Review: Disgust and horror on United Polaris Business Class from EWR to LHR

by Anshul
26 comments
a plane parked at an airport

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United Polaris Business Class – Introduction

United Polaris is a premium service United Airlines offers, primarily designed for long-haul international travellers. Introduced in late 2016, United Polaris is supposed to provide a luxury experience in the air and on the ground. In addition to the exclusive Polaris Lounges, which offers elevated dining and seating, inflight includes private seats with lie-flat abilities, direct aisle access, and a premium meal service onboard. Here is how United describes its service and Polaris product;

United Polaris® brings a new level of quality to premium cabin travel and provides the best sleep in the sky.

With United Polaris business class, you’ll enjoy the best United has to offer, from the moment you check in at the airport to when you reach your final destination. No matter where you’re going, we want to make sure you get there in comfort and style.

My recent trip to India (August 2023) included a United Polaris Business Class segment from Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) on Boeing 767-300. This being my first time on United Polaris long-haul, my expectations were based on web reviews from fellow bloggers, which were between adequate and pleasant. Unfortunately, my experience was a shocking disappointment, a rude awakening to how bad a business-class cabin can be. Filthy and shameful.

Other reviews from this trip:

Review: United Polaris Lounge Newark (EWR)

Review: United Polaris Business Class from Newark (EWR) to London (LHR)

Review: Etihad Business Class Lounge in London Heathrow (LHR)

Review: Etihad A380 Business Class from London (LHR) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)

United Polaris Business Class – Boarding and Cabin

An overnight flight, UA 110, was scheduled to depart EWR at 18:00 from gate C71. Unfortunately, boarding did not begin until after 5:30 pm, and the gate was extremely busy with Zone 1, 2 and beyond lineups, all snaking around in the terminal. Boarding for Zone 1 was hassle-free once the lineup started to move along.

people in an airport with a group of people sitting in front of a monitor

Boarding gate C71 – EWR

The United’s 767-300 business class cabin was the standard 1-2-1 configuration, with 46 Polaris seats staggered across 18 rows. The odd-numbered rows had seats closer to the windows,  while the even-numbered rows had seats away from the window, adjacent to the aisle and offering zero privacy. The premium economy cabin on the flight was a 2-2-2 and looked a lot roomier than the business class cabin, perhaps because it was not as densely populated (?).

an airplane with rows of seats and monitors

United Polaris Business Class Cabin – Boeing 767-300

a plane with purple seats

UA 110 – Premium Economy Cabin (767-300)

United Polaris Business Class – Seats

When I booked our tickets, our seat options were pretty limited. We had to settle for seats 17A and 18A to get window access for both. Seat 17A offered better privacy (in comparison) as it was set closer to the windows – two to be exact; however, the windows were misaligned, so one was awkwardly behind the seat, rendering it useless. Seat 18A was somehow even worse, with no windows! To add to my misery, seat 18 was beside the washroom, making it the worst seat in the cabin. Poor planning on my part, I guess.

a seat belt in an airplane

Seat 18A – United Polaris Business Class

The seat was comfortable, albeit without any privacy, and directly facing the aisle. The real estate in the suite is minimal beyond the seats, with a narrow footwell at an angle and the table space almost behind the seat at an angle that made it awkward to reach for items kept in the cabinet. The seat controls were comfortably placed to the left in front. The size of the IFE screen was very 2008, but the content available was impressive.

a person sitting in a chair on an airplane

Seat 18A – United Polaris Business Class Suite

a room with a speaker and a light on the wall

Seat 18A – Windowless United Polaris Business Class

The IFE controls in the seat were dated but adequate. The seat was equipped with power plugs and a USB, placed just under the cabinet that held the headphones. The lamp and the reading light were chic in the otherwise drab fittings of the Polaris seat. The best part of the seat was its bedding – pillow and blanket by Saks Fifth Avenue, an amenity kit, and my favourite cooling gel pillow.

a seat with a stack of clothes and a bag on it

United Polaris Business Class – The Horror Show

And now, brace yourself for the horror show that the rest of the seat was. Food crumbs, fluid residue, and filth strewn across the seats (17A and 18A). See if this makes your tummy churn as it did mine.

a seat belt with a seatbelt and seat buttons

Food crumbs and fluid stains

 

a black rectangular object in a shelf

Stained tray table with food crumbs across the fold

 

a close up of a computer

Tray Table on 17A

 

 

a white seat with a white surface

United Polaris – Space between window and seat

 

a computer mouse pad under a seat

United Polaris 17A – Space between window and seat

 

a close up of a shelf

United Polaris – Grime and Dirt galore

These pictures were taken shortly after boarding. We were expected to sit, eat, and sleep around this filth for 7 hours. Once we brought this to the attention of the cabin crew, we were given a few sanitary wipes to help ourselves. No apology, not even a look of shock or concern. Do I think the crew was responsible for this? Not. But professional courtesy goes a long way in customer service. Shouldn’t EWR to LHR be a premium route, showcasing the best of the airline?!

