop case inside, but it’s not deep enough, so the laptop would easily fall out.
I used the foot well for the blanket and pillow that were on my seat when I arrived. These aren’t really intended as storage, but I found the storage lacking overall, and there was no other option for where to put these. I didn’t use this area for my laptop, since it could fall out / I didn’t want to put my feet on my laptop. Overall, storage is mostly good, but tons of people travel with a laptop these days. They should think of this when designing storage.
The seat has a lot of features and controls. I found them easy to use. Very user friendly. They’re also easily within reach, so you don’t have to stretch or reach far to use them. Everything is within arm’s reach, which is the ideal description for seat controls.
The arm rest area along the aisle also included a USB charging point and universal plug. These are directly under the storage cabinet.
There is also a lamp and a flip-out reading light, both along the wall created by the storage/aisle divider. That white dot light under the reading lamp…whatever it is. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out its purpose, why it’s always on, or why you can’t turn it off.
The seat also has a coat hanger. It’s located on the divider wall from the seat in front of me, in the path from my seat to the aisle.
The tray table slides out from under the entertainment system. After sliding it out, it unfolds to become larger. It unfolds towards you, rather than typical tables that unfold horizontally.
Personal Entertainment System
The entertainment system on this flight was nearly identical to our flight on the older United business class product. The screen, features of it, and entertainment options were identical. Where the Polaris cabin comes out ahead is the remote control. The remote is superior in functionality in terms of buttons, what it can do, and ease of use.
Again, I like the “do not disturb” options on the screen. This is a great feature, which the older product also has.
Business Class Lavatories
The business class lavatories are basically economy bathrooms but with some amenities. They are not any larger and do not have any extra features. The only difference comes in the sprays and lotion.
So far, my United Polaris business class review is mostly positive. Where it takes a bit of a dive is in evaluating the bed. When the seat is in the sleeping position (fully lie-flat), I find the spacing…weird. I’m not a big person. 5’10< 165lbs. However, I found the area around my shoulders really tight and lacking room.
The layout of the bed next to the divider on one side then the angle of the foot well / arm rest area on the other side made for akward sleeping, as well. It took a while to find “the” position that I could lay in. Options are either flat on your back, fully straight, or a very, very particular position on your side to make your shoulders and knees fit into the right configuration. For me, I wasn’t totally comfortable. Luckily, this was a daytime flight, so I wasn’t counting on a full night’s sleep. My nap, however, wasn’t that refreshing, because I wasn’t totally comfortable.
I think whoever designed the cabin layout didn’t lie in the beds before committing to building the product. It could use improvements. My wife, who is smaller than me, also found it difficult to get into a comfortable position. I can’t imagine anyone taller or bigger than me finding a really comfortable sleeping position.
The best part of the bed, though, is the gel pillow. My wife describes it as the gold standard of airline pillows.
Old vs New Hard Product
How do the old product and the new product compare? The lavatories are totally equal. The cabin layout has a definite edge for the Polaris product if you choose the right seat. I found the “seat” in terms of sitting equally comfortable for both. Storage is better on the older product, if you need somewhere to put a laptop. Surprisingly, I’m giving the advantage to the older product for the bed/sleeping position. For the entertainment system, there’s a slight edge for the Polaris product.
United Polaris Business Class – Soft Product Review
If you read my review of the older United business class product, you’ll know that I wasn’t too impressed with the soft product. I realize that I took a total of 1 flight on the old product and 1 flight on the new product. This is not the most scientific of comparisons, but our experience on the new United Polaris business class product has a much better review in terms of service in the soft product.
United Polaris Amenity Kit
The business class amenity kit was the exact same as what my wife received on the prior flight with the older product. Remember that we had received variations of the same amenity kit on that flight, but on this flight our kits were the same.
The kits included socks and a gel sleeping mask, which is super comfortable.
The Sunday Riley toiletries smell good and match the amenities in the lavatories.
There’s a dental kit, tissues, and also a pen, which is good when you need to fill out customs forms. Really practical.
