TESTED BY Ramsey Qubein
PLANE TYPE 787-9
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
SEAT PITCH 78 inches
SEAT WIDTH 22 inches
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
PRICE Roundtrip business class started at $7,524
VERDICT: United has stepped up the game on long-haul routes between the US and Australia with a product that seems to tick all the boxes for comfort and service. It’s also a top contender for one of the longest flights in the world and is the second longest in the United network (United has more ultra-long haul flights than any other US carrier).
BACKGROUND: United has long been the leading North American carrier to Australia operating Boeing 747s from the West Coast on the routes for years. Now the airline takes it a step further adding the first nonstop from the Midwest United States to Australia operated by a US carrier.
CHECK-IN: Polaris business class provides expedited check-in, and my connecting flights were all on time giving me extra time to explore the new restaurant options designed by OTG in Houston’s terminal. High-topped café seating is equipped with power outlets and iPads for ordering food crafted by local Houston-area chefs. There’s a casual taqueria, “ranch to table” burger spot, southern barbecue café, and a sushi and ramen bar with Asian biergarten serving international beers and sake.
BOARDING: There were separate jet bridges for Polaris and main cabin passengers, so Polaris passengers enjoy group one boarding, even when the main cabin boarding begins. Flight attendants quickly brought a choice of welcome drinks with chocolates. Fleece-lined slippers, pajamas, mattress pads and cooling pillows were nice extras to add to the Saks Fifth Avenue comfortable blankets and fluffy pillows waiting at the seats. You have to ask for them from the flight attendants; I had to ask twice because my flight attendant kept forgetting.
THE SEAT: United is working hard to install its all-aisle-access business class seat in its long-haul fleet. As of now, only the 777-300 planes have it, but the 767-300s are quickly being retrofitted with more planes to come. This plane had the fully flat beds that were already on the Dreamliners with small privacy dividers and plenty of storage space. The large IFE screen has touch-screen controls that are super responsive; I amused myself on this 17-hour flight binge watching some of the box set programs. There was a small cubby beneath the screen that was great for reading materials and a USB and power outlet.
THE FLIGHT: Once we were in the air, United’s impressive three-tiered cart arrived with a selection of drinks. United beats its North American counterparts when it comes to presentation; you never see beat-up serving carts in the aisles. Warm nuts preceded an appetizer tray with a tasty cabbage salad and seared tuna. My main dish was simply delicious: spicy chicken in a Thai-style coconut broth with udon noodles with a sprinkle of lime. (This is one of United’s chef-inspired dishes that was introduced with the Polaris launch.) A fruit and cheese plate and an offer of ice cream sundaes followed. Instead of the assembly-line service pattern adopted by many airlines, United divides the cabin into quarters with dedicated flight attendants for each few rows. This means the service is tailored to your own speed, and refills can be offered at any time. Plus take note – United flight attendants wear formal serving jackets for meals. Kudos to United for the stylish service.
ARRIVAL: Given the late evening takeoff from Houston, almost everyone stayed asleep until the last few hours when breakfast was served before an on-time arrival.