Review of United flight Shanghai Chicago in First

Airline United
Flight UA836
Class First
Seat 2A
Aircraft Boeing 747-400
Flight time 14:00
Take-off 31 Dec 16, 17:00
Arrival at 31 Dec 16, 17:00
UA   #116 out of 136 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 276 reviews
Rewardflying
By SILVER 4706
Published on 9th April 2017
photo ua836 cover 2

The return from Shanghai on this trip to Taiwan was originally booked on an American 787-8. The idea flying JAL's 787 out and AA's 787 back made for a fun 25+ hours of 787 flying. But that changed on June 2nd when United announced Polaris. With December 1, 2016 being D-day for Polaris, I wanted to try it. Star's aligned (pun intended) when I searched for PVG-ORD and came up with an available United first class seat on the exact day I wanted to travel. This was June 3rd and I ticketed it immediately. As you can see it was scheduled to be on a United 777-200.

photo ua836 ticket

A short time later the aircraft was changed to a 747-400. YES! Given the fact UA is retiring their 747's within the next 18 months or so (since changed to October 2017), this might be a final time on that fabulous "Queen of the Skies" airplane. I love the triple 7, but for nostalgia purposes this was a great surprise. Plus I was flying EVA Airways soon to be retired 747 to PVG, so it was new 787's out and nostalgic 747's back. Anticipation was high.

Of course new Polaris seating would not be on this aircraft, only the "soft" product. There are highlights and some misses. Bottom line to me, it is the most comfortable bed in the sky. And I've tried a lot of beds in the sky.

Let's have a look at "Polaris".

photo ua836 polaris 1

United's laudry bill has increased exponentially.

photo ua836 polaris 2

I'm not fancying the white slippers, what was wrong with United's Rhapsody in Blue???

photo ua836 polaris 3

This is an amenity kit, not a day planner.

photo ua836 polaris 4

If there is a better amenity kit available I haven't seen it, and I have a closet full.

photo ua836 polaris 5photo ua836 polaris 6photo ua836 polaris 7

But I was most excited for this.

photo ua836 polaris 8

And they did not disappoint. Soft, warm and comfortable. Top of the list PJ's.

photo ua836 polaris 9

The gel filled "cool" pillow. It must have worked as I slept 7 hours straight. An airplane first for me.

photo ua836 polaris 10

The larger of the 3 pillows provided.

photo ua836 polaris 11

There is more to Polaris, however here are my wins and losses on this flight for the Polaris soft product.

Wins

Pillows and Bedding. Outstanding
Pajamas. Outstanding
Amenity Kit. Outstanding
Wine Flight. Very creative and fun
Chocolates before and after. Nice touch
Flight Attendants. Energized on this flight to offer Polaris

Losses

Boarding. Nothing has changed
Food. Out of 6 flights on this trip, last, no contest dead last (except for dessert!)
De-planning. Nothing has changed

It's difficult to describe Shanghai's airport. Being greeted by this might be a good depiction.

photo ua836 airport pvg

Check-in and security were painless and I was off to the First Class lounge. United uses Air China's lounge on the upper level of Terminal 2 at Shanghai PuDong airport. First class enters on the left and business enters on the right.

photo ua836 lounge 1

The lounge is nicely appointed with full service dining as well as comfortable chairs. As you can tell it was empty.

photo ua836 lounge seating composite

You can be seated for a for a full service meal and finish it off with one of my favorites for dessert, Sago Soup with Aloe Vera Juice.

photo ua836 lounge menu composite

Or if you prefer to snack there are plenty of sweets and a few hot selections.

photo ua836 lounge food composite

In the back are showers, sleeping rooms and a VIP Room. I wasn't invited.

photo ua836 lounge services composite

This was a nicely appointed lounge to say the least.

But it was pretty much void of staff once past the front desk.

Oops, it wasn't me.

photo ua836 lounge 2

I love sprinkles on my desserts, especially ones that fly.

photo ua836 lounge 3

I found something fairly safe looking, but after circling the dining area twice I couldn't find a spoon so I can't tell you how good it was, or wasn't.

photo ua836 lounge 4

Bored it was off to gate 59. Having flown well over a million miles with United, I'm all too familiar with their boarding process. Once in San Francisco the flight was delayed and the gate agent happily announced they couldn't find the plane. I was made Global Services when it first came out, years before United employees knew what it was (I'm not exaggerating). It wasn't until after I lost Global Services that they finally made priority boarding for GS members. Back then it was just first and connoisseur class. Given my history boarding United flights, the zoo that awaited me was not surprising.

