Trip Report Part II: United Polaris (Service Only) from Houston to Buenos Aires

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This is the third post in a series about how I used Asiana miles to book United Polaris Business Class between Houston and Buenos Aires, as well as a review of the product and travel experience. 

At the end of last week I returned to Buenos Aires after my yearly exodus from southern hemisphere winter to northern hemisphere summer. After working my way through Europe for a couple months, I hopped over to the United States to spend time with family and friends and finally concluded the trip in Mexico.

I already told you how easy it was to book my return–with the sign up bonus from just the Asiana Visa Signature Card plus the miles from a little more spending, I booked United Business from Guadalajara, Mexico to Houston and United Polaris from Houston to Buenos Aires.

Today’s post is dedicated to covering my flight from Houston to Buenos Aires. While featuring the new Polaris service, I want to be clear that the Boeing 777-200 I flew was not retrofitted with the new Polaris seat. So above all else, this is a review of the Polaris service. Polaris will be eventually by standard on all international Business Class routes, but my plane had not yet been updated.

If you would like a direct comparison of this exact flight in United Business with the old Business Class Service as opposed to Polaris, check out Trip Report: United BusinessFirst Houston to Buenos Aires to read alongside this report.

United Airlines Flight 819
Houston (IAH) – Buenos Aires (EZE)
Depart: 9:50 PM on Thursday, September 7, 2017
Arrive: 9:59 AM next day
Duration: 10 hours
Aircraft: Boeing 777
Seat: 2D 

Pre-Departure

Before boarding, I spent a four-ish hour layover in the Houston airport at United’s newest Club, located near Gate C1.

An hour before our scheduled departure I left the lounge, as my gate was a 20 minute walk from the lounge. Terminal E’s United Club, the closest to my departure gate, was closed for renovations. I wanted to check out the new United Club anyways.

Upon arrival to my gate, I was able to jump the line and board immediately with priority boarding, and headed down the jet bridge until it split into two. I followed the jet bridge labeled for Polaris passengers.

The cabin was almost full when I boarded the plane.

The first thing I noticed was that everyone else had received the signature Polaris truffle and a welcome drink, and I did not. Of course, a little truffle and drink don’t matter that much to me in the grand scheme of things, but as I am reviewing every detail of this service, I feel compelled to mention it. I was one of the last to board the plane, but there was still time for both. To add insult to injury, my request for water was met with an irritated and huffy “OK” from a flight attendant.

We were not off to a great start.

The only other interaction I had with a flight attendant before take-off was pleasant. She addressed me personally and asked how was I doing and what my top two choices were for my entree, in the case they ran out of one. Thankfully she ended up serving me for the majority of the flight as opposed to the cranky flight attendant.

So I perused the booklet of menus to choose my preferences of entrees.

Menus

The first page explained Polaris’ new bedding and a few extra items you could request to make your experience more comfortable: fleece-lined slippers, a cooling gel memory foam pillow, and mattress cushion from Saks Fifth Avenue.

If you compare this menu to the menu from the same flight I took last year but with regular Business Class service, you’ll see that it’s quite similar. There is an extra entree on this menu–a salad with grilled chicken–but the rest of the menu, breakfast and dinner, almost mirrors the old menu save a few ingredient changes.

That was disappointing to me. I figured if one thing was going to stand out with the difference in Polaris service it would be the food as it certainly had the most room for improvement (aside from the seat, of course).

I chose Seared beef short rib as my first choice and the Spicy chicken as my second.

There are few more craft beer choices on this new “Polaris” menu. The rest looks pretty much the same as the old.

The “Sommelier’s Choice” addition is new to the Polaris menu. On the old United Business menu I’mp pretty sure you only had four wines to choose from (although I’m not positive as I didn’t include a picture of it in my last trip report of this flight).

My flight attendant came back after a few minutes and ask my selection of entrees, and I prepared for departure.

Seat/Bed

United’s Polaris Class on the 777-200 (Version 3 according to Seatguru) has 50 seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, which means everyone except the window seats has aisle access. I chose seat 2D to avoid having to climb over anyone. I also liked that the seat was close to the front exit so I could board and deplane more quickly but wasn’t directly next to the galley.