United Polaris Business Class – Amenity Kit

Once I looked Away from the filth around the seat…the amenity kit also disappointed me. See what I did there?! The global travel lifestyle brand Away designed the co-branded amenity kits exclusively for United in 2022. Instead of the hard pod I expected on United Polaris, we were given a sports pouch, typically for United Premium Plus passengers on long-haul flights. I wondered if an overnight 7-hour flight between EWR and LHR did not cut being considered a true United Polaris Business long-haul international flight. This is how United described the Away amenity kits;

The Away amenity kits offered include:

  • Hard Pod: For travelers flying in United Polaris® business on long-haul international flights. The sturdy shell and interior elastic band will help keep belongings organized.

  • Sports Pouch: For travelers flying in United Premium Plus® on long-haul international flights. Featuring a soft, protective material you can keep all your belongings organized —including your other travel essentials.

  • Zip Case: For travelers flying in United Business on premium transcontinental flights. The water-resistant kit for transcontinental premium travelers is an ideal solution for storing liquids and moving quickly through airport security lines.

a purple bag with a tag on it

United Polaris Amenity Kit, by Away

a group of items on a table

Amenity Kit – Socks, Eye Mask, Lip Balm, Hand Cream

Away kits are passé already, as United has announced its new amenity kit partnership with Therabody, which will eventually replace the Away amenity kits across the network.

a black bag with a few items on it

United Polaris Business Class – Meal Service

Given my flight’s sad state of affairs thus far, the elevated Polaris meal could have been the saving grace. The options looked great on paper. United Polaris also offers ‘Express Dining’ for passengers who prefer all courses in one go (in favour of some shut-eye) instead of course-by-course service, which can take much longer. Unfortunately, by the time we were at cruising altitude, my migraine had the better of me, and with nausea setting in, I did not get past a drink and some nuts. I decided to pop some medication and lay down for some sleep instead.

a white and black sign with black text

United Polaris Menu – EWR to LHR

a paper with text on it

United Polaris Drinks Menu

a bowl of nuts and a glass of water

While I failed to make it past a bowl of nuts, PK had pre-ordered a Vegan meal, which came with a selection of bread and plant-based butter, a weird-looking salad, and the veg option from the Polaris menu, the Stir-fried Vegetables with Udon Noodles, for the Entree. To put it mildly, she said it was edible. Just like the Vegan meal on Etihad represented the airline well, this one represented United (at least our overall experience on this Polaris route) well.

a bowl of food on a table

United Polaris Salad

a plate of food and a glass of water on a blue tray

United Polaris Meal – Stir-fried Veg with Udon

United Polaris Business Class – Takeaway

Sigh. What.a.S***show. My United Polaris Business Class experience was a perfect example of how an airline can make or break its reputation (for the individual) with one flight. I will not be flying United to Europe anytime soon. If you find yourself in a Polaris product, check seat assignments carefully, as no-window and misaligned seats are a reality on some aircraft types, 767-300 in my case.

Surely, United excels in some routes where the Polaris product gets the fan following. Please comment below to suggest other routes where United can redeem itself. I’m happy to give them another chance, but it will take a herculean effort for it to become my preferred North American airline.

Dear Air Canada, I love you slightly more every time I fly United.

26 comments

Naoyuki January 10, 2024 - 7:04 pm

We flew LHR to JFK on United Polaris in September 2022. It was totally disgusting. The seats were not clean. The trays were not clean. There were numerous stains on the carpet/walls. It almost looked like we were the cleaning crew. The food was awful. We ended up not eating most of the food we got. The experience posted here is very similar to what we experienced. JAL, ANA, Cathay Pacific, and even British Airways have a much better business class product, at least, based on our experience.

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DC not in DC January 5, 2024 - 12:05 am

Nothing about AC is impressive. Boarding TATL in YYZ is a chaotic zoo and every flight leaves late. My last two AC Business flights YYZ-AMS and YYZ-LHR were meh and the Maple Leaf lounges are underwhelming. United has decent Polaris lounges, and EWR has one of the best. My Q Suites in November were nice enough, as were some of my TK, ANA, and SQ flights but, having flown hundreds of flights to 6 continents in First and Business over 60 years, nothing impresses me. It’s just a plane flight.

