Back in August I took a quick jaunt across the country and back, just to fly in a couple of United’s premium cabins. It was part experiment, and part enjoyment. I love flying, and spending a day in the air is a day well spent. Well…flight delays and other nuisances can throw a wrench in plans. But I was still able to enjoy the haul across the country, flying in a United transcontinental Polaris seat, no less! The outbound had me booked on a retrofitted Boeing 777-200 on the outbound and one of United’s p.s. 757s on the inbound.
I booked the ticket for just 25,000 Turkish Miles & Smiles round-trip. Yes, Turkish charges less for round-trip in their premium service product that United does one-way. I’d have to shell out 70,000 United miles (35,000 each way) using the MileagePlus program. Normally I don’t just burn points like this, but I wanted to see how easy it was to book the ticket through Turkish. I’d already made a quick jaunt to Hawaii the previous week, booking the outbound to Kona for just 7,500 Miles & Smiles in economy.
Turns out, it was no issue at all. You just need to find I-class space on one of United’s premium service routes, and they should be able to book you into it just fine. You can’t beat 12,500 miles one-way for a lie-flat seat on a 5-hour haul (note: this past week I have run into issues booking Turkish Star Alliance award tickets).
Arrival at SFO and Lounge Experience
I’d booked a late flight, driving to SFO from northern California in the evening and arriving around 10:15 PM. I’d already had been notified of a flight delay, pushing our departure back to 1:30 AM. The plane hadn’t made it off the ground at Newark on time.
There was a huge line for security, more than typical in my experience at SFO. It made me very glad I had TSA Precheck. There was only one person in front of me in that line.
I’d hoped to arrive in time to enjoy the Giant’s Clubhouse one last time before I canceled by Chase Sapphire Reserve, but it was already closing by the time I made it there. I’d make do with the United Club in Concourse F.
Given that it was going on 11:00 PM, the club was super quiet. I enjoyed the lounge, eating a late dinner and working for a bit. I don’t expect a lot from domestic lounges, but the salad bar was surprisingly good.
Midnight Delays Are No Fun
I headed to the gate about 12:15 AM. We were supposed to depart at 12:30 AM, but that had been kicked back to 1:30 AM. Our aircraft arrived at gate at 12:23 AM. The delay was obviously impacting people with connections in Newark. I chatted with a couple who had flown in from Hawaii and had a connection in Newark to make it to their final destination. They already sounded miserable and had at least 8-9 hours of travel left.
As we crept toward 1:00 AM, I became utterly exhausted. A full day of work plus a drive to SF took their toll. I was definitely ready for a lie flat seat and a nap of ~4 hours. We should have been boarding our 777 by then to make it out by 1:30 AM. Nope. Still waiting.
The hour delay should have been the extent of things, but the gate crew soon announced a maintenance delay. Apparently the lights were staying on in the cabin and there was no way to turn them off. I’d actually heard the crew discussing this as they deplaned, which had worried me then.
Things went from “not too bad” to “awful” pretty quickly. It soon became a rolling delay where we would be updated about every half hour. I ended up snoozing on the floor of SFO, something I never expected to do.
The total delay was over 3 hours. A grumpy gate crew did not help things. Many passengers were also tense. A few literally started yelling “vouchers” as we hit the 2.5-hour mark. Sure, it was miserable, but likely less so for me. I had nothing on the agenda except flying, working for a brief stint at EWR, and then heading back to California.
Boarding and Pre-Departure
We finally boarded after 3:00 AM. I’d pulled up the flight during the delay, and noticed something odd: the operating equipment was a 777-300ER, United’s flagship aircraft. Was this what I’d be flying on my United transcontinental Polaris jaunt? It was not what I’d expected, as the reservation clearly said is was a 777-200. The seat map showed Polaris, so I assumed it was simply one of the retrofitted aircraft.
Eventually, I realized that there is no row 17 of Polaris on the 777-200, at least according to SeatGuru. I’d selected seat 17A from the start. Something is off in United’s system. It seems I was booked on a 777-300ER the entire time.
I was ecstatic to finally be getting aboard and settled. It was even more exciting to be flying United’s flagship, something I did not expect. My only complaint is that the gate agents let a ridiculous number of people “pre-board”. Probably 40. I’d never seen so many use this option, and many of them obviously had no real need.
The Polaris cabin is United’s nicest premium product, with a 1-2-1 layout. The seats are staggered between facing directly ahead and oriented diagonally. Traveling solo, the best option is a window seat where you have the most privacy. There are a total of 16 of these seats on the 777-300ER. Travelling with a companion, I’d select a pair of seats in the center section. However, I have to say that the diagonally-facing seats aren’t as exposed to the aisle as I’d expected.
