I flew United's old business class on a 13-hour flight to India, and even though I didn't get to fly on the new 'Polaris' luxury seat I was teased with, I'd still do it again
I recently flew United from Newark, NJ to New Delhi, India, using miles to score tickets in business class for my wife and I. The flight was scheduled to be on a Boeing 777-200 which hadn't been updated to the new Polaris business class cabin yet — but a last minute switch put us on a plane with the new seats. Unfortunately, an overnight delay due to snow led to another plane switch, and put us back on a Boeing 777-200 equipped with the old seats. Despite this, I was still impressed with the seats and the service — and by the way that United handled the delay. Read on to see what business class is like on United. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. SEE ALSO: I flew Delta's reviled 767 business class seat from Europe to New York. Here's what it was actually like. After an unusually long Lyft ride to Newark, thanks to a short but intense snow squall, I checked in at United's Premier Access level for my flight to India.
Because I was flying on an international business class ticket, I had access to United's swanky new Polaris lounge. It featured a range of seating options ...
... Including some that cater to solo travelers.
There were a handful of first-come, first-serve private phone booths ...
... And nap rooms.
There are also private shower suites for those looking to freshen up before a flight.
As far as food goes, the Polaris lounge has a great selection, including a buffet ...
... And a complimentary sit-down restaurant. You'll need to add your name to a list for a table, but everything's included.
There's also a full-service bar around the corner.
We sat down at the restaurant, and I ordered the United Old Fashioned — it turned out to be a good choice.
I also got the burger, which seemed like a bit much before a flight, but actually turned out to be a good idea. More on that in a moment.
My wife got the Paper Plane, a signature Polaris Lounge drink.
Despite the earlier snow squall, boarding began right on time.
We were originally booked to fly on a plane with United's older business class cabin, a lucky equipment swap the night before meant we'd get to fly in United's new Polaris cabin for the first time (or so I thought).
The Polaris cabin was first announced in 2016, and although it's taken a while for United to install the seats across its fleet, the airline says that should be completed sometime this year.
The biggest difference between the new and old cabins — at least on the Boeing 777 — is that every passenger has direct aisle access, since seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The older cabins feature a 2-2-2 or brutal 2-4-2 configuration. Even on flights in older planes, though, you'll get the Polaris-branded service, which includes high-quality bedding for when you're ready to go to sleep.
On both types of planes, business class passengers can also ask for a set of pajamas.
Waiting at my seat, in a nifty storage compartment, were a water bottle and a Star Wars promotional amenity kit.
You can read more about the amenity kit and see photos here. The business class suites don't have closing doors, but offer a decent amount of privacy, especially in alternating rows where the seats are further away from the aisle.
The seats offer a decent amount of legroom, with a foot cubby that serves as the end of the bed when you lay your seat flat. The tray table slides out from above the food cubby.
There's a nifty hook for your coat (although the flight attendants came around and offered to put jackets in a closet) ...
... And a few lighting options, including an overhead light, an atmospheric lamp, and a dedicated reading light.
All in all, it's a comfortable and functional seat, with decent privacy and plenty of storage space. Unfortunately, I never actually got to fly in it.
Thanks to that earlier snow squall, plus a few unexpected follow-up squalls, planes leaving Newark had to be de-iced before takeoff. We were on the plane for about two hours waiting to push back.
After the flight attendants came around offering drinks before takeoff ...
... I used the in-flight entertainment system to listen to our flight's communications with the tower (one of my favorite features on United planes).
I heard our pilot and the tower discussing delays, and our flight crew exceeding maximum allowed duty hours due to the hold-up. A few minutes later, we learned that our evening flight would be delayed until the following afternoon, 17 hours later. Unfortunate, but I was actually really happy with how United handled the delay.
