The new Polaris-configured Boeing 777-300 will transport paying passengers for the first time on Thursday with service from Newark to San Francisco.
The new Polaris-configured Boeing 777-300 will transport paying passengers for the first time on Thursday with service from Newark to San Francisco. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

SAN FRANCISCO -- After months of heavy promotional buildup, United Airlines put its first Polaris business-class cabin into service Monday with an invitation-only flight between Chicago O'Hare and San Francisco.

"It's more than a product. It represents the new spirit of United," CEO Oscar Munoz said in a brief speech before the launch.

The new Polaris-configured Boeing 777-300, of which United took delivery in December, will transport paying passengers for the first time on Thursday with service from Newark to San Francisco.

The plane, one of 14 777-300s that United expects to put into service this year, will begin ferrying customers internationally on March 25 on the carrier's San Francisco-Hong Kong service.

Polaris seats lie flat to a length of at 6-and-a-half feet.

During his remarks, Munoz sought to highlight the care that went into the design of the Polaris pods by touting some of the finer details. The pods' stowage area, he noted enthusiastically, has a vanity mirror. Another touch? A small handrail sits above each pod's video screen to aid in standing up.

During the four-hour flight, I appreciated the video screen, which unlike in some business-class pods, doesn't have to be moved around to accommodate meal service. I also found the design of the tray to be clever, as it left space to get in and out of the seat, even while extended and covered with food.

United began the service end of its Polaris product across its international network on Dec. 1 with the unveiling of new menus, upgraded amenity kits, bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue and either Bloody Mary carts or wine tastings, depending upon the time of day.

United CEO Oscar Munoz taking tickets for the flight between Chicago and San Francisco.
United CEO Oscar Munoz taking tickets for the flight between Chicago and San Francisco. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

The carrier developed 48 salads, 96 appetizers and 248 entrees for Polaris, said Jeff Pelch, the carrier's senior manager of product strategy and implementation in food services.

Also aboard the flight, Dennis Lake, United's international service manager, said that one physical distinction between the new Polaris cabins and the older business-class cabins is the pod configuration. The 1-2-1 configuration of Polaris means all of the pods have aisle access. United will gradually replace the old business-class cabins.

Another difference, according to the website SeatGuru, is that United's older business-class pods don't have floor storage space. But my Polaris pod had space for a backpack, purse or briefcase beneath the foot stool.

During my four-hour flight, I had little chance to enjoy the seat in its lie-flat form. Briefly, I found that I could stretch my 5' 10'' frame out fully with room to spare.

The food service included a wine tasting, a Thai lemongrass shrimp appetizer, a baby spinach salad, and a choice of five entrees. (I chose short ribs.) For dessert I chose the sundae tray, but was too stuffed for the cheese assortment.

Polaris menus vary depending upon the country where the flight is headed, Pelch said.

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