United Airlines B787-9 Polaris Business Class Paris to San Francisco

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Today, I publish the first article in a new series of trip reports regarding the Hawaiian Islands, where I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday. The bulk of these Hawaii trip reports will be published in November & December (as I will first make a small detour via Italy’s most spectacular five-star hotels):


Today (October 11, 2017): Review of United Airlines’ B787-9 Dreamliner Business Class from Paris to San Francisco.

On August 2nd 2017, I flew Business Class in a United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) in France to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in the USA. United’s new Business Class concept ‘Polaris’ – launched in December 2016 – was offered on this flight. Polaris, which is named after the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation, is the carrier’s most drastic product transformation in more than a decade and is designed to bring a new level of quality to every aspect of United’s premium cabin travel experience, with a focus on better lounges, refined onboard cuisine, excellent bedding, and new stylish kits. Unfortunately, during this trip, I did not have time to visit the Star Alliance lounge in Paris (which does not feature the new Polaris lounge concept anyway) since I had an ultra-short connection (I was flying in from Brussels). Another (small) disappointment was that United’s Boeing 787-9 planes do not feature the new Polaris forward-facing pods yet, as these are currently only found on the carrier’s brand new B777-300ER and some retrofitted B767-300ER aircraft. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a great flight and overall liked the new Polaris concept, which sets United’s service on par with most of its competitors.

On a personal note, my first ever Business Class flight was with United (in 2010), and since then, United has always been my first choice for transatlantic travel. Although I am well aware that United has had its fair share of troubles and negative publicity over the past year, I have always had a good experience with them and never experienced a major problem. Remarkably, all of my transatlantic United flights so far were always piloted with women (which makes me always wonder why there are not more female pilots with other airlines).

United Airlines features in my top 10 list of my preferred airlines for longhaul Business Class.

  • Trip: CDG-SFO
  • Airline: United Airlines
  • Aircraft type: B787-9 Dreamliner
  • Aircraft registration number: N35953
  • Flight Number: UA984
  • Date: August 2nd, 2017
  • On time departure: yes (9.15 am)
  • On time arrival: yes (11.15 am)
  • Miles: 5583
  • Flight time: 11 hours
  • Seat: 6A
  • Class: Business Class

In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  1. Fact & figures about United’s B787 fleet
  2. Business Class cabin
  3. Business Class seat (+ best & worst seats)
  4. Amenities
  5. Meals
  6. Entertainment
  7. Onboard internet
  8. Other inflight experiences (views, crew, lavatory)
  9. My verdict (score)

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 1. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT UNITED’S B787 FLEET

Here are some facts about United’s Dreamliners:

  • United’s B787 are powered by two General Electric GEnx engines.
  • Currently, United has 33 Dreamliners in its fleet, the most of any American carrier. United’s Dreamliner subfleet is composed of 11 B787-8 and 22 B787-9 aircraft. The B787-9 is 20 ft (6 m) longer than the B787-8, and can fly 33 extra passengers and 300 nautical miles further than the B787-8.
  • United was the launch customer in North America for the B787-8 Dreamliner. United will also be North American’s launch customer for the 787-10 and it expects delivery of this aircraft in next year. The 787-10 is a stretched version of the 787-9 and will offer the lowest fuel burn per seat of any aircraft in its size category.
  • United’s merger partner Continental Airlines was the first USA airline to place an order for the B787; however, the B787 would never fly under the Continental brand as United and Continental merged in March 2012 into the new United, a few months before the delivery of the first Dreamliner.
  • The B787 offers up to 20 percent better fuel efficiency per seat than similarly sized aircraft, due in part to the more than 50 percent composite makeup of its structure. The 787 also boasts an enhanced inflight experience including larger windows, larger overhead bins and lower cabin altitude with enhanced ventilation systems that reduce the effects of jet lag.

Read here my comparison of the Boeing B787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350.

UNITED B787-9 DREAMLINER

2. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

United’s B787-9 planes seat 252 passengers in total: 48 in Business Class, 88 in Economy Plus, and 116 in Economy Class. The 48 Business Class fully flat-bed seats are spread over two cabins, with a galley in between them: the forward Business Class cabin features 30 seats in 5 rows, while the second and smaller cabin – which is located further back, in front of the Economy Plus cabin – consists of only 3 rows with 18 seats in total. In both cabins, the seats are placed in a traditional 2-2-2 layout and slightly angled towards the windows. Adjoining seats are staggered by a couple of inches (cm), which – together with a small partition – offers some extra privacy in case you are seated next to a stranger and at the same time allows enough interaction when you are traveling with a companion. All seats face forward and have aisle access, except for the window seats (where you will have to climb over the legs of your neighbour to get to the aisle).

