UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

CHICAGO- SAN FRANCISCO:

Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: United Flight UA2166
  • Route: Chicago (O’Hare)-San Francisco
  • Aircraft: Boeing 757-300
  • Airplane (registration and year built): N57862, built in 2001 for ATA, transferred to Continental in 2010.
  • Miles flown: 1,849 miles.
  • Flight duration: 4 hours and 10 minutes.
  • Class of Service and Seat: First Class, seat 3F
  • This is my: 689th flight on 95 airlines.
  • This is my: 199th  flight on United Airlines mainline
  • This is my: 14th flight on a Boeing 757-300, 63rd flight on a Boeing 757 series aircraft.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Our path from O’Hare to San Francisco.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The day started bright and early, like 3 AM early. I was on-call and in the hospital the night before so a quick shower in the call room and I was on the empty roads heading to O’Hare airport.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Despite the early hour, terminal 1 was fairly busy at 4:30 AM.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

After clearing security I headed over to the Polaris lounge. I read that it didn’t open until 7 AM but I figured it was worth a try.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

It didn’t open until 7:45 AM actually so off to the terminal C United Club I went.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The offerings in the United Club were pretty standard, a choice of cereals,…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

breakfast breads, and…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

fruit and yogurt.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

After a few snacks and a bathroom break, it was time to head on over to gate C-21 where N57862, a 2001 built Boeing 757-300 was waiting. Initially delivered to ATA, N57862 joined the Continental fleet in 2010.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Flying in First Class meant boarding with group 1 and at 5:35 AM boarding started.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I was hoping to get one of the 9 refurbished 757-300’s with the new First Class seats but alas the day before departure N57862 was subbed for N57868, the 757-300 with the new First Class that was originally going to be used for our flight. Either way, I was in my happy place, so I was still happy!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Safety is always first so of course, I quickly reviewed the safety card.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Now if you are observant, you will notice that it was pitch black when we boarded and now as we waited for takeoff, the sun was completely up. Despite pushing off of the gate two minutes ahead of schedule we sat in the penalty box watching plane after plane take off while the cockpit crew attempted to manually transmit the flight plan since the electronic transmission wasn’t working. As we sat there for almost an hour I saw my Polaris lounge time at SFO slowly evaporating.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Finally at 7:36 AM (exactly 90 minutes after we pushed off of the gate), our Rolls Royce engines came to life and with a dull thud, we were finally airborne. Love the look of that condensation flowing over the wings!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

As we reached our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet, beautiful cumulonimbus clouds punctuated the beautiful blue skies.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Soon breakfast orders were taken and…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

hot towels were distributed.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Choices were a vegetarian breakfast calzone or chia oatmeal. I opted for the former which was okay at best. The calzone came with a fruit bowl, yogurt and a selection from the bread basket. As always my perpetual diet went out of the window and I went for a cinnamon roll.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

If you are going to eradicate all other forms of entertainment, you have to make sure that the wifi, streaming entertainment and power outlets work well. Today, United was zero for three.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The flight attendants made multiple attempts to fix or reset with minimal success.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

So, I decided to catch a few ZZZ’s and woke up as we crossed the Utah-Nevada border where I spied…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

these glorious views!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I guess the wifi, movies, and sitcoms are just mindless distractions and if all else fails the best show is unfolding right outside of the window anyway.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Soon the pitch of the engines changed and we began our descent over northern California. I am a man of many phobias and one of my phobias is crossing bridges. I absolutely hate them! Crossing this long bridge (San Francisco-Oakland bridge I think) brought back horrible memories of the long drive from Miami to Key West.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Soon we crossed the threshold and with a firm smack, we were in San Francisco. With less than an hour until my scheduled departure to Beijing, I knew that my Polaris lounge time was probably squashed!

Check out the ORD-SFO flight report video here:

Flight Review:

Experience/Total stars: 3.0/5 stars-The definition of average.

  • Check-in: 5/5 stars– I was able to complete check-in online including all document checks.
  • Lounge: 3/5 stars- The United Club at O’Hare was a standard United Club which is average at best. The Polaris lounge was at O’Hare was closed and due to the late arrival into SFO I didn’t really have time to experience the SFO Polaris lounge. Had I actually had some Polaris lounge time, I’m sure the lounge rating would have been better.
  • Boarding: 4/5 stars- I like the new United boarding procedure and it definitely cuts down on the gate lice. A greeting at the door boarding UA2166 would have been nice but overall boarding for both flights was smooth and easy.
  • Seat: 3/5- Pretty average, the seats were standard First Class lounger seats, comfortable enough for a four-hour flight.
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 0/5 stars- What in-flight entertainment? Nothing worked, the power plugs, the wifi, nor the streaming entertainment.
  • Meals: 3/5- The menu was pretty creative but the execution was pretty meh.
  • Cabin Crew: 3/5- No greeting upon boarding was a big negative mark. In flight the crew was pretty good but nothing over the top.
  • Cabin ambiance: 3/5- Standard 757 cabin, nothing special but acceptable.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 4/5- The cabin was clean upon boarding and remained clean throughout the flight. I feel like the bathrooms on US carriers always suffer a bit as the flight progresses and this was no exception.
  • Price paid and value for money: 5/5- I paid about $3,200 for the Business Class roundtrip, so no complaints there.
  • Thumbs down: No greeting at the door, the flight was 90-minutes late, power outlets, wifi, and streaming entertainment didn’t work.
  • Thumbs up: The cabin was clean and the crew was good.