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jack January 4, 2024 - 1:08 pm

As a 1 k united traveller with many Polaris flights under their belt, i must strongly disagree
it seems like you had a small cleaning issue, which if they were late, happens. I recently flew both JAL and SWISS business and niether was close to Polaris, so i think your review was seriously out of the normal experience i had. For sute its not Singapore or other luxe first class, but the bedding was SUPERIOR to even SWISS FIRST. Also there are several sites to help you find a good seat. You noted you chose window seats as a priority, perhaps next time, choose more privacy! I appreciate your photos as united sometimes misses cleaning, but if they do, they usually provide you with compensation.
Try some European carrier and see if you dont feel differently about Polaris.

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Anne Betts January 8, 2024 - 8:09 am

I flew United’s Polaris in January, 2019 from Newark to Tokyo. The best part of the experience was spending several hours in the EWR Polaris Lounge. I loved it, and had high expectations of the in-flight experience. I was satisfied with my 9A bulkhead seat, bedding, and entertainment but disappointed with the rest. The food was underwhelming and service lacking. By the end of the flight, visiting the washroom was unpleasant. It didn’t appear to have been cleaned. When an airline fosters a service-oriented culture, it shows. This is sorely lacking with United.

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Lynford January 4, 2024 - 8:38 am

FWIW, EWR-LHR may be a premium route in your eyes, but crews are fostered based on seniority. It’s a short trip that pays half of some of the long haul trips. Therefore, it’s goes to the junior cabin crew that most likely wish they were flying something else.
The aircraft are scheduled so tight in EWR that the ground staff is given minutes to clean the plane. So you’re going to find a crumb or two. Training and oversight is lacking, at best. That falls on mgmt.
Some of your claims are certainly valid but a lot of it sounds like whining. Adjust your expectations in the real word and you may be a happier individual.

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Steve January 4, 2024 - 11:37 am

Adjust your expectations in the real world..???? ..fly Singapore and find out what a real quality airline is like. United is total crap, always has been and having just flown some legs around the world in business after reading they had improved….I am never using them again. Did I mentioned they destroyed my suitcase as well as offering a crappy cabin, crappy meals, no priority boarding etcetc. Just plain awful.

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CARLOS CAVALLINI January 16, 2024 - 6:32 pm

Hey Steve, you are so 100% absolutely right. I do avoid any American airline (also some crapy Europeans like BA). I can not get why people that will pay for business class use all these crap like UA, when you can have Royal treatment in Qatar, Singapore or any of those ones civilized airlines.

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Greg Jones January 4, 2024 - 12:50 am

Let’s face it, North American Airlines have thrown in the service towel in favor other shareholders. They don’t give a s*** about their employees and they don’t give a s*** about their customers. They demonstrate that everyday. United, air canada, and the majority of Star Alliance have fallen into a laissez-faire trap in the bottom line is F you customer! What’s even worse is the new hires have absolutely no commitment to customer service nor do they have a clue about what it should look like and nor do they care. This is in North American problem it’s certainly is not visible anywhere else in the world and it’s shameful. It all starts at the top however and we can rest assured that all those greedy CEOs don’t give a s*** about us or anyone else below them.

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Ken Warner January 4, 2024 - 3:31 am

They did jam in, too many seats in that cabin; not enough personal space; too, too narrow; same problem on their 787’s.

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David January 3, 2024 - 8:25 pm

I prefer Delta. Better service. Always clean and on time.

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Nansi Martin January 3, 2024 - 2:00 pm

It’s true that the filth is inexcusable and their food is definitely not a highlight, unless you eat at the lounge. That being said, their hard product is solid and you yourself stated the lack of research in picking your seat and not feeling exceptionally well. I fly from EER to ZRH normally and I would much rather fly UA over Lufthansa, Delta, or American. On the same note the middle eastern airlines are on another level lol.
Maybe you just had bad luck.

