United's New B767-300ER Polaris Business Class, GRU-IAD
Background: The trip from Philadelphia to Salvador, Bahia, Brasil is a long one, requiring more than a full day of travel time to complete the journey. My outbound itinerary had been PHL-ORD-GRU-SSA, on a United B737-800, a United B777-200ER with the original 2-4-2 United Business Class, and finally an Avianca Brasil A320. My return itinerary was scheduled to be the same as the outbound, only in reverse: SSA-GRU-ORD-PHL with an Avianca A320, a United 777-200ER (again with the original 2-4-2 seating), and then a United B737-800. On the morning of my return trip, United informed me of a 12h delay on GRU-ORD, and changed me to SSA-GIG-IAH-PHL, on an Avianca A320, a United B767-300ER with the new Polaris seats, and a United A320. At this stage I was quite excited to have avoided a ridiculous delay, and to have landed a Polaris flight in the brand new seats!
Avianca Brasil A320, PR-ONS
My Avianca flight ended up being on the exact same plane I'd flown on my way into Salvador one week prior, PR-ONS, only the fifth time I've ever repeated a registration number, and always surprising to do so on a foreign airline. The Avianca SSA-GIG flight was delayed, though, so I made it to Rio, but missed my connection. After 5h at the rebooking counter and a night in Rio, my next itinerary was SDU-GRU-IAD-PHL on an Azul E195, a United B767-300ER, and a United Express CRJ-700. At this stage I was happy to get a new itinerary home, and also to get on a new airline, Azul. And fortunately this particular United B767-300ER was also due to feature the new Polaris seats. My upcoming travel plans weren't likely to include the limited Polaris routes, so I was really happy to unexpectedly get to try Polaris. And I really hoped for no further disruptions to my travel plans.
My day got off to a good start when my Azul E195, PR-AYE, arrived to SDU early. Azul became my second E195 operator after Air Dolomiti. I particularly liked the idea of flying on a Brazilian plane with a Brazilian airline in Brazil, and Azul didn't disappoint, with good on-time performance and excellent inflight service.
Azul E195, PR-AYE
With a quick and enjoyable fifty minutes in flight, Azul got me to GRU T1 ten minutes early. I proceeded to transit to GRU T3 by way of the GRU terminal transfer bus.
And now onto my United B767-300ER Polaris experience. Please enjoy the report, and I look forward to your comments.
Departure: 21:20 (actual 21:50)
Arrival: 06:20+1 (actual 07:30+1)
Actual Block Time: 9h40
Actual Flight Time: 9h17
Seat: 9A Polaris Business Class
I arrived to GRU T3 and found United's check-in area. My baggage had already been checked through to my final destination, and Azul had even provided all the boarding passes for my itinerary, but I wanted to obtain some official United boarding passes. The United check-in opened shortly after 17:00. I was airside by 17:35, exactly 3h before boarding at 20:35. I headed to the Star Alliance Lounge, right after passport control. It was a very large lounge, very nice, and I was looking forward to the lounge to enjoy my final Brazilian beer, a caipirinha, and a shower. Even more than usual, today I really enjoyed relaxing in the lounge, letting the stress of multiple rebookings and substantial delays fade away and become replaced with anticipation of my first-ever flight in the new United Polaris seats, on a nice, long 4,700mi flight. For a flight obtained through a lot of effort and stress, it turned out to be a pretty good itinerary.
Departing Star Alliance flights were being announced in the lounge, but I left early, intending to be among the first to board. The result was only a short line beginning to form at Gate 311, a bus gate. On-time pre-boarding began at 20:35, followed by Group 1, United Premier 1K, and United Polaris.
The bus drove us to our waiting United B767-300ER, N656UA. This aircraft had its first flight in December 1992, and in December, 2017, became the fourth UA B767-300ER to be retrofitted with the new interior. I left the bus and headed up the stairs into Door L1 and the beautiful new Polaris cabin.
N656UA during boarding:
First impressions? Excellent! A very modern design, with United signature blue accents. I went back to my seat, 9A, a window seat with maximum privacy. The seat was provisioned with Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, including a large pillow, blanket, and comforter, and also the menu for today's flight, bottled water, and headphones.
United Polaris features a unique staggered format of seating. Odd row 'A' or 'L' window seats are adjacent to the window and forward-facing, with a side table between the seat and the aisle. Even row 'A' or 'L' window seats are angled towards the aisle, with their side table adjacent to the window. There is also a column of seats in the middle between the two aisles. The even 'D' seats are angled towards the first aisle, and the odd 'F' are parallel to the second aisle. Both have a partition providing privacy from the other aisle. It looked like pretty much any seat would be a good seat with good privacy. The odd window seats offered the most privacy. The odd center 'F' seats would be the least desirable since they're fully parallel to, and adjacent to the aisle.
