United Airlines made exciting headlines in 2016 with the launch of its new Polaris Business Class. It delivered all-aisle access on most of its aircraft, a multi-course and beautifully presented meal service, and an unprecedented number of sleep accessories including multiple pillows and blankets. While cost cutting has scaled back the airline’s initial plans, United continues to receive accolades for its Polaris Business Class retrofit.
It has taken years for United’s aircraft to undergo changes to the seat with a large number of its planes still offering configurations that require passengers to step over a seatmate. Either way, the soft touches remain, and passengers will be impressed by the bountiful pillow and blanket set from Saks Fifth Avenue.
United is also a leader in flying narrowbody Boeing 757 planes from the United States to secondary cities in Europe, which means shorter travel times for many passengers. United’s coast-to-coast network in the United States is excellent with well-positioned hubs that give incredible access across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as to Oceania and South America.
As a member of Star Alliance, United works with nearly two dozen airline partners with whom passengers can earn and redeem miles for their flights including Air Canada, Air India, All Nippon Airways, Austrian, Ethiopian, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Swiss International and Thai. There is also the opportunity to codeshare with these airlines meaning that travellers can fly multiple Star Alliance airlines on the same ticket. Star Alliance Gold members from other partner airlines can enjoy special benefits when flying United, even if in economy class.
United’s international hubs feature Premier access to check-in and security lanes, and in the airline’s New York/Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco hubs, it offers premium Polaris lounges. On the day of travel, Polaris customers are treated to United Club access in the dozens of airports around the United States with one, but if there is a Polaris lounge, it is best to head there.
These are among the best in the United States for Business Class passengers. Expect designer-inspired seating areas with privacy nooks and spacious work tables, impressive buffet stations, refrigerators stocking soft drinks and juices and a bar serving a variety of wine, beer and craft cocktails. Private sleeping areas are a great place to relax between flights and all come with relaxation spray, pillows, blankets and eye shades. That is quite a unique feature for any Business Class lounge.
Shower facilities with Cowshed branded toiletries offer a great pick-me-up. If the buffet is not enough, an à la carte menu is available in separate dining areas delivering chef-prepared dishes of restaurant quality. It gives passengers the opportunity to dine before takeoff so they can maximise rest inflight should they prefer.
Polaris lounges are in the works for the airline’s Washington Dulles hub in the coming years. These specialty lounges give United an edge over its competitors, and Business Class fliers on Star Alliance-partner carriers with a same-day flight can also access them.
United Airlines operates around 50 of its own lounges. While most of them are found in the US, they are also available at London Heathrow, Hong Kong, Mexico City and at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. United Airlines also offers a dedicated Arrivals Lounge at London Heathrow.
The airline’s long-haul fleet consists of a mishmash of planes including Boeing 757, 767-300ER, 767-400ER, 777-200ER, 777-300ER and several different sizes of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Each is configured differently given the United and Continental Airlines merger in 2010 - some are former Continental aircraft - and the newer Polaris product, which was announced after the merger.
All have flat-bed seats with leather covers, but the width, screen quality and layout varies. The newest planes have a 1-2-1 configuration, but many have a 2-2-2 configuration that means stepping over a seatmate to access the aisle. It is always wise to consult the seat map before reserving a flight to determine if the configuration fits your needs since some of United’s 777’s oldest planes had a 2-4-2 configuration in business class with alternating forward-facing and backward-facing seats. Middle seats in Business Class are never a good thing, and it is worth avoiding this configuration if possible.
No matter what the layout, all recline fully flat with ample storage space either to the side or behind the seat. Power outlets are convenient in both setups, but those in a 1-2-1 layout have a more spacious side table and larger entertainment screens. Take note that in this setup, some seats are closer to the aisle, which means they feel more exposed while others are angled toward the window and feel more enclosed.
These solo seats have side tables alternating between being on the side of the window or the side of the aisle. Seat maps show which seats have a small table closer to the aisle for those that prefer to have a barrier between your seat and the aisle. Solo travellers - especially light sleepers - will prefer these solo seats, and since the airline does not charge for seat assignments, it is wise to review the seat map before departure to choose the best seat. Couples will prefer the centre pair of seats that are closer together no matter the configuration.
With such a dizzying array of seat types, be sure to pay attention to the route and aircraft type. Also, many of these planes are divided into two Business Class sections with the galley intersecting them. Savvy travellers select the smaller cabin because there is less foot traffic once the boarding door has closed during the flight.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft. Search results also include details such as seat pitch, width and recline. This way you can see the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested, before making your choice.
United’s onboard service for its Polaris product has suffered many downgrades over the years. Gone are the Bloody Mary carts on morning flights and the wine-tasting experience that presented five different varietals to sample at once. Perhaps they were too fancy for Business Class and more akin to a First Class product, which ironically United no longer offers.
Logistical concerns aside, United does not disappoint when it comes to dining. Meals begin with an aperitif and a ramekin of nuts delivered at the seat by a flight attendant in each aisle. They lay linens on the tray table at the same time.