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Sam kim January 2, 2024 - 2:59 pm

This will get a little tangential…

All seats are better on average in J for AC long-haul aircraft (thinking of multiple yul and yyc to mad or bcn flights) mostly because footwells are just bigger outside of ua bulkhead seats. I’d quickly forgo the ‘privacy’ if every seat had better foot space on ua. This is same problem on all planes with suites with doors too ime. but poorly cleaned planes even in J long-haul and apathetic cabin crew are all too common to both UA and AC as is a middling ground experience when you need it most with irrops (probably the worst experience I’ve ever had was with a gate agent supervisor at yyz and what did AC do after I sent a very detailed account…here’s ‘20%’ off your next base fare and no aknowledgement of any of the core issues raised.) I’ve never looked forward to a Polaris lounge or signature suite meal though I’ve had a few unexpectedly good ones at yyz and yvr. I almost always prefer AF when going tatl or Africa (sometimes VS; will settle for LH sometimes) and most asian carriers going tpac (KE, SQ, NH, BR, CI) I mean why would you ever fly ua on sfo-sin for example when ua runs the flight with 9 total cabin crew and SQ with 13? Only because of silly ua status. SQ usually same cash price or cheaper than UA. Maybe the seats depending on aircraft and your own dimensions. Different planes but very similar breakdown of seats by class. And the overall experience, seats excepted on some aircraft, is in another league compared with UA.

I’ve had somewhat poorly maintained seats on all the European and asian carriers (broken trim and even broken ife or tray tables) but never the filth I’ve seen sometimes on ua and ac long-haul (and always on ua mainline even premium transcon). And as far as the people go, the worst performers at the asian or European carriers I fly would be rock stars at ua or ac.

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Anshul January 2, 2024 - 5:42 pm

Couldn’t have said it better! +1 to your observations.

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Greg Jones January 4, 2024 - 12:54 am

Absolutely true. Like I said above the North American carriers just don’t give a s*** and the employees are so pathetic. It has something to do with the fact that most of them don’t care and perhaps they don’t care because they’re not paid well. That’s another problem the airline industry when you don’t pay your employees properly you get s***’s service at all levels. Welcome to North American Greed culture in the airline industry all brought on by shareholders greed and lazy ass CEOs who no longer give a s*** about anyone except themselves

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Steve January 4, 2024 - 11:43 am

Not sure why you are blaming shareholders who have zero influence over company decisions. Every decision lies with management including returns to shareholders.

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Ken Warner January 4, 2024 - 3:36 am

How true, 20″ width is just too narrow; not enough personal space; you feel like you’re in a narrow tube; if service isn’t
exceptional, then the entire experience is a big disappointment ; the culture of fine service has to come from the top, and
apparently, they just don’t care any more.

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Jinxed_K January 2, 2024 - 2:43 pm

This is pretty similar to my experience going from KIX-SFO last year.
Hard product was acceptable, but has seen better days with the cleaning.
I found food from Jetblue’s Mint product I took right after SFO-BOS to be better than United’s Polaris international.

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Ced January 2, 2024 - 1:47 pm

Yeah, I had the same experience but from LHR to EWR. The food was really bad, nuts were cold, the cabin was meh and the service was left to be desired. We had the new amenity kits though and imo those were the coolest part of the flight. It really made me appreciate AC more (and even Air Egypt business class who I flew earlier in the trip)

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Bob January 2, 2024 - 12:11 pm

How old is this review? It sounds like your ‘recent trip’ was several months ago, you should probably state that before starting. I’ve flown over a dozen Polaris flights since September with the new bedding, amenity kits, and menus. Looks like you had a dud, or you’re just posting an old flight review here. I’ve flow AC upper cabin across the Atlantic via YYZ and every time I fly AC I wish I was on UA.

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Anshul January 2, 2024 - 12:35 pm

Aug’23. Does that excuse the filth?

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Anthony January 2, 2024 - 7:23 pm

Oh my. Now you are making me rethink my Polaris Flight to Australia from SFO.

I’ve read good reviews on it before i booked. Hopefully their flight across the Pacific will be better than the Atlantic 🤞🏽🤞🏽

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Steve January 4, 2024 - 11:50 am

It won’t be. I just flew SYD-SFO after swearing I would never use UA again…( it took me 20 years to retry) and it was so disappointing…Give me Singapre Air every single time….Unfortunately SA dont fly over the Pacific. Try NZ Air, they were very good last time I used them, but they have that stupid herringbone seat layout in business which I hate.

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Simon January 2, 2024 - 12:05 pm

Why bother flying with anything North American across the pond (JetBlue excepted)? I had a filthy J seat on AC YYZ-FRA and the service was absymal. European and Middle Eastern carriers are just simply far better.

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Anshul January 2, 2024 - 12:36 pm

In agreement about ME carriers being far superior. Some Asian carriers as well.

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AinthePNW January 2, 2024 - 11:29 am

Try American. You will be running back to United singing their praises.

Also, I’ve had similar gross seats on many intl business and first-class seats, notably AA, BA, UA, and AC.

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Anshul January 2, 2024 - 12:37 pm

Yeah – for North America, airline award should just be “Best of the Worst”.

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