Although United is gradually phasing out its international first class product, 777-2oos featuring an eight-seat first class section could conceivably be operating for the next three years as United gradually retrofits its fleet. What is the difference between Polaris First and Business on United? Is it worthwhile splurging for Polaris First?
First, let’s start with United’s branding challenge. Not all “United Polaris” seats are the same. Currently, United’s actual, new Polaris Business seats are found only on 777-3ooERs and a single retrofitted 767-300.
But that hasn’t stopped United from labeling its entire lie-flat premium cabin across the fleet, with some seats more than a decade old, as Polaris. For this post, I will be comparing Polaris First to the Polaris Business class seats available on the same aircraft. Please note there is another variant of business class seats offered on certain two-cabin 777-200s, 767s, and 787s.
The most pronounced differences between Polaris First and Business is the seat. While the new Polaris Business Class seat is arguably even comfortable (and certainly more private) than the current Polaris First seat, I’ll be comparing Polaris First vs. Polaris Business on pre-merger United 777-200s, the only aircraft where these seats will be found (as the 747 fleet is retired and the 767 more rapidly retrofitted).
Polaris First contains open suites in a 1-2-1 configuration. The cabin contains eight seats, though one seat is reserved for pilot rest. In lie-flat mode, the bed is 6’6″ and the seat is 23″ wide.
United Polaris Business class on aircraft equipped with Polaris First is far denser. The 777-200 configuration is 2-4-2 in business class. Each seat is lie-flat, but if you’re stuck in the middle getting over your neighbor may be annoying. Seat width is 20″ and the bed is 6’2″ in lie-flat mode.
Polaris First is far more comfortable and roomy.
2. Personal Storage
One of the biggest complaints concerning the “old” Polaris business class seats are the lack of personal storage. On the eight-across 777s there is absolutely no personal storage except for a small cubby hold for your shoes beneath the ottoman.
Meanwhile, the Polaris First seat has incredible personal storage, especially if you have a window seat. Note the compartments in the photo above — one is about two feet deep and encompasses the entire frame of the seat. There is also a cabinet adjacent to the seat with a mesh pocket that can hold your wallet, passport and mobile phone. On the other side is another deep cabinet that has plenty of room for personal items.
2. Amenity Kit
Polaris First passengers receive an enhanced amenity kit with additional items, which vary by cycle. These have included mouth wash, hand sanitizer, hand lotion and a wooden comb in the past. Lately, however, the contents seem to be identical to the business class kit except the color of the kit itself.
United eliminated one of the two pillows from Polaris Business Class earlier this year. That second pillow has not been eliminated from Polaris First Class. It is unnecessary anyway, as the larger pillow is ideal for sleeping and memory foam gel pillows are available upon request.
4. Mixed Nut Refills
In Polaris First, refills are offered on mixed nuts from a silver dish. Refills are rarely offered in Polaris Business.
Served with the mixed nuts, Polaris First passengers are offered a small canapé to begin the meal service. Polaris Business passengers receive only mixed nuts.
One of my favorite aspects of flying in Polaris First is the inclusion of a soup course with the main meal service. United does soup very well–I’ve never had bad soup. Last winter, United offered grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup or lobster bisque in both Polaris First and Polaris Business. Hopefully soup will return to the Polaris snack menu this winter.
7. Choice of Salad Dressing + Cracked Pepper
When United rolled out its new Polaris dining concept last December, it eliminated choice of salad dressing and bread in Polaris Business. While even Polaris First no longer has a bread choice, passengers are still offered two kinds of salad dressings that are ladled from a bowl. Polaris Business class passengers receive a bottle of oil and vinegar on their meal tray. Speaking of meal trays, Polaris First passengers are served on trays now just like in Polaris Business. Polaris First does still include fresh cracked pepper on your salad.
There is no doubt, in my sample of six Polaris First flights, that service is much more personalized than in Polaris Business. While service is always hit or miss on United, the small cabin inherently lends itself to more personalized service.
You can see that the differences between Polaris First and Polaris Business are rather limited in terms of soft product, though Polaris First seat is far better than Polaris Business on the same aircraft. Would I splurge for Polaris First? It depends on the route. Not to Europe, where Polaris is 80K and too short to justify the 10K premium over partner business class. But to Asia, I’d take United Polaris First over ANA and Asiana transpacific business class (not over EVA). The price is identical: 80K one-way for partner business class or United Polaris First.
What is your experience flying Polaris First? Was it worth it?