Grey linens cover the tray table, and soon a tray with the salad, starter and bread plate appear. Flight attendants offer bread from the basket, and refill drinks. Of note are the globe-shaped salt and pepper shakers that are representative of the airline’s logo, which is a clever touch.
Once appetisers are finished, the crew comes by to collect them and replace them one of four main course choices including beef, poultry, seafood or pasta.
Insider tip: One of United’s newer dishes is a noodle soup with chicken or shrimp, and these are passenger favourites. They go quickly, and since United does not offer pre-ordering, it can be helpful to request one from the menu before everyone orders.
The dessert trolley soon arrives with a two-tiered cart serving made-to-order ice cream sundaes, fruit and cheese or a sweet pastry or cake. It is the perfect finish to a well-presented service for which United deserves praise. There are no economy class-style carts dragged through the aisle, and everything is delivered with style.
Mid-flight on transatlantic flights, a snack basket is set up in the galley while on longer Middle Eastern/Indian/transpacific flights, midflight snacks are served on a tray. Ninety minutes before landing, a pre-arrival meal is served that varies depending on the time of day. It typically includes a hot or cold option.
Special meals are available for pre-order, which can be placed online or via phone including vegetarian, low-calorie, Kosher, or bland meals. There is no “dine-on-demand” service, but there is an option to have an express meal served all at once after takeoff. The flight crew is willing to oblige special request if time allows.
Before takeoff, a tray of water, orange juice or sparkling wine is passed around to each seat. After takeoff, more beverages from the bar are available including two white wines, two red wines, Champagne, port, and several international beers.
A list of spirits and liqueurs are available with mixers plus juice, soft drinks, coffee and tea. The beverage selection can sometimes vary depending on the destination with things like sake or green tea on flights to Asia.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
United’s unionised flight attendants vary in their service from exceptionally friendly and professional to indifferent, but it depends more on the individual than the route. Most passengers will find the service to be warm, personable and welcoming with conversation often made between the crew and passengers.
United’s aircraft vary slightly in the type of entertainment programming they offer, but all come with ample selection on wide screens. Even its narrowbody Boeing 757 has large screens with plentiful movies, short subjects like sitcoms and international music selections. United flights have it all and in impressive quantity. Programming is available in many languages with noise-reducing headphones available before takeoff at each seat.
An impressive 3-D moving map display is available on international flights allowing you to zoom in to different parts of the world and see your aircraft from varying angles inflight.
Inflight wireless internet is available on most international flights for a fee, which is charged based on time limit (not data usage).
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi.
United often partners with different brands for its kits including the occasional movie-themed or destination-themed collector’s amenity kits stocked to the brim with skincare products like face and hand lotions plus lip balm and dental kits among other things. The lavatories have other niceties including wrinkle-free spray for clothes and facial mist.
The airline is well-known for its Polaris bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue, which includes a gel cooling pillow, lumbar support pillow and large head pillow. There is also a duvet and a day blanket plus slippers for Asia-bound passengers.
Families travelling with infants can request a bassinet on long-haul flights to use at certain seats.
In addition to long-haul, widebody flights, United Polaris with its flat-bed seating and premium menus is available on domestic transcontinental flights between New York/New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco. It is also available on other select routes including transcontinental flights from Boston among a few others. A similar menu to long-haul flights is available based on the time of flight. The same excellent Saks Fifth Avenue bedding as well as amenity kits are on offer as well.
The airline offers a similar open bar on domestic Polaris flights as on most international flights. It should be noted that on these planes, business class seats can vary based on the aircraft used, and United is known to fly different narrowbody and widebody planes on these routes. This means you may have direct-aisle access on one flight, but have to crawl over your seatmate on another.
Flying both wide and narrowbody aircraft, United Polaris – with its flat-bed seats and premium menus – is available on certain popular domestic routes - including New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, and out of Boston. A similar menu to long-haul flights is available - based on the time of flight. The same excellent Saks Fifth Avenue bedding as well as amenity kits are on offer. The airline offers a similar open bar on domestic Polaris flights as on most of its international flight. Because United flies different sized aircraft domestically, passengers may have direct-aisle access on one flight but have to crawl over their neighbour on another.
To add to the confusion, the airline offers United First on the majority of domestic routes – the ones that do not feature Polaris. United First is akin to a Business Class product. Comfortable recliner seats and an open bar are trademarks of domestic First Class within the US, with the food offering often reduced to the minimum even on relatively long domestic flights
United Airlines leads the North American carriers when it comes to sustainability. Last year. It made a commitment that by 2050, it will be completely “green” and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 100%. United was one of the first airlines to test bio-fuels on its flights. It is spending millions of dollars on its Direct Air Capture technology which inherently removes harmful CO2 from the air. It also continues to invest in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Since 2016, United has used the most SAF of any international airline.
United also became the first airline to fly with Boeing’s Split Scimitar winglets – which reduces fuel consumption by 2%.
Onboard, United has eliminated non-recyclable plastic stirring sticks and cocktails picks - replacing them with eco-friendly bamboo ones. United was the first US airline to repurpose items from international premium cabin amenity kits – donating them to the Clean The World charity – that donates hygiene products to those in critical need.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally friendly aircraft.