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San Francisco to New York
- Comfortable lie-flat bed
- Friendly, efficient service
- United Club rather dated
- Limited at-seat storage
- Well-timed for connection from Brisbane UA97
United Airlines’ business class is one of the best ways to fly when jetting between the east and west coast hubs of New York and San Francisco. With international grade seats, a full meal service, all aboard a widebody Boeing 777, United is clearly working hard for the business of the transcontinental traveller.
Since United’s flagship Polaris Lounge at San Francisco is only available to international travellers, we visited the United Club lounge, located on Terminal 3.
Access to the lounge is reserved for United Club members, business class travellers on United’s transcontinental service, Star Alliance Gold members on an international flight, and international business or first class passengers jetting off on any Star Alliance flight.
Once you're in, head down via the stairs or the elevator and you’ll find a variety of zones tailored to relaxing and socialising, plus a number of small alcoves more suited to work. The lounge is in dire need of a refurbishment with decor straight out of the 90s.
As this was a morning flight the lounge had a small buffet including make-your-own breakfast tacos, as well as a selection of salads, wraps, chips and fruits. Several coffee, soft drink, and juice machines are available. House wines and other alcholic drinks are complimentary at the bar, and premium drinks are available at an extra cost.
My visit happened during the morning peak so the lounge was at full capacity - however you could still find a seat if you looked around. Overall, this was the weakest part of the journey.
United Airlines currently offers daily Boeing 777-300 flights between San Francisco and New York, with UA1442 departing SFO at 8:30am, arriving at EWR at 4:47pm.
In addition, there are several Boeing 757 flights covering the same route, so you’ll want to confirm which aircraft is operating your flight to ensure you get the Polaris experience.
If you’re travelling with only hand luggage, using the United Airlines app is the fastest way to check in for your flight – it’ll even capture your passport using the phone’s camera – and get a mobile boarding pass, so you can skip the check-in desks and head straight to immigration.
Travellers in business class receive a checked allowance of 2x32kg bags; add to that some frequent flyer status (MileagePlus Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K, or a Star Alliance Gold card from another airline) and you’ll get a third 32kg bag into the bargain.
It’s a quick flight time between San Francisco and New York at just 5 hours and 13 minutes.
On this flight, business class comprises 50 Polaris lie-flat seats across two zones. The now familiar 1-2-1 layout created by Acumen Design combines forward-facing and angled seats in a dovetail arrangement, which provides every passenger with direct aisle access.
The seats are well-appointed and sport a premium finish in blue and grey, with a wraparound shell offering a degree of individual privacy. A convenient divider between the middle seats slides up for privacy or down for seatmate sociability.
In terms of storage, each seat gets a small side compartment to keep your travel gear and amenities close at hand. This is also where United hangs its noise-cancelling headphones – plus a small vanity mirror.
While the storage options are quite limited within the seat, there’s plenty of space overhead. Individual air vents are overhead too. This might not seem like a big deal at first, but having the ability to control the temperature in your immediate area is greatly appreciated.
When it comes to getting work done, a spacious tray table slides smoothly out from under the video screen, while a large faux-marble benchtop on the side is wide enough to spread out any work-related documents.
Above this: the IFE controller, a combo AC/USB power socket and the headphone jack.
There’s a second USB port next to a small recess beneath the video screen, providing an additional spot to charge your smartphone or tablet while they sit snugly out of your way.
There are several lighting options around the seat – one standalone lamp, a small push-out reading light, an overhead light and some ambient lighting under the ottoman.
If you’d rather a mid-flight siesta, the seat transforms into a fully-flat 198-centimetre bed, with plush Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, mattress pad and comfortable cooling gel foam pillow.
Individual controls for the leg rest and lumbar support allow you to work out your optimum position.
United doesn’t provide the full Away-designed flying kit – as they do in long-haul international flights – for their transcontinental crossings. This simpler one has everything you need, though: toothbrush, earplugs, lip balm and an eye mask to block out any distractions, if needed.
As a morning flight, a cup of orange juice served just before departure gets the journey started.
This was followed by an option of French toast or quiche for breakfast, but the French toast ran out by the time the flight attendant reached our seat. So, we went with the quiche with sausages instead. This was a well designed meal, with plenty of flavour and a decent portion size.
Closer to landing, the meal service was capped off with an assorted cheese and meat platter, which I paired with a chilled Stella Artois beer.
This plate wasn't very appetising, with both the cheese and cold cuts of quite basic quality.
Entertainment & Service
Sit back and relax with United’s inflight entertainment system, offering a broad selection of movies, TV shows and music by means of a crisp, 16-inch HD touchscreen monitor.
Onboard WiFi was available for the entire flight for just US$8 (if you're a MileagePlus member). With an average speed of 6.2mbps for downloads and 0.13mbps for uploads, it was more than sufficient for email and web browsing.
Of course, there’s also an inflight map you can use to keep tabs on your progress across the States. But the best entertainment of all was the approach to Newark Airport (EWR). Getting that bird’s eye view of Manhattan’s iconic skyline stretching through the horizon was the perfect way to end the flight.
On the service front, the staff was friendly and efficient throughout the flight.
United’s Polaris business class is good all-around product from a US-based airline, and certainly the go-to option for travellers jetting from San Francisco to New York.
While seats and service were great, the dining and lounge experience from San Francisco both leave room for improvement. If enhanced, they would definitely make this a better way to fly.
The writer travelled as a guest of United.