The fact that United immediately delayed the flight the full 17 hours, instead of just pushing it back a few hours, then a few more, then the rest, meant that we could decide immediately what to do. Unfortunately, because the root cause of the delay was weather-related, United wasn't providing overnight lodging. We debated going home, but instead decided to quickly book a hotel near the airport instead. Fortunately, the travel insurance on my credit card, which I used to pay the taxes and fees on the flight, would cover that. It's worth noting that while I was happy with how the delay was handled, I was lucky that I was able to make the reservation myself, and that I remembered my travel insurance would cover the hotel. The next day, I heard from other people that they waited on line for more than two hours to speak with a customer service agent at the airport. The takeaway is: In situations like this, you are your own best advocate. By being informed and decisive, you can avoid lines and headaches. I booked the hotel from the Hilton app on my phone as we walked off the plane.
I'm glad we did, too. Once we got to the hotel, we were able to check in quickly. I came back downstairs an hour later to ask for some toiletries, and saw a line with about 30 people waiting to check in. Ultimately, not where we planned to spend the night, but this definitely beat sitting on the tarmac for an undetermined amount of time.
In the morning, we went back to the Polaris lounge, and went back to the a la carte restaurant for breakfast.
The most crucial thing was coffee, but I also had the omelette.
As we lined up to board, I checked the United app and noticed that our plane had been switched to one with the old business class cabin. Our seating assignments had not reverted to what we originally had, so we ended up swapping seats with other people — I noticed a lot of that going on as families tried to get back together.
The seats on the old cabin of the 777-200, which are in a 2-2-2 layout, are not the newest, and the fact that each seat doesn't have direct aisle access is annoying. But ...
... They're really comfortable. And when you're traveling with a partner, they're fairly ideal.
The 777s with a 2-2-2 layout used to belong to Continental Airlines before its merger with United. The old United business class cabin is in a 2-4-2. The entire fleet of 777s is expected to have the new cabin by 2020. There's a foot cubby for bed-mode, which has enough room underneath to stow a backpack or purse. There's also a shallow table under the monitor, which is useful for things like a laptop or tablet.
The center console between the seats has room on top for drinks ...
... And stores the tray table, which can be pulled out from under the seat controls.
Even though it was the older plane, we still got all of the Polaris bedding, including the cooling gel pillow (of which I'm a big fan, as someone who sleeps hot).
Unfortunately, the pillow doesn't make up for the lack of personal air vents.
There was a bit of room between my seat and the bulkhead, so I shoved my blanket and duvet there until I needed them later.
There's some storage space behind the seat, along with power plugs and the headphone jack. I found an amenity kit and a set of noise-cancelling headphones here.
I was disappointed to be back on the older plane, but certainly didn't mind. There was only one downside: Because it was a former Continental plane, I couldn't listen to air traffic control like on the previous night's plane.
After two planes, 17 hours, one hotel room, two lounge visits, and one Star Wars-themed safety video, we were finally on our way to Delhi.
A few minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants came through with drinks — I went for a Glenfarclas scotch. They also took our lunch orders.
Lunch started with an appetizer platter featuring smoked duck and a green salad, both of which were fantastic
For my entree, I had the ginseng chicken bowl, which had lemon grass chicken broth, grilled chicken, pot stickers, and vegetables. It was light but filling, and incredibly tasty. It may have actually been my all-time favorite plane meal, just from the way it hit the spot.
For dessert, I had the ice cream sundae with the works. It may not look pretty in this photo, but it was delicious.
After lunch, I bought an hour of WiFi to check my email ...
... Before settling in for a movie.
The United headphones weren't as good as the pair I brought with me, but were still decent.
There was still a long flight ahead, and we'd have a connection once we landed, so I decided to put my seat into bed mode, read for a bit, and take a nap.
I ended up reading and sleeping for most of the trip, and woke up as the flight attendants were serving breakfast.
I asked for cereal and fruit — and the all-important coffee.
Just a few minutes after breakfast, we touched down.
Our flight may not have gone as planned, with delays, plane changes, and confused seat assignments. But even on the old product, it was an incredibly comfortable flight, and I'm still pleased with how United handled the initial delay. I wouldn't hesitate to fly United's business class again, and can't wait to try the newer seats!