If you are flying to – or around – the USA, there’s a good chance the best deals on business class travel will include options to fly with United Airlines. In fact, it’s the third-largest airline in the world, so it figures prominently on flight lists to far-flung places as well. United (and partners under its United Express branding) fly into over 560 airports worldwide. Which is the basis of its claim to provide “the world’s most comprehensive route network.”
Let’s be honest here. United Airlines has been the topic of ‘turbulence’ in its media profile in the not too distant past. That level of bad PR can either make or break companies. United is a prime example of an organisation coming back from criticism better and stronger than ever. This includes investing heavily in customer service throughout its operations, and particularly in its Polaris cabins and airport lounges. However, is it now as good as rival business class options such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and are they looking at fresh ways to keep being innovative?
The perfect chance to put this to the test was a business trip to Los Angeles when arriving feeling refreshed and ready for action was vital. I’m a great believer in ‘personal choice’ when it comes to major travel plans. What suits one reviewer, may not suit everyone. Therefore, my big question was not just did United Airlines ‘do it’ for me… I was keen to find out if the Polaris upgrade could provide a universal appeal, with a more compelling premium flight offer for all travellers.
When booking flights with United, you can opt for extra legroom and seats at the front of the cabin with Economy Plus. United introduced ‘Premium Plus’ too recently, a step up from Economy Plus but not as luxurious as Business Class travel.
United Airlines Polaris Business Class seats are available on many flights, but don’t assume that this is an option on short domestic routes. This service has previously included all the features you would expect from any airline when you pay the extra cash, though nothing out of the ordinary.
From February 2019, United boosted the number of premium flight seats on offer for business class and first passengers. This involved retrofitting some planes with new Polaris seating and adding Polaris cabins to new additions to its fleet. The Polaris cabins have both First and Business Class seats. All of this was heavily marketed by United as offering passengers comfort from “Ahhhh to Zzzzzz”. Which is cute but did raise expectations on how quickly the new facilities would be available.
What’s important to note, is that Polaris seating has not been rolled out across the entire fleet, though all of their business class cabins are branded with the same name. However, the good news is that the company is investing in refurbishing the remaining aircraft which will iron out this potential ‘inequality’ in its business class offering. More on what Polaris Cabins meant for me, later!
When you’re going abroad for work – not a holiday – arriving at the airport has none of the frissons of excitement to soften it. It’s an unwelcome chore, plain and simple. Could flying business class with United Airlines make it easier to suffer through? This is a definite yes!
Airport lounges with complimentary food and beverages are always very much appreciated in my travel arrangements. However, I was also pleased with how quickly my business class status got me through the minutia of checking in and getting through security to find a place to relax. When you start your journey grumpy, it can be a pretty much downhill experience. Being fast-tracked to a place of calm and abundant ‘goodies’ can set you off on a far better footing!
The United Airlines airport business class lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 is currently called United Club. It’s to be found opposite gate B46. As airport lounges are one of the premium flight offerings United is heavily investing in with a view to offering stand-out Polaris lounges, Heathrow is on the list for this upgrade. As United Club, it’s actually relatively fresh and modern already, with an interior well designed for tranquillity. Having premium wines and spirits offered can also help ‘relax’ some passengers.
There’s a family room to keep little ones (and not so littlies) well occupied before boarding. I had all the quiet workstation requirements I needed, to start planning for my LA meeting. Incidentally, the new Polaris Lounges have superfast internet among the enhancements they offer. Should you want to, it is possible to take a shower in the United Club to wash away the stress of getting to the airport! I took a hard pass on that one.
To my delight, it was a bonafide Polaris cabin on my United Airlines flight to LA. Which meant I could get the full experience. This included sinking into a fabulous seating ‘pod’ with all the privacy you could want on a long haul flight, and of course the ability to lie back and think of England, or LA. It had a very welcome 22/23 inch width.
Different aircraft will have different dimensions for retrofit or new build Polarise cabins. But I think I’m on safe ground to say they will all be spaciously laid out in a customised 1-2-1 configuration on long haul routes, and 1-1-1 on narrower bodied planes.
Someone tipped me off to book an ‘A’ or ‘L’ numbered seat, to be on my lonesome near a window. Though any of the seating pods looked welcoming for solo passengers. The two adjoining central seats in a Polaris cabin are perfect for couples or companions to chat in comfort of course. Anyway, the lovely soft Saks Fifth Avenue bedding and substantial pillows (two) provided came with a teddy bear to keep me company. He’s called Polaris the bear, appropriately!
The spa-like amenity pack was by Cowshed, high-quality items from Soho House & Co. My research shows that some flights will have four Sunday Riley products in Polaris amenity kits too. You also get pyjamas on longer Polaris Cabin flights.
The staff were kind enough to talk me through the sophisticated entertainment system within my business class seating, as technology is not my friend. One of my first happy finds was actually a handy space beneath to store my Macbook. I was also delighted with ample shoe storage, as well as the ‘Do Not Disturb’ option and a practical adjustable lamp for if the urge to work took hold at some point.
The seat locker had a large interior mirror too, which is a nice touch. The food choices spoilt me – great seasonal ingredients and global flavours – but the ‘build your own’ sundae was my highlight.
It’s worth mentioning that United Airlines are part of the Star Alliance family and business class travel with United Airlines clocks up a lot of points with their MileagePlus program. The points you tally from flying United or United Express will never go out of date (points used to expire every 18 months).
Another tip for premier flights with United is that the growing stable of truly wonderful Polaris airport lounges can be used by any First or Business passengers, irrespective of whether you’re going to be in a Polaris equipped plane.
I did manage to get some work done on my business class flight to Los Angeles, despite the excellent entertainment offering. My plan was to max out on a list of ‘must-sees’ on the return flight (I actually slept the whole way back to the UK). It all makes the roll-out of Polaris Cabins an exciting prospect – for leisure or business flights. When I’m next flying for work, I will certainly be making a point of looking for the ‘brightest star’ in the business class constellation, in terms of cost vs benefits.
To learn more about United Airlines, the services they provide and the amazing business class deals from our experienced travel consultants, call us on 020 8417 1366 or enquire online. Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about other airlines, check out our cheap business class flights here.