Albeit not bad, United’s current B787 2-2-2 Business Class layout is inferior to the excellent new 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout that the carrier is currently offering on all of its brand new B777-300ER planes. The good news though is that the carrier will retrofit all of its existing wide-body planes with the new seats over the coming years (some B767-300ER have been retrofitted already).

Click here for a seat map of United’ B787-9 aircraft.

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (BOARDING)
THE LARGER BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (ROWS 1-5)
THE SMALLER BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (ROWS 6-9)

3. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

I had selected window seat 6A for the 11 hour flight from Paris to San Francisco. Business Class seats on row 6 are very popular with passengers traveling with young children because of the bassinet that is present in the bulkhead.

The United B787 Business Class seat is similar to the one that Qatar Airways installed on its A330 planes. The soft cushioned seat has a generous pitch of 78 inch (195 cm), which is defined as the space between one point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. With a width of 22 inch (56 cm) – defined as the space between the arm rests – the seat is quite comfortable, even for a 10+ hour flight. Each seat features its own 15,4 inch HD touch screen. Below the TV monitor, you find a drawer which is large enough to store your laptop, and an ottoman which becomes part of the flatbed once the seat is fully reclined. The size of the ottoman differs dramatically depending upon the row: the bulkhead seats in rows 1 & 6 offer a much larger ottoman as compared to the cramp footrests of all the other Business Class seats.

The arm rest that is shared with the adjoining seat features a small shared table (to put a glass and snacks on), the seat controls, and the remote control for the entertainment system. It also houses a moderately sized fold-out tray table which needs to be pulled out for any use (after which you are kind of blocked in your seat). On the other side of the seat, behind the headrest, is a small, somewhat difficult to reach storage compartment, where you find the safety card, a universal AC power outlet and a USB port.

The seat does go fully flat, but again, your sleep comfort will depend on the seat you choose: except for the bulkhead seats in rows 1 & 6 (which come with large ottomans), the footrests are very narrow, so not very comfortable for a good night’s rest.

What are the best Business Class seats on United’s B787-9? Click here for a seat map.

  • All seats in the cabin are excellent for those traveling with a companion because of the 2-2-2 layout.
  • The bulkhead seats in row 1 & 6 feature a much larger footrest as compared to all other seats, so these are the seats you want to fly (and sleep) in, although proximity to the galley and lavatory may cause some slight noise disturbance from time to time.

What are the worst Business Class seats on United B787-9? Click here for a seat map.

  • The 2-2-2 Business Class layout does not make the cabin very attractive for solo travelers, since you will always end up sitting next to a stranger. There is a small screen though between adjoining seats which are also staggered by a couple of inches, creating some extra levels of privacy (albeit not enough in my opinion).
  • Window seats don’t offer direct aisle access.
  • As mentioned above, the footrests are very narrow (except for the bulkhead seats in rows 1 & 6), so not very comfortable for a good night’s rest.
BUSINESS CLASS SEATS (6A & 6B)
BUSINESS CLASS SEATS (6A & 6B)
BUSINESS CLASS SEATS (6A & 6B)
BUSINESS CLASS SEATS (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A)
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A): FLATBED POSITION
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A): FLATBED POSITION
BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (6A): FLATBED POSITION

4. AMENITIES

The United Polaris Business Class service provides superb sleeping amenities, aiming at the best sleep in the sky. The plush bedding amenities were all developed by Saks Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s pre-eminent specialty retailers located in Manhattan. During this flight, Business Class passengers had the choice of two different blankets: a quilted duvet and a lighter throw blanket. If you tended to get hot while you sleep, you could also ask for a cooling gel memory foam pillow instead of, or in addition to, the thick Saks Fifth Avenue pillows that was put on each seat before boarding. Mattress cushions were also available upon request, to bring extra comfort to your onboard bed.

Each Business Class passenger also received a stylish United Polaris branded amenity kit created by Saks Fifth Avenue. The kit contained refreshing items from Soho House & Co’s Cowshed Spa, a newly redesigned signature padded eye mask, cozy yet fashionable socks, plus wellness items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues and earplugs.

AMENITY KIT
AMENITY KIT
AMENITY KIT
AMENITY KIT
SAKS FIFTH AVENUE BEDDING
SAKS FIFTH AVENUE BEDDING
SAKS FIFTH AVENUE BEDDING
SAKS FIFTH AVENUE BEDDING

5. MEALS

The Polaris Business Class experience includes enhanced menus – with chef-designed, multi-course inflight meals – that rotate every three months. The menu for this flight was created by Gerry McLoughlin, United’s chief executive chef, in collaboration with chefs from The Trotter Project, a nonprofit organization committed to mentoring and internship programs for youth interested in the culinary arts.

