Warning: Don’t Be Confused By United Airlines Business Class (When Polaris Isn’t Polaris)

United Airlines Polaris Business Class

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A lot of things that frequent travelers find easy or simply take for granted can be actually be confusing and even a little bewildering to those who don’t fly so often so, when an airline appears to go out of its way to complicate matters unnecessarily, I get annoyed.

Let’s take the example of United Airlines who, as far as I’m concerned, uses extremely misleading terminology for its Business Class products.

Back in June 2016 United Airlines introduced us all to its new “Polaris” Business Class product.

This was to be the product that would finally elevate United’s international Business Class cabin out of the lower leagues and give it a chance to compete with the airlines who actually offer a 21st century seat.

a chair with pillows stacked on top of itUnited Airlines Polaris Business Class – Image United Airlines

The Polaris Business Class cabin offers direct aisle access from all seats…..

a row of seats with monitors on the sideUnited Airlines Polaris Business Class – Image United Airlines

…and is a massive step up on the international Business Class product United flyers have had to put up with for years.

Here’s an example of what I mean – Polaris Seat on the left v older United Business Class on the right:

a comparison of a plane seatsClick to Enlarge – Images Courtesy of United

There was, however, a slight problem with the fanfare that went along with the announcement of the new Polaris Business Class product….United was clearly in no hurry to get this product rolled out throughout the fleet.

At first only the new (and still to be delivered) Boeing 777-300ER aircraft were to get the new seat and then, and only then, would a very slow retro-fit commence on some of United’s older aircraft.

Almost 17 months after the Polaris seat was unveiled to the world United Airlines is operating just 15 aircraft with this new Business Class cabin (14 x 777-300ERs and 1 retrofitted 767-300).

Polaris Business Class Is More Than Just The Seat

Here’s where the confusion starts.

When United trumpeted the arrival of Polaris Business Class it was very keen to explain that it wasn’t just a new Business Class cabin that would be introduced – new onboard amenities would be offered….

a bag with a variety of items in it

a pair of slippers and a shirt on a pillow

…..bedding would be provided by Saks 5th Avenue…..

a row of seats in an airplane

…..and the in-flight food and drink service would be revamped completely.

All of this is great….but United have used all these add-ons to the Polaris seat to confuse matters quite a bit.

Let’s face facts for a moment.

When a passenger is choosing a Business Class product to book he/she is primarily interested in the seat before everything else….if the add-ons are good then that’s a nice bonus but the seat is what truly matters.

I don’t imagine anyone has deliberately booked an angled-flat Business Class seat over a true lie-flat seat just because the airline with the angle-flat seat offered the better bedding.

The problem is that United seems to think that if it offers any part of the Polaris Business Class experience onboard its aircraft it can call the Business Class cabin “Polaris”.

Disingenuous doesn’t begin to describe what this is.

United may not have rolled out the Polaris Business Class seat to more than 15 of its aircraft (at the time of writing) but it is now calling most (all?) of its Business Class cabins “Polaris”.

Take the airline’s 787-9 Dreamliner as an example.

Not one of United’s 787-9 Dreamliners has be retrofitted with the new Polaris Business Class seat but, when you go to select your seat on one of these aircraft, look what the United.com seat map shows:

a map of an airplane seat

And this isn’t just what you see on the Dreamliner seat map….you’ll see the United Business Class cabin labeled as “Polaris” on every one of United’s long-haul aircraft.

The only parts of the Polaris product that are actually offered on these aircraft are the food service, the bedding and the amenity kits….and no one is booking United Business Class just to have those!

This is the seat you’ll find on the United Airlines Dreamliner and it’s nothing like the Polaris seat you may be expecting:

a row of seats in an airplaneUnited Airlines Dreamliner Business Class

Some will no doubt argue that the seat map for these aircraft show that the cabin doesn’t offer all-aisle-access seating so flyers should know what they’re getting….but why should they?

To an occasional flyer, seeing the words “Polaris Business Class” written on a seat map of a cabin he/she is looking to book is probably going to suggest that the aircraft offers the full package (you know, the package United made all the fuss about last year) – why should he/she have to examine a seat map and decide if what’s on offer is “true Polaris” or just “Polaris-lite”?

How To Tell If You’re Booking “True Polaris”

Well, clearly you first have to ignore whatever wording you read on a United.com seat map.

The only way you can be absolutely sure that the aircraft scheduled to fly your route is fitted with the new Polaris Business Class seat is to look for a seat map that looks something like this:

a map of a seat area

This is the Business Class seat map of the United Airlines 777-300ER and, as you can see, the seats are clearly set out in a 1-2-1 layout and all seats have direct access to the aisle.

As I mentioned a little earlier, the only aircraft that currently offer the Polaris seat are the 777-300ER and one 767-300…so that’s not exactly a large proportion of the United Airlines fleet.

The routes on which you’re most likely to find the Polaris Business Class seat are:

  • San Francisco – Beijing
  • San Francisco – Frankfurt
  • San Francisco – Hong Kong
  • San Francisco – Taipei
  • New York Newark – Tel Aviv
  • New York Newark – Tokyo Narita (from 28 October 2017)

United has confirmed that it will begin retrofitting its 777-200 aircraft this winter and will continue the slow retrofit of its 7670300 aircraft too…..but there’s no news on the fate of the Dreamliners currently in United’s fleet.

Bottom Line

I find the way United Airlines labels its international Business Class cabins extremely misleading verging on the deliberately disingenuous. I have no idea why it hasn’t been pulled up for using misleading advertising but, apparently, it’s fine for the airline to do what it’s doing.

Hopefully the information provided above will act as a warning and a guide to those of you who aren’t frequent flyers or who don’t fly with United frequently.

Be careful – just because it’s labeled “Polaris” doesn’t mean the Business Class Cabin you’re looking at is actually the Polaris you’re probably imagining.