United B767-300 Polaris business class, New York to London
BACKGROUND United flies five times daily from New York’s Newark airport to London Heathrow. The airline typically operates this route with the 767-400ER, but a 767-300, which has the newer Polaris seating, also frequently flies the route.
United says it is adding a new Polaris business class configuration to the fleet every ten days, in new aircraft or by retrofitting. But with such a large fleet, it is likely to be summer 2019 before you can be sure of getting Polaris on every flight between Heathrow and Newark.
CHECK-IN I arrived very early for my 1900 overnight flight from Newark Terminal
C on flight UA14. The Premier Access check-in area for first and business class is on Level 3. After using the check-in machines, I went to Level 2 to go through security. The Premier Access queues were longer than for economy, so I switched into the economy lanes and went through immediately.
THE LOUNGE A new Polaris lounge opened at Newark on June 4, but I was flying a few days earlier. Instead I went for the United Club at Gate 74, which was packed. The food choices included salads, soup and small squares of cheese; all they needed was a bit of pineapple and a cocktail stick to recreate the 1970s.
BOARDING The flight was boarding from Gate C128, which was a minute’s walk from the lounge. When I got there at 1820 the crew were preparing to start boarding. Polaris customers are in Group 1 and within a few minutes I was walking down the air bridge to be greeted by the crew. They then came around offering a pre-flight drink, and took my jacket then meal order. As it was a night flight, I declined.
The captain came into the cabin to introduce himself to us, and gave an overview of the flight, warning that there might be turbulence, and informing us of the weather that was expected in London.
The plane pushed back just a few minutes late at 1912, but we were not airborne until 1945 as there was a further delay while the captain waited for the final weight manifest.
THE SEAT The Polaris cabin has a 1-1-1 configuration (A, D or F and L) with all seats having direct aisle access. The middle seat is D or F depending on which aisle it exits onto. There are 30 seats across ten rows. I was in window seat 2A.
I found the Polaris seat very comfortable. It has dark-blue cloth upholstery, with a greyleather adjustable headrest. There was a shoulder strap that had to be worn for take off and landing. Each seat has its own adjustable reading light, shaded light, multi power sockets and USB. There is a small cupboard for storing the noise-cancelling headphones, with a mirror on the back of the door.
A large table could be pulled out from below the IFE screen, and was very sturdy. A sliding control turns the seat from fully upright into a bed. To the side of the seat, by the adjustable armrest, is the magazine holder and a small area for storage.
The amenity kit was placed on the seat, in a tin covered by a protective plastic bag labelled Polaris Business. The tin contained socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, tissues, a pen, eye mask and Cowshed toiletries including lip balm, hand cream and a chamomile towelette.
A pair of slippers and pyjamas are also available on longer flights and, since July, every seat now has a cooling gel memory foam pillow.
BEST SEAT The best seat is probably 1F, which is located at the front of the cabin, and has a ledge in front of it where you can place your food tray. It is also the seat with the largest shelf area, and the width of the footrest is about twice that of the others.
If that seat is not available, other good options are A or L. You then need to choose the row to suit you, as odd numbers are closest to the windows, and are protected from the aisles, making them better for night flights. Even numbers are closer to the aisle. Seat 1A is used by the flight crew, so is not normally available.
My only criticism is that although the space provided for your feet is wider than it was previously, it’s still not that generous
THE FLIGHT Service was prompt, although as soon as the seatbelt light went off I reclined my seat and tried to sleep.
As well as a large pillow and quilt from Saks Fifth Avenue, there was a blanket. Fully flat, the seat has a width of 20.6 inches and a length of around 75 inches (190cm). The bed was comfortable and I slept well, despite being woken during the night when we hit turbulence. My only criticism is that although the space provided for your feet is wider than that of the previous United business class, it is still not that generous.
Had I stayed awake, I would have been served a drink and nuts, followed by dinner. Starters included seared tuna with kale salad, or a salad of cabbage, bok choy and mango.
Main-course choices included seared short-rib beef bordelaise with grits, fava beans, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomato; spicy chicken in a Thai-style coconut and ginger broth with udon noodles; seared turbot with mushroom risotto; and a vegetarian option of portobello mushrooms and caramelised onion ravioli.
For desserts, there was a choice of cheese with crackers and port, ice cream sundaes, or what was billed as “sweet treats” (on a previous flight this included macaroons and cake).
If you wanted a glass of wine there was a German dry riesling from Robert Weil; a 2016 Chablis from Joseph Drouhin; another white Burgundy in the form of the Bouchard Père et Fils Côte-de-Beaune Villages 2015; and a cabernet franc from Argentina, a 2015 Mendoza from Catena.
A basket of snacks including fruit, sweets, biscuits and seeds was also available at the front of the cabin throughout the flight.
I was surprised by how quiet the food service was, although I heard the breakfast service about an hour before the flight was due to land. I declined breakfast, which included yogurt, croissant with jam, cookie, seasonal fruit, cereal and a warm omelette served with chicken sausage, potato, black beans and sweetcorn.
Wifi costs US$33.99 for the whole flight, or US$18.99 for an hour. You can also connect your device to unitedwifi.com to get complimentary access to selected partner sites such as Hyatt and the United Private Screening, where you can stream a range of films and TV to your device. The IFE system also has a good choice of films and TV programmes.
ARRIVAL We landed late at 0740 and were at the gate by 0750. It was a fair walk to immigration, but I got through quickly and when I reached the carousel my priority-tagged bag appeared in the first ten.
VERDICT The Polaris is a comfortable seat with good bedding and direct aisle access. It’s a great improvement on the previous seat.
With the new lounge now open, you’ll be able to enjoy a meal before your flight, as well as help yourself to soft drinks and order from an extensive selection of drinks and cocktails. There are also showers. All of this will significantly enhance the experience and, of course, give you more time to sleep on the plane.
I slept well and was surprised by how quiet the food service was