SAN FRANCISCO-BEIJING:

Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: United Flight UA888
  • Route: San Francisco-Beijing
  • Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
  • Airplane (registration and year built): N2341U, built in 2017
  • Miles flown: 6,061 miles.
  • Flight duration: 12 hours and 9 minutes.
  • Class of Service and Seat: Polaris Business suite, seat 3A
  • This is my: 690th flight on 95 airlines.
  • This is my: 200th  flight on United Airlines mainline
  • This is my: 15th flight on a Boeing 777-300, 80th flight on a Boeing 777 series aircraft.
UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Flight 888 path from San Francisco to Beijing.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Unfortunately, our late arrival into San Francisco meant that I literally was only able to take a quick walk through the Polaris lounge before heading over to gate G100 where…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

N2341U, a 2017 built Boeing 777-300 was waiting to whisk me across the Pacific to Beijing.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Face to face with 175 tons of flying goodness. Boarding started right on time at 10AM and soon…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I was in the blue mood lighting of United’s Polaris cabin and…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

seat 3A, my home for the next 12 hours. A full sized pillow, a smaller cooling gel pillow, a blanket, and a duvet were waiting on the seat.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I enjoyed the blue mood lighting as boarding continued, it definitely gives the Polaris cabin a signature feel.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Each Polaris seat has a large TV screen with a small storage area underneath. The storage space is nice but it would be even better if it was large enough to fit a laptop and had a lip or door to prevent things from sliding out during takeoff.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Being an aircraft devoted mainly to international flying, there are naturally a multitude of language options and the variety of movies and sitcoms was more than enough to keep you occupied on a longhaul flight.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Menus were distributed as well as boarding continued.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

There were four entree options for lunch, I opted for the beef short rib.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I understand maximizing the bottom line but I think there is a fine line between maximizing profits and penny pinching on your premium product. Polaris would have a bit more of a premium feel if every passenger was given or at least offered a mattress cushion and a pair of pajamas. Best believe I got one of each!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Lunch orders were taken while pre-departure beverages were offered. I went for good ole H2O, gotta stay hydrated on long flights.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

My proof of life pic. Yup, I was chilling in the blue glow of Polaris looking forward to my first genuine Polaris experience.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The new Polaris seats definitely have more storage space than United’s old eight across Business Class product, but I feel like there were ways to design a bit more storage space into the seats. The main in-seat storage space is this cabinet where the headphones and amenity kit was located. I also used it to store the small bottle of Dasani that was also waiting at my seat.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Slippers were waiting for each passenger in the footwell which also provided another storage location.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Each seat has a hook to hang your coat or jackets.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Here you can see the relatively small size of the storage cabinet when empty.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

These table side lamps provided more ambiance than light.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

This reading light also provided a source of illumination if needed when the cabin was dark.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Power is available in the form of a USB port as well as a standard electrical plug.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The seat controls are a little unique in that a roller wheel is used to convert the seat into a bed.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The tray table is located under the TV screen and it is deployed by giving it a little push which prompts it to pop out.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Before departure, I made a quick visit to the lavatory which I felt was a bit spartan for a premium product though it had all the basics.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

We pushed off of gate G100 two minutes after the scheduled time of departure and slowly inched past a few fellow United aircraft waiting in the penalty box.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The Boeing 787-8 headed to Osaka that was next to us at gate G102 was hot on our tail during our slow roll to the threshold of the active runway…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

which we reached after a ten-minute taxi. Being close to the nose of the airplane, you get some pretty nice views including this almost dead on view of the runway as we lined up for take-off.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Our GE engines came to life at about 11 AM pushing our sluggish and heavy Boeing 777-300 down the runway. The Osaka bound 787 was next up.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Notice the change in the wing contour as we climb over SFO, the beautiful aerodynamics of flight and lift!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

After only a couple of minutes, we were crossing the Pacific coastline officially starting our long trans-Pacific journey to mainland China.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Our routing today took us north across the Pacific coastline up to the tip of Alaska across the Pacific to the tip eastern Russia and finally over northeastern China and into Beijing.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The newer United flight maps have more views and information pages. It definitely gets thumbs up from Dr. I!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Soon after take-off, the lunch service started with the laying of the linens.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

First up was warmed, mixed nuts with a choice of beverages. I’m pretty predictable so a Coke and a water it was.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Hey ma look, whole cashews!