It’s a shame they haven’t retrofitted these seats yet. My seat was 23 inches wide. It does at least recline 180 degrees to a fully flat bed. This seat is three inches wider than the seat on my flight last year, due to a difference in aircraft (not Polaris).

There is an ottoman underneath the TV and plenty of room to store a bag and stretch out.

Behind me to my right was a small shelf with an electrical outlet, USB outlet, headphone jack to plug into for watching the in-flight entertainment system, over the ear headphones, safety information pamphlet, and the amenity kit.

All buttons on the seat controls worked, as did the electrical outlets.

Post Take-Off, Before Dinner

Once we were at cruising altitude, my flight attendant came back to deliver a hot, perfumed towel, followed by the drink cart.

I chose the Zinfandel to drink. It was fine…I’m pretty sure it was the same wine I had on this same flight last year.

Same as the old Business Class service, the wine came with hot mixed nuts.

At that time I took the opportunity to request the extra comfort items described in the beginning of menu packet, as it warned that quantity was limited.

My flight attendant responded kindly and said she would be right back with them. Indeed, in a couple minutes she returned with the fleece-lined slippers…

The slippers + socks combo was great for moving around the cabin.
The slippers + socks combo was great for moving around the cabin.

…and cooling gel memory foam pillow.

I never received the mattress cushion, unless what I thought was the duvet was actually the mattress cushion (which was already resting on my seat upon arrival).

I don’t think so though. I’m guessing they ran out.

Amenity Kit

All toiletries within the amenity kit were made by Cowshed.

Contents included:

  • Most toilette
  • Lip balm
  • Lavender pillow spray
  • Hand cream
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Facial tissue
  • Ear plugs
  • Padded and contoured eye mask
  • Socks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pen
  • 20% Off coupon good for products on b4.com (which I don’t see any individual products for sale on, so…)

Toiletries in the bathroom were also all by Cowshed.

In-Flight Service

Entertainment System

United’s touchscreen in-flight entertainment system appears to be the same as it’s ever been: a variety of movies, TV shows, music/podcasts, kids games, and a live map to watch the flight path.

I watched a couple episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Larry David being Larry David.
Larry David being Larry David.

Typically the entertainment system can be controlled via touchscreen or a remote, but my touchscreen was malfunctioning. Only my remote worked.

The headphones that come with the entertainment system are exact same as those that old Business Class provided. They fit over your ear but are not noise-canceling.

My headphone jack was loose and I had to play with the wire to get full audio in both ears.

Dinner

Dinner service began with a tray of bread and butter, the cabbage salad, and the tuna tartare appetizer.

All items were tasty, and the tuna the most so. Unlike my previous United Business experience however all items were served at the same item as opposed to coursed out individually. I do not find this to be an improvement to dinner service as there’s less room on your fold out table and everything feels a bit more rushed.

I actually chose nearly the same entree this time around as I did last time, which is good for comparative purposes. It was significantly better than my beef short rib last year: Not over salted, tender, the vegetables tasted fresher, and the grits were delicious. The presentation was also much more appealing.

Beef short rib from United Business a year ago.
Beef short rib from United Business a year ago.

The flight attendants came around with cheese plates to offer after collecting the entrees. I declined as I was already pretty full, but not full enough to reject the ice cream that came around next.

The cheese plate and ice cream options are exactly the same as the old Business Class service. The only difference with dessert was a couple extra “sweet treats” as they called them, which are chocolate truffles and assorted small baked goods. The sweet treats were offered at the same time as the ice cream.

After dinner was cleaned up, my flight attendant came back with a bottle of water for the night.

The only other notable difference during dinner service was at the conclusion, when the in-flight entertainment system cut out for about 10 minutes for no apparent reason. I’m sure there as a technical issue of some sort, but the pilot nor any flight crew provided any explanation which was a bit confusing.

Sleeping

The Polaris bedding is an improvement over the old United Business Class bedding.

I used the duvet to lay on and the thinner blanket on top of me, and the memory foam pillow for my head. All materials were noticeably soft and cushy.

I am 5’7″ and could stretch out completely, but just barely. Anyone taller will have to curl their legs a bit while sleeping. I was comfortable throughout the night aside from the fact that the cabin temperature was too hot.