The kit folds up and zips closed. I like this amenity kit. It’s not flashy or anything special, but it puts the “ugliest business class kit in history” to shame from our Lufthansa flight earlier in the day.
Lack Of Meal Options
As I mentioned previously, United is not offering special meals at this time. This continues to blow my mind. It’s simply stupid, and their justification doesn’t pass muster. They say they can’t do special meal requests because of COVID-19. You simply can’t convince me that offering a special meal increases the risk of spreading the virus. You really can’t get me to believe this nonsense when other airlines using the exact same catering kitchen can offer a special meal, but United can’t.
Despite the airline itself being stupid in this regard, the crew on our flight were awesome. When they came around to take orders for lunch, we told them we are vegan and that we know they don’t have special meals right now. The purser (who was taking the orders) apologized for this and told us to let him know if we want anything at all during the flight.
2 minutes later, he returned to inform us that one of the meal options in economy was a Thai curry and was vegan. He pulled 2 of these from economy and said we could have them, along with the business class sides/meal tray. That’s great service! He sought solutions to a problem United created that fell into his lap. The snack option at the end of the flight didn’t work for us. However, he brought us the side dish (a fruit cup) to ensure we didn’t go empty-handed through the afternoon snack.
Proactive Problem Solving
The purser also told one of the business class flight attendants to go to the economy cabin, since they didn’t need a ton of flight attendants for only 7 people in business class. This creates better service for everyone on board. I really liked the “seek solutions” attitude from the purser on our flight. Additionally, he was super friendly.
We did interact with one other flight attendant (collecting trash prior to landing) who was less awesome than the purser. However, that 5 seconds doesn’t change my experience. Top marks for the crew on this flight.
Questionable Cabin Cleaning
Despite its lip service about “United CleanPlus” and all of the “extra” cleaning they’re supposedly doing, I did find trash on my seat when I boarded. Next to the movable arm rest, there was a wadded up gum wrapper. This is also next to the flight safety info card. If United says it’s doing extra cleaning on common touch points like arm rests, shouldn’t this trash immediately next to the arm rest be cleaned up? It makes me think “what they say” and “what they do” don’t match. I spent a few minutes wiping down my tray table, arm rest, buttons on the entertainment system, etc. which is never a bad idea, anyway.
Overall Thoughts On Service
When comparing the soft product from our flight on the older product with the United Polaris business class product, my review is not equal. Again, these are isolated experiences, but reviews are based on “this was my experience at this point in time.” The experiences couldn’t be more different. The pursers on both flights were really great. However, we also noted several “needs improvement” crew members on the older product.
Perhaps our new flight being much emptier helped. Maybe interacting almost exclusively with the purser helps things. Regardless of the reason, we found the soft product on Polaris to be much better than on our flight with the older United business class. It’s odd, given the fact they’re the same employees from the same company, but maybe they put the “A team” on Polaris products. Who knows, but our experience was much more positive.
If the cleaning issue and special meals issue could be fixed, my score for the service aspect would really increase.
Transit In Newark EWR – United Club Lounge
During our transit in Newark EWR airport, we visited the United Club Lounge. The Polaris lounge is closed right now, and there’s no published date on when it will re-open.
The Club Lounge at gate C74 was next to our gate, which was super convenient. Despite having multiple international flights departing from the area, the lounge was quite empty. We saw less than15 passengers during the 3 hours we spent in the lounge.
Final Thoughts On United Polaris Business Class
My United Polaris business class review looked at the hard product and the soft product while also comparing them to the older United business class. Surprisingly, not everything is better on the newer product. There are some things I would change, starting with the bed configuration and how to provide a more comfortable sleeping experience for passengers.
Several things feel basically the same, such as the entertainment system, the amenity kit, and the lavatories.
That being said, the Polaris product is also superior in several ways. We had a better average opinion of the crew and the cabin layout.
Which is better overall? I liked the Polaris product better overall, but it wasn’t “incomparable” or “blows the old product out of the water” by any stretch of the imagination. Given the choice, I’d choose the new product, but I wouldn’t pay more for it.