Flight Review: San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK) on United Business Class 767 Polaris
United Airlines recently upgraded their fleet from the 1990s style Business class cabin of the past to the brand new 767-300 Polaris interior on the premium transcontinental routes. The plane has only 167 seats with 46 business class pods that are cozy and very private. Thanks to a lucky plane swap, we had the chance to experience this luxury a few weeks ago.
We checked in online and had quite a bit of luggage so we took full advantage of the Premier Access area at the airport, towards the end of Terminal 3 at SFO. Premier Access has a large area situated right next to the Global Services lounge and TSA Precheck.
There was no line so we walked right up, delivered our luggage and were on our way to the Clear lane.
There are two United club lounges in Terminal 3. There is the modern, clean lounge as well the very old and “San Francisco” themed lounge. We personally are not fans of the packaged crackers and cube cheese, so we prefer to head to the Centurion Lounge, thanks to our American Express Platinum Card.
The Centurion Lounge had a 2-5 minute wait, which was the first time that’s happened since the start of the pandemic. Regardless, we waited just a few short minutes before we were called to check in – note that checking in on the app in advance does not actually do anything to get you ahead in line.
The Centurion Lounge offered a buffet that was served by a lounge associate with chicken, brussel sprouts, salad and panna cotta for dessert. Their food hasn’t changed in the last year, but it’s good and consistent. Their bar is still open, but the speciality wine tasting machine is not operational at this time.
Boarding for this flight was pretty funny due to the large number of travelers in Business Class. When Group 1 was called, a large percentage of the flight fought to get a spot in the Group 1 boarding lane. It felt like the whole plane lined up to board in Group 1 between all the business class passengers and elite members.
There was a slight delay after they had the flight line up, but we boarded within 15 minutes.
Cabin & Seat
The Boeing 767-300 is has 167 seats total with 46 Polaris seats, 22 Premium Plus (Premium Economy) seats and 99 coach seats. The plane has 1-1-1 seating in Business Class, meaning everyone has direct aisle access and an extremely private seat. Unlike our Air France configuration on the 777, the Business Cabin on this flight does have some ideal seats and some not as ideal seating.
Odd numbered rows are the ideal seats, particularly on the window, due to the seat being tucked against the window, allowing for greater privacy and distance from the aisle. On this flight, I was in 3L and Max was in 5L. Of every seat in business class, 3L and 3A had the BEST setup thanks to the 3 windows. Every other seat has 1-2 windows, but row 3 is the only one with 3 entire windows. It provided an incredible vantage point over the earth and was beautifully lit up at sunset.
The pods themselves are private, cozy and well designed in terms of the decor and functionality. While I don’t think they did quite as good fo a job cleaning as they did during the height of the pandemic, the seat itself was comfortable, spacious and relaxing. The full flat-bed configuration was ideal for TV watching, or for sleeping, and both Max and I remarked that the memory foam cushion was the most comfortable seat between the Air France or Delta flights that we have taken in the last year.
There are many elegant features to the seat, including the faux-marble table top and accents. There is a nice reading light (push down on the top to turn it on), an outlet with USB charger, a water bottle holder with a water inside as well as movable armrest. There is also the nice addition of a cubby that opens up with a mirror that is excellent for phones or other items that end up flying all over the place during takeoff and landing. It’s a great way to store items during the flight that you may otherwise lost. There are headphones included, but I prefer my own noise cancelling (Bang & Olufsen) and Max prefers his Bose noise cancelling.
The seat converts to a layflat bed via convenient buttons and you can self-select the most comfortable position for tv-watching and eating. There is a coat hook, or as we say, a mask hook, located to the left as well as the tray table that pulls out from beneath the TV.
Overall, the Polaris seat is an excellent hard product and we really enjoyed the comfort and privacy. One note I would say is to avoid row 1 in the center. They did end up utilizing the space in front of row 1 to put all the snacks and waters so it was not very private and was a bit disruptive to the passenger.
Amenities & Entertainment
Our experience included the signature memory foam pillow (blue) as well as the soft Saks 5th Avenue pillow and a wool-cashmere style blanket. The blanket was not warm and I did request a blanket from Economy because the plane was extremely cold. I would have preferred a duvet, but at least the pillows were amazing.
The amenity kit was an olympics themed kit that included a few basic essentials, like chapstick, earplugs, a dental kit and an eye mask. It was absolutely nothing to write home about, unfortunately.
There were ample movies to cover the 5 hour flight, but the TV shows had odd episode choices, which makes it hard to get into a show and binge.
The TV itself was responsive and there is a remote that is much easier to access located above the marble table. The remote makes it so you do not need to lean across the pod to access the movies.
Sadly, the dining was just not up to par on this flight. As someone who has been lucky to fly United business class before (braise short rib fans, who’s with me??), we were pretty disappointed by the unhealthy, mediocre, kind of cold food they offered. Apparently, gone are the days of three courses, fresh bread, fresh salads and a make your own ice cream sundae cart. They offered a chicken dish or a ravioli and we both ended up going with the ravioli. Along with the ravioli was an ice cold salad and frozen bread roll in a bag.
The most bizarre part of all this was not that it was all served at once like an international economy meal, but rather that half the meal was on ceramic/glass and the drinks and nuts were served in plastic. We thought it was just…frankly, bizarre that they serve all their beverages in plastic but the food was served on real plates. We briefly inquired and the lovely flight attendants were very uncertain and said it was due to COVID-19. Why some things are covid-safe on plates and some aren’t, I have no idea. Similarly, the silverware was real silverware in a nice napkin, so really, we hope it’s just a matter of time before they bring back real glassware…and short rib…hopefully short rib.
Lastly, the dessert was not the fabulous ice cream sundae cart, but rather a very mediocre sorbet. They did offer a number of snack bags and nibbles in the galleys, but we also noticed a lack of healthy options there.
Regarding drinks, they have brought back sparkling wine (good), red wine (ok), white wine (terrible) and a number of excellent cocktails and beers. I can personally recommend the sparkling and the cocktail offerings, but I would personally stay away from the white.
The service overall was excellent. The flight attendants were so cheery, attentive and genuinely service minded. They were always around, making sure everyone was happy and had full glasses. You could tell they were accustomed to the pre-COVID way of doing things and they did their best to provide a high quality experience, even with the (sometimes bizarre) regulations.
Overall, the hard product is amazing. The privacy and comfort of the seat are exceptional and it’s absolutely an incredible experience. We do hope that the food quality and facilitation aspects of the flight do improve as the hospitality industry begins to stop using COVID as an excuse for everything. Once the airline brings back the high-quality meal service and silverware, we feel they will be able to actually compete in the market once again. The service from the staff was excellent and they really did make the experience very enjoyable.