Flying from Auckland to San Francisco with United Airlines

Plane:

A Boeing 777-300.

Class: Polaris, United’s Business Class offering.

This direct service is available between Auckland and San Francisco throughout our summer.

Luggage: Up to 32kg of checked baggage.

Check-in: I used a self-service kiosk in the Premier Access lane, where I was able to print boarding pass and baggage tags, then was asked questions by a ground crew member (where was I going, why and how long would I be away), before dropping my bag at the counter with an Air NZ-uniformed staff member. It was all pretty fast and smooth-running.

Airport experience: From check in to duty-free took less than 15 minutes. The new security screening area is now complete, with much more space for passengers to fill out departure cards before progressing through. But what will that space be used for once departure cards are phased out? Is the airport annoyed that they spent all that time and money on a refurb that, on completion, is already close to being redundant?

Flight time: 11h 45 minutes

On time: We pushed back from the gate 10 minutes early and were in the air less than 15 minutes later.

Seat: 1A, the Travel Editor’s favourite number/letter combination. Polaris Class offers great privacy, with a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, recessed space for feet, a console, small cupboard for water, amenity kits and headphones (with a built-in mirror), large touch-screen TV, and two windows. The seat was comfortable and spacious, and reclined to a 180-degree lie-flat bed.

Mattresses were supposed to be available on request, but they had run out when I asked. The flight attendant gave me an extra duvet to fold up and place under me. “It’s about the same thickness as the mattresses anyway,” she assured me.

How full: A smattering of spare seats in Polaris, and, according to the flight attendant, lots of empty seats in Economy.

Entertainment: A vast array of movie, TV, audio and games channels available to watch on the seatback TVs or on personal devices using the United app
(which needs to be downloaded before travel).

Service: Efficient and courteous without being over the top.

Food and drink: Lunch was a tomato, mozzarella, basil, kalamata olive appetiser with balsamic glaze, followed by a choice of four “entrees” (American for main) — beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian. I chose the seared barramundi with a rich lemon myrtle cream sauce, crushed garlic potatoes, green beans, cherry tomato, spiced coconut and chilli. The last two ingredients were hard to detect, but the fish was tender and nicely cooked. I had a bite-sized beetroot cupcake with red velvet icing to finish. My breakfast cheese omelette was forgettable.

Amenities: Saks Fifth Avenue duvet, blanket, two pillows and slippers. The amenity kit itself contained cute black and grey stripey socks, Cowshed brand lip balm and hand cream, ear plugs and moulded eyeshade, tissues, toothbrush and paste, and an all-important pen. It rated highly on the “would I take this and use it again” scale.

Fellow passengers: From what I could tell, the majority of the Polaris cabin passengers were Americans. It seems Kiwis remain loyal to Air New Zealand for this route. They shouldn’t — Polaris offers much better privacy than Air New Zealand’s Business Premier cabin and it’s an overall high-quality product.

Toilets: Two at the front of the Polaris cabin, clean throughout the journey. Cowshed facial cleanser and toner bottles to help remove the day.

Bumps in the night: There was a lot of turbulence throughout the flight, with the captain often calling for the flight attendants to take their seats. In the comfort of my lie-flat bed, I wasn’t bothered.

Would I fly again: Yes, Polaris is an excellent product, with high-quality extras that help to make a long-haul journey as comfortable as possible.

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