Say goodbye to Global First; say hello to Polaris Business Class…
Last week I attended the UA Polaris Business Class event in San Francisco where I got the chance to be among the first to get hands-on with a working demo of UA’s new biz class seat. While it’s going to be a slow rollout for United, the idea of having an updated business class hard product is super compelling to me, because I currently try to avoid flying their business class whenever possible, due in large part to the 2-4-2 configuration — I think we can all agree that everyone in business class should have direct aisle access 🙂 That said, I loved flying United when I did, mostly because of my Global Services status…and the ability to book Star Alliance awards pretty easily using Chase points. Once I lost GS and their award chart devaluation hit, I bailed for Delta and their consistent (if not super amazing) Delta One Business Class product. But, being the premium cabin whore that I am, could United’s new business class win me back??
First, a bit about the event
I got invited by a GS friend as a +1, and supposedly this event was only open to elites and press. On offer was the chance to get into a working seat, explore the new Polaris amenities, and sample food and beverage inspired by the product. I’m not sure if it was the free food and cocktails or the seats, but either way I was surprised at how packed the event was.
Not a bad turnout at the SFO Polaris event!
The seats were at the center of the floor behind the Polaris lounge bar, and the sides of the room were lined with various demos of new Polaris amenities: bedding (by Saks Fifth Avenue), dining and food/beverages, and finally the new Polaris amenity kits, PJs, etc. — everything had an upgraded business class feel to it. The last portion was the VR demo of the Polaris experience, but I decided to skip that in favor of more time with the seats. The gallery below shows the main showcase areas of the event if you’re curious:
The new amenities…though the kit looks the same as the current ones
The new Polaris PJs
New bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue – a first
The Polaris VR experience
The Polaris lounge/bar
New tableware and flatware
View from behind the seat showcase
Onward to the seat, already! First stop: aisle-side seats
After waiting in line with a glass of malbec I finally got the chance to sit in one of the seats. The first was one of the angled seats which will always face into the aisle no matter which side you’re on, and these will also be the seats that are away from the window when positioned on the side of the aircraft. I call these “aisle-side” as they’re closest to the actual aisle, with the console either at cabin centerline or next to the window/cabin wall, leaving the seat more exposed than the other type found in Polaris business class.
United Polaris Business Class Seat (aisle-side)
The consensus is that these seats offer a lot more upper body room, but the footwell is cramped…and it really is. In bed mode my feet were almost squished together and I’m not a particularly tall person.
The footwell in bed mode
As you can see, not only does the screen come out pretty far – part way up my thigh – but the foot area is cramped. Check out the side-by-side comparison below:
The smaller aisle-side foot well in the new United Polaris business class seat
The MUCH larger window-side/middle foot well
In bed mode, though, these seats offer a lot of upper body room which will be great for those with broad shoulders or those who like to stretch out a lot when sleeping.
Fully flat bed in United Polaris
Next stop: window/center seats, the better of the two seats to choose (IMHO)…
The second seat I sat in was one of the forward-facing seats that will either be positioned against the window (when on the side of the aircraft) or along the centerline of the cabin next to another forward-facing seat on the other side of the electronically-controlled divider.
United Polaris window-side and interior seats
As you can see there is no angle to these seats, and the upper body space is visibly less roomy than in the aisle-side seats. The plus is that these seats have the console next to the aisle, which means a more private, suite-like feel, especially at the window. Further adding to the appeal of these particular seats is the enlarged footwell, which is one of the roomier ones I’ve seen in the reverse herringbone seats I’ve flown lately (DL, QR, AF). Egress is pretty tight but no worse than Delta’s reverse herringbone, for example.
Fairly tight squeeze getting out of these particular seats
It’s all in the details
It’s clear that United and Acumen put a lot of thought into the details of each seat, which you can see in the galleries below. I love the sconce lamp (a la British Airways First Class), the separate reading light, the very first-class-feeling seat indicators and do-not-disturb sign, and finally the intuitive seat controls.
Nice design touch with the sconce lamp!
Reading light – machined aluminum, not plastic
Very intuitive seat and lighting controls
New do not disturb & seat indicators give a very premium feel to the seat/cabin
Other nice touches include excellent privacy for a business class seat, the new upper storage compartment, the laptop-saving traytable that can slide out of your way when you get out of your seat mid-meal, well-placed IFE controls and 110/230v outlet, and a console table large enough to hold your laptop…or several glasses of wine 🙂
Good privacy, unlike Qatar!
View of the inside console, reading light, and storage area
Upper storage compartment/headphone storage
Solid traytable design
Upper storage area on ‘middle’ seats
This all sounds great…what’s the catch??
There’s always a catch! Make no mistake: this is still a very high-density product, which means it will feel cramped when compared to the competition (that largely operate 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configurations, or better…). In fact, this design allows United to run the same number of premium seats per aircraft even after a retrofit from their 3-cabin configuration to the 2-cabin Polaris/economy config. So while it’s not going to win any awards for spaciousness, it is still very much a good business class seat, and I would even venture to call the window seats in this configuration very good/great — it sure beats the BusinessFirst seats on the 788/789!!
So, am I headed back to United?
This is definitely a solid and much-needed upgrade for United’s premium product, but given the slooooow rollout schedule it’s unlikely I’d make the switch just for this product, considering I’d have to start from zero when it comes to status. Once this product makes it fleetwide I’d consider putting more revenue miles on United if I thought I could land Global Services again, but by that time Delta will have begun installing its Delta One business class suites, so I’ll probably stick with DL.
What do you think?
Does this look like a winner, or more like an incremental upgrade over the current product? Let us know in your comments below!