Flight attendants soon offered pre-departure beverages. Rather than serving orange juice, water, and sparkling wine from a tray, you could ask for pretty much anything. A glass of Prosecco would hopefully help me sleep a solid few hours.
Cabin traffic does pass through the rear Polaris section during boarding, as the 2L door is used. If you want more privacy after you get settled, choose the forward section. I didn’t have much of an option, as sat 17A was the only true window seat left when I booked my United transcontinental Polaris flight.
United Transcontinental Polaris: Their Flagship Seat
The Polaris Business seats are very comfortable. I was immediately happy with my choice of flight and couldn’t wait to flatten the seat and snooze all the way to New Jersey.
As one of the true window seats, I was separated from the aisle by the side table. This makes these seats the most private on the aircraft, as I mentioned previously.
At each seat was a Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, as well as the amenity kit. It certainly isn’t the full amenity kit provided on long-haul Polaris flights.
The footwell in Polaris isn’t the worst I’ve experienced, but I wouldn’t call it especially spacious. I wear a size 11 shoe, and it was adequate.
The legroom is obviously excellent. Nothing beats flying a premium business class product. I’ve flown domestic first a couple times across the country, and this was my first flight in anything nicer than a recliner seat.
Each Polaris seats features a side table with a lamp and power outlet. The IFE controller is also stowed here as well.
Inside the small cabinet are the headphones and a bottle of water. They are a decent set, but not active noise canceling like what American offers. At least you get to use them the whole time instead of having them collected 90 minutes before you arrive.
The tray table slides out from under the IFE screen and into place. I like the folding design and ability to slide it back if you need to get out of the seat.
The seat controls are to the side under the window. There are individual controls, but to change from upright to lie-flat, you just need to hold the wheel switch to that side.
The United transcontinental Polaris amenity kit is the same as their other premium service United business flights. You are provided lip balm, an eye mask, and earplugs. This is definitely not the Polaris amenity kit. But it is the essentials for a cross-country haul.
The diagonally-facing seats are nearly as private, although I do prefer the window seat I selected. You are closer to the aisle, but the seats still offer quite a bit of privacy.
The cabin on the whole is very nice. Both the forward and rear Polaris cabins no the 777-300ER are about the same size.
I turned the IFE on very briefly and looked through the selection of movies. There were plenty of titles I’d enjoy. But I knew that I’d enjoy sleeping more than watching a movie.
As soon as we cleared 10,000 feet, I flattened my seat, pulled out the blanket, put in the earplugs, and said goodnight to the world.
Food and Beverage
Well…I missed all of it. Every. Single. Bit. I decided to skip dinner to sleep and then never woke up for breakfast. The sleep was that good. Basically, the pre-departure prosecco knocked me out.
I would have loved to have tried whatever was on the menu for my United transcontinental Polaris flight. But not at 3:00 AM. I did visit the lav once…
It was about as spacious as I expected: better than your typical narrow-body, but still not a large size. The “clogged toilets delay flights” sign gave me a chuckle. But it is true.
Arrival into Newark
We were on descent into Newark when I finally sat up from my nap. It had been daylight for a while, obviously, but I hadn’t noticed with the eye mask. Plus, every shade in the cabin was closed, until I opened mine. Yes, I am that jerk. But we were hitting 10,000 feet, and what is the point of flying if you don’t look out the window?? I couldn’t miss this awesome view landing at EWR.
The flight attendants apologized for the significant delay once we touched down in Newark. They directed us to head to https://www.united.com/unitedcares/. I didn’t even know this page existed. I’ve generally come to the conclusion that United doesn’t care (although they did really impress me during my fiasco with Avianca LifeMiles, so my views have changed for the better).
They were good for yet another $125 voucher (I think this is the third in 2 years?). I really wish they would offer a bit more, as this is enough to make me want to book a trip, but never enough to cover the entire ticket. Which is probably why they so willingly had out vouchers of this amount.
Concluding My United Transcontinental Polaris Experience
In short, the operational and maintenance delays were bad news, but the United transcontinental Polaris seat was amazing, and I slept well across the country. It was fun to try out United’s flagship product. I’m sure I’ll end up flying the full Polaris experience sometime in the next few years.
Still, I’ll let another passengers words sum up the trip: “I’ve never been so happy to be in Newark”. Couldn’t argue the point as we exited the jet bridge into Terminal C.