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United we fly…flat
United first introduced their new business class, Polaris, back in June of 2016. Later that year, December 1, they put their very first 77W fit with the new product into service. Since then, I’ve been quite eager to give them a go, but with United’s slow roll out, limited award availability with Polaris on select routes, and the fact that United isn’t my preferred airline has resulted in a delayed experience for us here at Monkey Miles. That all changed with an incredible twist of fate.
To set the stage, Dave and I were on a trip galavanting across South America when I got word from my fiancee that our dog was quite sick. If you’re a pet owner you know the feeling. Luckily, she was stable, but it meant our trip would need to be cut short by 2 days so I could be back to take care of her over the Thanksgiving holiday. She’s fine now, but it was very dicey, and honestly had I known how bad she was I would have flown home sooner. Anyways…
Situations like these highlight a few things for me.
- Change your trip. You can always go back.
- Things will go wrong when you’re traveling, they just will, but you need to be confident in your ability to ascertain a proper course of action and lean into it. Granted, I recognize that I’m on the extreme end of this spectrum as it’s not unusual for me to leave on trips without a return flight, and I do this kind of thing for a living, but you can do it too. The resolution exists.
- Points are incredible
- Had we paid out of pocket we would have incurred huge change fees, repricing, etc, but we didn’t, and this is one of those glorious perks of points travel. Our original flight back via EZE on AA metal had been booked via Alaska and Cathay Pacific. I’m elite with AS so my fee was waived, and Dave paid 12k miles to redeposit. He could have also paid $120. Within roughly an hour of making the decision to reroute, I was able to find us an alternate flight on United metal out of GRU.
- When a door closes, a window seat opens or something like that 😉
The couple of days we cut off the trip were from Iguazu Falls and Rio, and while there were several multiple stop options on the likes Latam, Avianca, and Copa, but none of them presented appealing flight times, products, or routing options. Ultimately, we decided to redeem some Amex points via Aeroplan and book into flights that would route us from São Paulo ( GRU ) to Chicago ( ORD ) for 60k points with no close-in booking fees. Seeing as though our original flight was from Buenos Aires on American’s 77W in a great Cirrus fitted business class, flying on an old United plane was a significant downgrade.
Then that all changed.
The night before there was an equipment change, and we got a retrofitted plane 777-200 with United’s stunning new business class. Even better? Two middle, bulkhead seats were open for our choosing.
- When: November 2018
- Where: São Paulo to Chicago
- Flight: UA844
- Flight Time: 10h 25 m
- Seat: 9D
- Program Used: Aeroplan 60k + $30
How do you get the points to fly like this?
There are several programs you can use to generate points that have access to United inventory. We happened to use Amex and transferred to Aeroplan, but here’s a list with redemption prices.
- Aeroplan, 60k
- Avianca, 50k
- Singapore Airlines, 57.5k
- ANA ( 88k roundtrip )
- American Express ( Learn more )
- United – 55k
- Chase ( Learn more )
I would note that United has removed their award chart, so their program valuation assigned is what the chart would say if the chart still existed. The access by partners, listed above, is also dependent on United releasing that inventory to partners, and at the time of publishing, we don’t quite know when that happens and when it doesn’t.
Looking at seat maps courtesy of SeatGuru.
Let’s first look at what we would have been flying on United’s old 772 without retrofit.
United still flies 3 cabin planes, but they market them as two cabin. The old first class seats are given to United elites, or by some sort of luck of the draw if you carry no status. Perhaps to higher paying revenue passengers, perhaps to revenue over award, but aside from Global Services/1K I don’t think there is a consistent way to ascertain sitting in the old first class seats. I had been monitoring the load in that cabin and was going to try and sweet talk our way in…I’ve flown those seats before and they’re pretty awesome, and a massive improvement over the 2-4-2 configured business class cabin we’d otherwise be assigned. 4 SEAT center section…yikes. The old first class had remained nearly open until I checked our flight and saw the cabin had changed. I immediately jumped out of my chair and ran around our room at the JW Rio. We’d landed Polaris.
