In creating its Polaris business class, United Airlines has tapped into the demands of today’s savvy world traveler. Nick Walton checks in to see the future of premium air travel to and from the US.
A big part of the United Polaris experience is a reinvention of the airline lounge. While it would compete with many lounges in Asia, the Polaris Lounge at San Francisco International Airport is truly pioneering for the US air travel scene and combines a quiet lounge setting and adjacent shower suites downstairs, with a sophisticated cocktail bar, self-service snack area, and restaurant-styled dining room upstairs. Finally, you have a reason to be at the airport hours before your flight.
Our boarding process at gate 98 was slightly delayed but soon enough Polaris guests were invited to follow approximately 30 gold status travelers and make their way through to the plane. Once onboard a cheerful crew member called Mae took lunch orders (including a second option) and offered glasses of champagne, one of a revolving selection curated by master sommelier Doug Frost.
United opted to create its own seat for the Polaris business class cabin and the results of more than 12,000 hours of research are certainly impressive. Designed in partnership with Acumen Design Associates and Priestman Goode, and manufactured by Zodiac, the pod-style seat not only offers
direct aisle access, and a 180-degree, but converts into a six-foot six-inch bed in the skies, promising a great night’s sleep on Trans-Pacific routes. There’s one-touch lumbar support, mood lighting, a Do Not Disturb feature, electronic dividers, and a 16-inch personal monitor.
In addition to the cutting-edge seat, United teamed up with Saks Fifth Avenue to create luxurious bedding, duvets, and day blankets, while slippers, gel-cooled pillows, and comprehensive amenity kits are also on offer. I did notice that the customized Polaris pajamas never made an appearance.
The United Polaris business class features regionally influenced menus created in partnership with The Trotter Project and paired with some great wines. On our westbound flight, we stared with smoked duck with farro salad, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds; followed by a choice of seared beef short rib; stir-fried beef; spicy chicken in a coconut broth; and deep-fried shrimp.
The duck was delicate and perfectly proportioned while the spicy chicken with udon noodles was the epitome of comfort food, especially when matched with a Gunderloch Red Stone Riesling. The bespoke sundaes are worth breaking the diet for, and an express option allowed a few travelers some additional sleep time. A range of snacks was also available throughout the 14-hour flight, and breakfast, served two hours out from Hong Kong, included the choice of a Provence-style omelet; or Chinese congee with chicken sausage.
American carriers often get a bad rap for their service but that’s certainly changing on competitive routes to Asia and I found the United crew to be proactive, friendly, and engaging, although self-service counters and a great inflight entertainment system probably takes some of the load off.
United created the Polaris business class to be a groundbreaking product that allows travelers to use their time in the air to their advantage, and the result is a thoroughly modern and sophisticated experience that draws the hemispheres together with style and luxury.
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