Breakfast

Much like my experience on this flight in United Business last year, no one asked me if I preferred to be woken for breakfast or not. I would have appreciated that but honestly did not expect it, as from what I could see the new “Polaris” service wasn’t that different from prior service. I awoke anyways to the sounds and lights in the cabin when the crew started preparing for breakfast.

My flight attendant came around with another hot towel and asked if I preferred the fruit or omelet. I chose the Southwest omelet.

It was pretty good and the fruit fresh, but again, hardly different than the breakfast served in Business Class last year. I did not eat breakfast last year but the ingredients were nearly the same.

Arrival in Buenos Aires

Landing was smooth and I was one of the first to leave the plane being at the front of the cabin, which positioned me right in the front of the line at immigrations in Buenos Aires. The immigrations line line is typically the best traffic jam throughout the entire international travel experience, so being at the front saves a lot of time.

Luckily my checked luggage wasn’t lost this time like it was last year, but I wouldn’t consider that an improvement an service. 

Recommendation

This flight was a little over a week after the disaster of Hurricane Harvey that wreaked havoc on the city of Houston and created what I’m sure was a logistical nightmare for United, who’s second largest hub is George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). I assume that the Houston based crew was at wit’s end, which is fair enough. I don’t want to be too judgemental of their service.

But the physical products of Polaris that differ from the old United Business service weren’t all that different. The amenity kit was marginally better, solely due to the padded and contoured eye mask. The food was also marginally better, but I did not like that the first three courses (bread, appetizer, and salad) were served all at once as opposed to coursed. The bedding was an improvement.

All of that being said, not losing a day to exhaustion can be extremely valuable–especially on a short trip–so I do recommend flying United Polaris to Southern South America from the United States simply for the fully flat bed.

Bottom Line

I am disappointed by the lack of improvement with United’s new Polaris service.

From what I can see, the new Polaris seat will define the new Business Class. Read more about what’s to come with the suite-like pods, 1-2-1 configuration (direct aisle access for all), and 6 feet 6 inches of bed space in United Unveils New Business Class: Meet Polaris. If you fly one of United’s 777-200s, don’t expect much until retrofitting is complete.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Your trip report of the United flight to Buenos Aires last week sounded so familiar I checked the date and we were on the same flight! Your review was very accurate as we too experienced the rude flight attendant, the mal-functioning touch screen, etc. The screen flight map quit working over Guatemala and never came back. Even though we didn’t have much to eat, every request for beverages was met as being more of an imposition. As you mentioned, the crew maybe was dealing with much larger issues as a result of the hurricane in Houston, but even so the experience was pretty consistent with other United experiences in Polaris or in the previous version..

    • What a coincidence! Yes, that one flight attendant had such an attitude I almost said something but held my tongue. Hope you’re enjoying your time in BA!

  2. 2-2-2 on a signature route in business is lame. Add mediocre food, a cranky FA, bad IFE…no thanks.
    United is trash.

    • I agree that it’s not ideal. The problem with getting to southern South America from the US is the lack of options in a fully flat bed. Using Buenos Aires’ international airport as an example…. Avianca’s Business is angled, as is Copa’s. LATAM’s is flat bed but only has one flight from Miami, and Delta’s is also flat bed but only has one flight from Atlanta that costs tons of Delta miles (although less Flying Blue miles and less Korean miles, but w/Korean miles you must be book a roundtrip). American is the other choice, and well… we all know how difficult finding SAAver Level premium cabin award space can be.

      So sure, in an ideal world I wouldn’t choose United. But in reality they have the majority of accessible, premium cabin flat bed award space to the airport I fly into most in South America.

      • Fair enough. I’m a Delta guy and this UAL flight is not competitive. Sometimes, usually months out, Delta will show a low-level flight, but you’re right, often times their mileage requirement can be ugly.

        • Would like to try out Delta’s flat bed between North and South America for sure. Will have to keep an eye out for a low-level flight, especially since it doesn’t look like United’s 777-200s are being retrofitted anytime soon…

          • Sorry, what’s a low level flight? Looking for other options to South America and have lots of miles on Delta..

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