Now let’s take a look at the new Polaris business class that has been put into 772s as a retrofit.
If you’re savvy on Polaris you’ll notice that the cabins are actually flipped when compared to the 77W. On the 772, the mini cabin is the rear business class cabin; however, the bulkhead seats in either cabin are where it’s at due to their larger footwells. Despite Seat Guru marking row 9 yellow due to its proximity to the galley, that’s where we ultimately chose to sit. I love mini cabins, and felt it’d be a superior experience than sitting in the larger forward cabin.
We’d flown into GRU via Azul and arrived well ahead of the 4 hour window when check-in begins. We grabbed a Starbucks and waited. While we queued up for the Elite/Business Class line, it was rather hectic and disorganized. One thing about large International airports is you quickly realize the customs of your native country aren’t adopted, recognized, or respected by other cultures. The more you travel the more you realize that being in line doesn’t guarantee other people will line up behind you, and there are certainly cultures where entrance into anything is a free for all. United personnel ended up intervening to usher line cutters away from those of us who had formed our own line.
Lounge/Priority Pass Restaurant
We visited a couple of lounge/restaurant options. The first was the Star Alliance lounge which is not only accessible via a business class ticket/Star Alliance elite status, but also via a Priority Pass membership. It’s a nice lounge, but was packed. Ultimately we moved further into Terminal 3 and used our Priority Pass to dine at Bleriot.
We entered through first forward door and turned right into the forward business class cabin. The cabin felt super fresh, modern, and met my expectation. As you can see it’s configured 1-2-1 across 8 rows. Alternating rows sit either closer to the aisle, or your partner/window if on the outside of the plane. It’s a handsome cabin, but let’s venture back to where we were sitting in the mini cabin.
The Mini Cabin
We were seated in middle seats of the first row of the mini cabin, row 9D and G. The mini cabin is spread across 4 rows, 1-2-1, plus row 15 which has only window seats on either side of the plane. You can see in the pic without Miles that the divider is raised between the seats…much needed if you’re in an argument or you just don’t know the person you’re seated next to 🙂
Choosing bulkhead seats.
Whether you’re flying together, or on your own, my personal preference are those at the very front of the cabin. Some won’t like the proximity to the galleys, but the increased footwell space is a high value target when you wear size 12 shoes. This increased space is because the seat doesn’t have to tuck under another seat in front of it, and we like taking advantage of that little fact.
Conversely…here are some other seating options
You’ll notice on 11A that you are set next to the window. 9A is the same but offers a larger footwell. Conversely, 12A, and the other even rows are set on the aisle. Personally, I’d always choose to have a barrier between me and any passengers/crew that are traversing the cabin for whatever reason compels them. If you’re traveling with someone…the odd numbered middle rows set you right next to your companion, the even rows put you on the aisle with space avoiding an awkward midflight encounter if you’re placed next to a stranger. There are also partitions that come up to divide.
A tour of the seat
The seat is 22inches wide with 78in pitch. I don’t know the exact length of the bed, but at 6′ I never wanted for bed length.
The seating controls are fairly easy to use, but I did, at time, find the control to raise and lower the seat from take-off position to bed to be harder to use than necessary. It’s a cool idea to use a disk, but the Cathay controls, for instance, are far more intuitive and easy to use.
There is one large storage cabinet where you’ll find a mirror and your headphones and space to put your personal belongings. This really seems like a missed opportunity – a brand new seat and only one true storage container? Comparing this with the likes of Cathay or Air France, even AA’s Super Diamond, which will soon be BA’s Super Diamond, UA’s Polaris falls short. I like when I have a storage unit close to where my hands or head are while sleeping. When it’s this far away from me during bed mode, and fairly accessible to passersby, I’m left feeling more vulnerable to in-flight theft than on other airlines.
Below the cabinet you’ll find your IFE controls and a worldwide universal power port with USB. The IFE unit is intuitive with a bright display and provides nearly commensurate selections as you’d find on AA, which I think has the best selection of movies/tv of any airline in the sky.
The Amenity Kit.