Let's check out my Polaris seat 9A. Below the IFE screen is the tray table, currently stowed, and a storage space for magazines and the like. Below that, the seat offers a large footwell. Under the footwell is another storage space for your shoes.
IFE Screen, USB port, magazine storage, and United blue trim:
Legroom Shot, view of the footwell, and shoe storage area:
To my right, there is a side table between my seat and the aisle. This area includes a lamp and a cabinet, inside which is additional storage space and a mirror. The right arm rest, which can be lowered for additional space, contains the safety card and inflight magazines.
Side table, IFE remote, electrical outlet, headphone port, lamp and reading light:
Cabinet, storage, mirror and headphones inside:
All in all, I have to say I'm really impressed with the seat. It has a ton of storage, a large screen, a large footwell, direct aisle access, and ample privacy. I don't think I can ask for more in a contemporary business class seat. And it looks great visually, too. So far it seems United got it right on their new business class seats, creating a new unique design competitive with other leading business class seats of other airlines.
Settling in as boarding continued through 1L, the pace of boarding was pretty good, with no backup in the aisle. The welcome announcement apologized for ongoing recovery efforts, advising that most United flights into São Paulo yesterday were delayed or otherwise affected, and they were still recovering. Well that explains the initial issue with my flight, which led to all my rebookings. The announcement also said that today's flight was short two flight attendants, and apologized in advance if the service was slower than usual. The lady seated ahead of me in 8A had a baby in a child seat across the aisle in 8D. Smart to get a baby its own seat, and impressive to do so in an international business class cabin. I hoped it would behave during our overnight flight.
I checked out the IFE, and found an extremely fast, responsive screen with lots of movies available. I noted that from a seated position, I couldn't really see much, except just a little bit into the seat 8D across the aisle. This was among the most private seats I've tried.
The view from 9A:
The captain's announcement welcomed us aboard, and advised a flight time of 9h26. "We might arrive slightly early. Thank you for choosing United" ... Now that my rebooking drama has concluded and I was seated in United's newest and best onboard cabin, yes I was glad I chose United! The announcements were being repeated in Portuguese, probably the last time I'll hear this language in the foreseeable future.
My flight attendant arrived to take my meal order, asking for my meal choice. Normally United asks for your "top two choices," something which has always worked out for me anyway, but which I always thought cheapened the international business class experience. I was pleased to find that question not being asked on today's flight. I ordered the chicken, observing many others opting for express dining. My meal order included the chilled appetizer, Cilantro lime shrimp, hearts of palm salad
, the salad, Mixed greens, mozzarella, olive, tomato
, and the entree, Grilled chicken breast, Brazilian-style vinaigrette sauce, roasted potatoes, asparagus, mushroom, tomato
. The Brazilian-style vinaigrette sauce leaving Brazil was the main draw.
The captain apologized for running a bit late, explaining that one of the air conditioners had an issue. While I did have a connection to make after arrival, I was not concerned, and frankly didn't mind additional time in my Polaris seat.
The safety video was played during pushback at 21:50. We were fourth to take off, after an Azul A320, a GOL B737-800, and a Delta B767-300ER. Takeoff was at 22:08. There was decent noise and pushback into the seat, with a long roll, but one which felt pretty high speed. I was liking this B767-300ER so far. I've flown the type with several operators, but it's never a type at the front of my mind when planning a trip. I was happy to be on this aircraft tonight for what will be my longest-ever B767-300ER flight.
I stared my movie for the day, Nostalgia
with Jon Hamm. The IFE was showing a lovely 9h to go. Hot towels began service. I took a restroom break, complimenting the seats to the flight attendants in the galley on my way there. They were were very proud of them, and recommended I also try the B777 configurations as well. I found the restroom refinished with dark wood grain and blue accent lights, very nice. The captain advised we will be making up time in the air, and arriving a few minutes early, despite the late start. Indeed only ten minutes later, and the IFE was already showing 8h30 left in flight.
I deployed my tray table; it slides smoothly out of its storage and into position, and is easily adjustable to allow access to the aisle if needed. An example of the really nice attention to detail I've seen throughout the Polaris cabin. The table was set with blue linen.