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Next up was the starter, which consisted of seared tuna, a kale salad, and selections from the bread basket. I’ve never been a huge fan seafood that is basically raw but the tuna wasn’t actually too bad.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I like the consistent branding from the tablecloth to the napkins to the dishware to the salt and pepper shakers.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

I selected the beef short rib for my main and I have to say, it was actually pretty darn good. It was cooked just right and the flavor was good even at 35,000 feet! The mashed potatoes were also good but the lima beans I could have done without. All in all, a pretty solid dish though.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

The dessert cart followed and there was no way I could pass on the signature sundae, this time dressed with caramel sauce and walnuts. In addition to the sundae, petite desserts were offered including small cherry pie, cheesecake, and turtle cake. Cheese and crackers were also on offer but I passed on them.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

After lunch, I paid another visit to the lavatory which was already in desperate need of some attention. There is no way a bathroom should look like this in any cabin much less a premium cabin and at the beginning of a flight no less. I’m sad to say that the tissue that was on the floor in this lav at the start of the flight remained throughout, clearly the crew never visited the bathroom or they visited and left it in this condition.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

This sadly was another lavatory in the Polaris cabin. Same problem, it remained messy and unattended throughout the flight. This lack of attention to detail in the soft product was a real black eye to the Polaris hard product.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

After returning from the bathroom I requested a pair of pajamas and a mattress cushion and converted my seat into a flatbed. The mattress cushion is a nice touch but it would have been a nicer touch if the crew member actually made up the bed instead of just shoving the items at me. Again, the Polaris hard product was undermined by the level of service and the soft product. Anywho, I enjoyed three movies (yes, three movies) and a solid five hours of sleep before…

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

the breakfast service started. Breakfast consisted of an omelet with a southwestern sauce, chicken sausage, breakfast potatoes, a fruit plate, yogurt and selections from the breakfast bread basket. Airplane breakfasts are always pretty mediocre and I just don’t understand the concept of always serving breakfast as the second meal despite it being 11 PM at the point of origin and 2 PM at the destination.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

About 20 minutes ahead of our scheduled time of arrival, we were crossing the threshold at Beijing’s Capital airport on a sunny afternoon “28 hours after departure” having crossed the international date line.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

Definitely in Beijing, Air China tails abound.

 

UA Polaris Business Chicago-SFO-Beijing (Boeing 757-300 and 777-300)

A nice Star Alliance lineup with tails from United, ANA and Air China.

 

Flight Review:

Experience/Total stars: 

  • Check-in: 5/5 stars– I was able to complete check-in on line including all document checks.
  • Lounge: 5/5 stars- I only had about five minutes in the SFO Polaris lounge but as far as airline lounges go, the Polaris lounge gets 5 of 5 stars.
  • Boarding: 5/5 stars- With two boarding gates both in use for Polaris, boarding was quick and punctuated by a nice greeting at the aircraft door.
  • Seat: 4.5/5- The seat is a HUGE improvement over either of the other current United Business Class seats but storage is still bit of an issue. Overall though, the seat is well designed and the all-aisle access is phenomenal!
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 4.5/5- I love the new flight map and while it is no ICE, there is more than enough to keep anyone entertained on a long flight.
  • Meals: 4/5- The lunch was actually pretty solid (minues the lima beans) but the second meal service left a bit to be desired.
  • Cabin Crew: 3/5- The crew were polite enough but they definitely didn’t go above and beyond. I honestly am not one who likes to be fawned over and the service on the likes of Singapore Airlines actually makes me uncomfortable but the crew make up a large part of the Polaris soft product and this crew just didn’t live up to the promise of Polaris.
  • Cabin ambiance: 5/5- I like the blue mood lighting, the color scheme and the branding throughout the cabin.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 2/5- The cabin was clean but the bathrooms were disgusting and unacceptable!
  • Price paid and value for money: 5/5- The $3,200 paid for the roundtrip was a great value, no complaints!
  • Thumbs down: Mediocre cabin crew, filthy bathrooms, mediocre second meal service.
  • Thumbs up: Great hard product, good first meal service, good amenities.

 

Check out the SFO-PEK flight report video here:

 

Check out my time in Shanghai here:

And don’t forget to read my blog from my 72-hours in Shanghai RIGHT HERE!