Flight Review: United Polaris SYD-LAX - NerdWallet (2023)

I’ve just returned from a month-long trip to Australia, where I spent my days tanning in the winter heat of the tropical Northwest. After such an arduous vacation, I certainly needed the ability to nap during my flight home.

It’s also a long schlep from Sydney back to the U.S, which meant that the only way I’d be climbing on board a plane was in some type of business class. Happily, United Airlines came through for me, with upgrade availability to United Polaris — my favorite business class product. Here’s how it went.

The best way to book United Polaris business class

I’m a frequent United flyer and, as an upper-tier elite status holder, I’ve earned myself a stash of PlusPoints over the last few years. To that end, I spent $915.47 on a one-way economy class ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles, then used 40 PlusPoints to upgrade myself to United Polaris business class.

If I were instead looking to redeem miles for my flight, there would be two good ways to do it. The first, and easiest, would be to use United MileagePlus miles. A one-way saver-level award could start at 80,000 miles.

The second way would be to book the flights through All Nippon Airways, also known as ANA Airlines. Although ANA requires you to book a round-trip itinerary, it’ll only cost from 105,000 to 120,000 ANA Mileage Club miles for your flights, depending on the season.

» Learn more: How to get cheaper award prices on United flights

Check-in and security

Sydney features expedited processes for business class passengers. In addition to using the designated business class check-in for United (which had no line), I was also able to use separate lines for both immigration and security.

This made a huge difference in my route through the airport. In total, it took 27 minutes from the time I arrived at the airport to the time I walked into the lounge.

The lounge

As a business class passenger, you’re entitled to access the lounge at Sydney's airport. Although there is no United Polaris lounge in Sydney, you can still use another Star Alliance business class lounge, such as the Air New Zealand international lounge or the Singapore Airlines business lounge.

I opted for the Air New Zealand lounge, which had plenty of room and seating.

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A long bar served any passengers who wanted drinks.

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Food was available buffet-style, and there was also someone making fresh breakfast quesadillas for those who were peckish.

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All in, the lounge was a pleasant place to spend an hour before boarding.

Boarding and cabin

I find U.S. airlines are often the most vigilant about boarding times. United was no exception — boarding officially started three minutes before the time stated on my boarding card.

As a Premier 1K status member, I was able to pre-board. Business class passengers are otherwise in Group 1 for boarding, which occurs directly after pre-boarding.

Every seat, even in business class, was occupied on my flight. United operates the 787-9 Dreamliner on these flights, which feature 48 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

» Learn more: The best business class airlines

The seat

I’m a big fan of United’s Polaris seats, mainly because they offer a great deal of privacy. This is thanks to the long, curving shell that they create.

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Seats on these flights vary depending on location, so you’ll want to be choosy about where you sit. Odd-numbered window seats feature the most privacy for individual travelers as they’re directly against the windows. Although I had a window seat with privacy, an off-centered position meant I had only one window instead of two.

Those traveling in pairs will want to opt for odd-numbered middle seats, where a sliding divider can come down for conversation.

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United provides Saks Fifth Avenue branded bedding, including a plush comforter, a gel pillow and a standard pillow. You can also ask for a mattress pad, which will cover the seat and provide an additional layer of cushion.

The seat includes a large screen for in-flight entertainment.

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You can either use the touchscreen or the included remote, which sits next to an international plug.

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Although United includes headphones on these flights, they’re nothing to write home about. I usually bring my own noise-canceling headphones but had forgotten them for this trip.

I threw on the pair United provided, but the noise from the plane was so loud that I needed to keep the volume at max level in order to hear my movies.

Amenity kit

United has partnered with Away for its amenity kits, which is a huge improvement over its past offerings. At your seat, you’ll find a hard-sided Away case full of amenities.

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This includes a pair of socks, an eye mask, a dental kit, earplugs and tissues. You’ll also find Sunday Riley-branded hand cream, lip balm, face cream and a cleansing wipe. Each seat was also provided with a pair of slippers, which was a nice change since normally you need to ask for them.

The amenity case itself is pretty snazzy; I’m looking forward to using it in the future to store my cables.

Finally, on flights longer than 12 hours, United offers a pair of pajamas upon request. These are free to keep and very comfortable. I highly recommend grabbing a pair.

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🤓Nerdy Tip

United only stocks a certain number of mattress pads (for the seat) and pajamas per flight. Ask for yours early before they run out.

United also offers Wi-Fi on these flights. Because I needed to work during the flight, I purchased the full-flight package for a cost of $23. Speeds were decent and more than enough to allow me to complete my work.

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Service and food

If you’ve flown in a premium cabin before, you probably already know how much nicer the crew are upfront. This flight was no exception. I was warmly greeted and offered a glass of welcome champagne as soon as I sat down.

United used to provide a printed menu, but this disappeared when COVID-19 hit. Nowadays, a flight attendant will come by to take down your meal preference.

On departure, we were offered a choice of Moroccan lamb, salmon, or polenta with mushroom ragu.

On the one hand, it’s nice to have personalized interaction with flight attendants. On the other, not having a printed menu means you have no idea what sides are included, dessert options available or what types of alcohol they serve. This is more than a little frustrating.

I chose the lamb, which was decent, but the highlight of my meal was the ice cream sundae United provides.

Breakfast came about an hour and a half before landing. I don’t know what it was — I was only asked if I’d like to eat it.

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I’m pretty sure the main item was a mushroom quiche, which is a shame because I hate mushrooms and couldn’t eat it.

Finally, I wasn’t overly impressed with the continuing service throughout the flight. United Polaris attendants are usually pretty proactive — they’ll come by and ask you if you need anything as well as take away trash.

This crew didn’t do that. While they would respond if you called them, the service was minimal. In the end, I accrued piles of debris on my seat that weren’t picked up until landing.

» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now

The bottom line

I’m a big fan of United Polaris and I fly it often. Although long, the SYD-LAX route was a decent flight. I still miss some of the amenities that were included prior to the pandemic, such as printed menus, and I’m hopeful they’ll make a return at some point.

Still, United provides a great deal of privacy, very comfortable pajamas, and ice cream sundaes. What else do you need?

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