Nuts were served along with my first beer choice. Beers today included Miller Light and Stella Artois, and more importantly, United's new craft beer selections, Lagunita Sumpin' Easy Ale and New Belgium Citradelic. I am personally really happy about how frequently United changes their craft beer offerings. They originally entered the craft beer game by offering Goose Island products such as 312 Wheat, Four Star Pils, and IPA. They then moved on to Breckenridge Lucky U IPA and Shiner Bock, and have even been offering seasonal brews such as Sam Adams Octoberfest and Winter Lager. So not only does United offer good beers on all their flights, but the constant changing of the beer menu means I never know what I'll get to try on my next flight. Today it's Lagunita Sumpin' Easy Ale, one which I'd not tried before, everything we've learned about making a hop-forward beer expressed in a moderate voice
. I thought the beer was very good.
The appetizer and salad were served, along with the bread basket. I selected a warm roll and garlic bread. I really like the United globe serveware, the plates, bowls and even the butter dish, along with the United globe salt and pepper shakers. The shrimp appetizer was actually really good, and I also really liked the salad. Sometimes a simple salad hits the spot, and I liked the little balls of fresh mozzarella.
The entree was served next; it was also good, and well-cooked. Shortly I was in for my first disappointment, though: they had run out of the second craft beer, the New Belgium Citradelic. I've had it before, but it's one I do enjoy, and would have liked to have had it onboard today. At this time I remembered hearing that United offers mattress pads in Polaris, so I took the opportunity to ask for one, having also heard that they sometimes run out of them. One was quickly brought out for me.
Finally dessert was served. United offers a mini dessert tasting in Polaris, but I went for the ice cream, made-to-order vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauce. I miss the original Polaris ice cream bowls, which were super thick glass, but at least the new design is still the globe.
I continued watching the movie, and continued getting sleepy. At 00:30 I decided it was time for bed. We had 6h45 to go in flight, and 30 min to go in the movie. I set up the bed with the mattress pad, pillow and blanket, and immediately got comfortable.
Great atmosphere with the lamp in the dark cabin:
I slept until 06:00. Really good - 5.5h of sleep! It was a very comfortable seat in bed mode. I appreciated the large footwell, and the mattress pad only made it even better. 4,700mi is a good overnight flight length. Of my three longhaul overnight flights this year, at 4,000mi, 5,200mi, and 4,700mi, respectively, I was able to compare the different flight lengths to test my hypothesis that I want to fly as close to 5,000mi as possible for a good experience and a good sleep. I found that 4,000mi = 3h sleep. 5,200mi = 6h sleep. 4,700mi = 5.5h sleep. Of these, only the 4,000mi length had left me jetlagged upon arrival. The two longer flights provided sufficient sleep and no jetlag. And today I was awake, comfortable, refreshed, and ready for breakfast.
The hot breakfast option was Omelet with emmental and parsley, served with grilled sausage, roasted potatoes, mushroom, tomato and fruit
, with a mimosa to drink. Pre-departure beverage service hadn't been done at the beginning of the flight, so I had not yet been able to enjoy any champagne to toast the new Polaris seats. A mimosa will do for that purpose. And a black tea to warm up...this had been one of my coldest flights. I like it cold for sleeping, and this cabin was so cold I didn't even need to use the overhead vents.
With less than 1.5h left, I resumed my movie while eating breakfast. The breakfast was good, exactly what I was looking for this morning.
We made landfall over Virginia Beach. The purser's announcement thanked everyone for being a great set of passengers, and for cooperating with the two flight attendant shortage. I had thought service had actually been quite good. Either the shortage was in economy, or the normal Polaris service is even better. The purser even concluded the flight by thanking each Polaris passenger individually.
We flew past the airport, and made a U-turn to land to the south. Landing was at 07:25, and we parked at Gate C3 at 07:30 (06:30 local time). N656UA was now due to operate UA335 to Honolulu. I'd say Polaris is the best option to Hawaii currently being offered!
IAD was a new airport for me for international arrivals. I rode the mobile lounge, or "planemate" from the C concourse to the international arrivals area. Maybe not the best idea an airport planner ever had, but the mobile lounges are unique, and IAD are known for them. I found a very nice international arrivals area, and it looked like we were the only international flight arriving at the time. The connection to my onward flight was straightforward, making it to Gate D2 with plenty of time to spare. This time I took the new AeroTrain to the concourse, a much more contemporary transit option in the airport, but less unique and similar to systems in other airports.
I had really enjoyed this flight. I really love the new seats for the privacy, storage, aisle access, and space and comfort. I also quite enjoyed the two meals and the service in general. Both business class flight attendants were very attentive and friendly, willing to have some conversation about Polaris, the B767 vs B777, my travel plans, etc. United gets a lot of bad press, but they've always done right by me. All my business class flights with them have been good, even in the old pmUA and pmCO seats, but I'd really recommend them in the new Polaris seats. I really think they are a top seat on the market right now.