Luxurious Cowshed products await you along with a much improved eye mask. In fact, United’s new eyemask is very similar, albeit smaller, to the one I received aboard Qantas First Class last year.
The best part is the Saks bedding.
The bedding is incredible. Not one, but two pillows ( one of which is a cooling gel pillow), a mattress pad, blanket, and comforter. When it comes to business bedding…is there better? I’m not sure there is. AA and BA have upped their bedgame and Qsuites have decent bedding, but UA is downright luxurious. I even lucked out and had no one sitting in 9A and used one of the white pillows from that seat. 3 pillows? Where am I the Four Seasons?
The seat is pretty cushy, and I found it to be wider near the shoulders than the AA Super Diamond 772 I flew down on, and having just flown QSuites prior to writing this review, I found it to be softer and easier on my back that Qatar’s seat.
The Food and Service
United isn’t necessarily known for providing the best food or service in the air, but I was pleasantly surprised with both. In fact, I would love to fly with this crew any day of the week. Our flight attendant was super friendly, helpful, and joked around with us throughout the flight…taking pics, ribbing us for not having champagne, and doing her best to make our experience memorable. It’s amazing what a difference this can make regarding the reputation of an airline. If this crew was indicative of all United flights…they’d be top of the heap.
Mixed nuts and beverage started things off. I wasn’t going to have any alcohol on the ride back so I went with a ginger ale. From there we moved into the amuse bouche of cantaloupe and prosciutto which I didn’t eat, and then to the entre of shrimp and pappardelle. I was pleasantly surprised with all of them, but my favorite item came last. The dessert trolly. Gimme my ice cream sundae with everything on it please. Thank you.
The food isn’t on par with Qatar, but it’s decent enough, and if your flight time is long enough I would opt to make time to enjoy it. Conversely, if you’re on a tight flight, I’d go with the express option, or just eat in the lounge.
I wasn’t really hungry for breakfast when it was delivered, but I had a few bites of cereal and ate the fruit, which aside from the melon, was good.
I really enjoyed the experience, and certainly would do it again. In fact, I already have, aboard their flagship 777-300ER from Newark to Tel Aviv. While there are areas which could be improved, I found the service, bed, seat, entertainment, etc to be competitive in the industry. Hell…they blow Virgin’s old Upper out of the water, certainly BA when it comes to hard product, and I’d choose to fly United over similar seats on Swiss, Lufthansa, Austrian, KLM, etc. Those airlines garner better reputations when it comes to service, but this crew was tip top. The biggest problem is United’s lack of availability on this product and the atrocious gutting of their program which resulted in a dynamic award chart. That aside…The Polaris seat offers privacy, a nice IFE, quality amenity kit, and a killer bed. I’m anxious to see how the new products from Virgin and BA compare, but this is a darn good product and one I would love to fly again.
South America 2018: Buenos Aires, Uruguayan Wine Country, Iguazu Falls, and Rio
- Planning a Two Week trip to South America with points and miles
- American Express Centurion Lounge Las Vegas
- American Airlines Business Class 757 Las Vegas to Miami
- American Airlines Flagship Lounge Miami
- Corona Beach House, Priority Pass Restaurant
- American Airlines Business Class 777-200 Miami to Buenos Aires
- Planning a weekend trip to Buenos Aires
- Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
- How to get from Buenos Aires to Colonia via Ferry
- Buquebus Buenos Aires to Uruguay
- Carmelo Resort, A Hyatt Unbound Collection
- Wine Tasting in Uruguay
- How we problem solved a passport stamp issue in Uruguay
- Colonia Express Uruguay to Buenos Aires
- Intercontinental Buenos Aires
- Andes Lineas Aereas Economy Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls
- Iguazu Grand Iguazu Falls
- Guide to visiting Iguazu Falls in just one day
- GOL Economy Iguazu Falls to Rio
- JW Marriott Rio, Copacabana
- Planning a weekend trip to Rio
- Azul Economy Rio to São Paulo
- Bleriot Priority Pass Restaurant São Paulo
- Star Alliance Lounge São Paulo GRU
- United Polaris Business Class São Paulo to Chicago
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