This flight also featured United’s new signature pre-meal beverage service, where you could choose a sweet and bubbly Mimosa, or create your own savory and spicy Tito’s Vodka Bloody Mary. Since I don’t like alcohol on a plane, I sticked to sparkling water and some hot nuts for apéritif.

I had the following items from the menu, which all tasted great:

  • Starter: smoked salmon, capers, onion, and hard-boiled egg, served with mixed greens, blueberry, papaya, strawberry, dressing and assorted breads.
  • Breakfast entrée: steak and eggs (e.g. grilled tenderloin, scrambled eggs, potatoes, asparagus, tomato).
  • Dessert: vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce (which was one of the items offered on a trolley rolled by the crew through the cabin).

During the flight a small walk-up bar was set up in the galley near the exit door, which offered some fresh fruits, salty and sweet snacks. One could also order a mid-flight hot bite (e.g. beef stew with rice, which tasted excellent).

Ninety minutes prior to arrival, a warm lunch was served. I choose the grilled chicken, served with tomato-basil sauce, vegetable couscous, green beans, and a side salad.

All in all, the meal service on this flight far exceeded all my other meal services that I had onboard other USA carriers so far.

MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
MENU
HOT TOWEL
APERITIF
BREAKFAST: STARTER
BREAKFAST: STARTER
BREAKFAST: STARTER
BREAKFAST: STARTER
BREAKFAST: ENTREE
BREAKFAST: ENTREE
BREAKFAST: DESSERT
WALK-UP BAR
WALK-UP BAR
WALK-UP BAR
MID-FLIGHT HOT BITE
MID-FLIGHT HOT BITE
PRE-ARRIVAL LUNCH
PRE-ARRIVAL LUNCH
PRE-ARRIVAL LUNCH
CHOCOLATES

6. ENTERTAINMENT

Each seat has a personal 15,4 inch TV screen of very high quality (with bright and clear pictures), and there are tons and tons of movies and TV shows to choose from, including the latest blockbusters, award-winning documentaries and the most popular TV series. In addition, you can listen to over 400 different CDs and a wide range of music channels. The inflight entertainment can be commanded by directly touching the TV screen or by using a handheld remote control which is located in the armrest and also features its own touchscreen, allowing you to watch a different program (e.g. flight map) from the main screen. United also offers more free entertainment streamed to your own personal device than any other airline in the world.

)INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (REMOTE CONTROL)
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: FLIGHT PATH

7. INTERNET

United offers WiFi onboard its B787 aircraft. Rates on this flight ranged from $11,99 USD for one hour to $32,99 USD for the entire flight. The speed of the internet was decent for most part of the journey. It’s disappointing though that United doesn’t offer complimentary internet in its premium cabin like some of its competitors.

ONBOARD INTERNET

8. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES

# CREW: I realize that many – especially American – people are not fond of the service offered on USA carriers (which is also evident from the comments placed on my Youtube clips of USA carriers). However, I don’t share this opinion, and I have always been taken care of very well during every flight, whether with American, United or Delta. The superfriendly and competent cabin crew on this flight was exceptional. The purser introduced herself to all Business Class passengers during the flight and any requests were promptly dealt with. And no, I am not sponsored by United to write down these comments :).

# LAVATORY: There are 3 lavatories onboard the B787-9 for Business Class passengers: one is located behind the cockpit and the two other are located in the galley between the two Business Class cabins.

LAVATORY
LAVATORY
LAVATORY

# VIEWS: we enjoyed clear skies from takeoff to landing, which afforded some stupendous views of Paris (after takeoff), Greenland (mid-flight) and the Bay Area (landing).

LEAVING THE GATE
VIEWS OVER GREENLAND
VIEWS OVER GREENLAND
VIEWS OVER GREENLAND
VIEWS OVER LABRADOR SEA
VIEWS OF SAN FRANCISCO DURING LANDING
VIEWS OF SAN FRANCISCO DURING LANDING

9. MY VERDICT
  • Seat comfort (upright): 7/10
  • Seat comfort (bed position): 8/10 (on condition that you are seated in row 1 or 6 with the larger ottomans)
  • Seat privacy: 5/10
  • Food (quality):  8/10
  • Food (quantity): 8/10
  • Inflight entertainment : 9/10
  • WiFi: 5/10 (works great but too expensive)
  • Service: 9/10
  • Cabin design: 7/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 7.5/10

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6 Comments

  1. The Paris to San Fran TR was excellent. Your TRs are so detailed and helpful.
    Have you done a report on airline food catering? I think it would be fascinating to follow that process from the very beginning of menu planning to service on the plane. How do fresh looking, tasty meals end up on our tray tables at 37,000 feet? Thanks for your excellent work.

  2. This is the slightly better business class on United, Their business class on the 777-200 is absolutely terrible. The best one that you need to fly on is the 777-300ER Business class. Can wait for the Four Seasons resorts!

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