Approaching the gate it was affirmed they had found the plane today.
photo ua836 boarding 1

Here is the "priority" line.

photo ua836 boarding 2

Here is the economy line. Notice the placards pleading for you to get in line.

photo ua836 boarding 3

Here are the placards for "priority" customers. Notice which way the young gate agent is hold the sign. He stood there holding the sign like this for 15 minutes, and this was after the mob behind him had formed.

photo ua836 boarding 4

But at least there was some entertainment.

photo ua836 boarding 5

Time to go.

Global First was innovative in its day. Kind of a reverse herringbone design. It's the nose of a 747. What more would you want?

photo ua836 cabin 1

You could fit 2 747 overhead bins in a single B787/A350 bin these days. Fortunately for me a flight attendant cleaned out this storage locker next to my seat and allowed myself and another passenger to use it.

photo ua836 cabin storage composite

Okay, so the seat was a little worn. It was still comfortable. However I'm not sure what they were thinking with the original color design.

photo ua836 seat 1photo ua836 seat 2

The IFE monitor is far away and small.

photo ua836 seat 3

Aisle side armrest has a drink holder as well as storage compartment. Note to UA maintenance: On #116UA seat 2A, the lid needs adjustment. You have to pry it open with something, the button doesn't work.

photo ua836 seat 4

A big compartment for the noise cancelling headphones.

photo ua836 seat 5

Reading lamp and handy seat control for bed or upright positioning.

photo ua836 seat 6

Compartment for stuff.

photo ua836 seat 7

Lots of ports and seat controls, panel seems reversed don't you think?

photo ua836 seat 8

Both armrests can be lowered for a wider seat/bed.

photo ua836 seat 12

As mentioned, the Saks Fifth Avenue bedding was incredible. Like snuggling in your favorite cozy bed on a cold night with lots of comforters and pillows. Part of the Polaris offering was a turndown service that you request when they take your meal order. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of the bed, but it's dark and others are sleeping so no flash of course.

photo ua836 seat sleep 1photo ua836 seat sleep 2

Polaris has stepped up the Amenity game for United, and these are worthy of another look.

photo ua836 polaris 9

Super comfortable! One of the best airline sleepsuits I've gotten. But UA only gives these out on flights of 12 hours or more. I wonder what happens on the 11:55 scheduled flight from NRT to ORD?

photo ua836 amenity composite

Prior to landing a little red box was given to all in first class.

photo ua836 amenity departing

Upon boarding at each seat was a glass of water and welcome chocolate. These plastic glasses have an interesting design where a stem fits into the bottom of the glass, like a stake, to keep it stable.

photo ua836 welcome 1

The water was quickly replaced with champagne.

photo ua836 welcome 2photo ua836 welcome 3

An insert in the menu offered the beverage selections on this flight.

photo ua836 menu bev composite

While Ayala Champagne may not be the most expensive on the market I found it quite satisfactory, not that I'm a connoisseur. It appears Polaris has introduced a new line of glassware, although I can't be positive about this.

photo ua836 wine champagne

The wine flight is a great idea. For me the Italians won the competition with Washington a distant second and Spain breaking down in the first turn.

photo ua836 wine flight

Food Menu:



An explanation on what is offered on today's flight.

photo ua836 menu 6photo ua836 menu 7a

Have to like the "globe" salt and pepper shakers. I wonder how many of these they go through?

photo ua836 food 4

Having made my selections, the downhill slide begins.

photo ua836 food 1

United's "starter". I won't show "starters" served on other international flights I've taken.

photo ua836 food 2

Maybe just one.

photo jl11 food app 1

Sorry, that was business class,

photo lh amouse bouche

On par with Etihad, at least was the foie gras in terms of taste.

photo ua836 food 3

This is NOT rye "toast", besides being stale.

photo ua836 food 6

Sometimes more is less.

photo ua836 food 7

A little lumpy.

photo ua836 food 8

What is growing on my beef tenderloin?

photo ua836 food 9

There it is, under the foliage.

photo ua836 food 10

I mentioned to my Flight Attendant Christine (who was great), that ordering tenderloin on a plane can be hit or miss. How'd they do?

photo ua836 food 11


Presentation, presentation.

photo ua836 food 12

Seriously?

photo ua836 food 13

Some sweet redemption!

photo ua836 food 14

And no, I didn't twist the plate for this 2nd view.

photo ua836 food 15

Prior to landing, back in the states over Minnesota, it was time for breakfast. I point out "back in the states" because doesn't this look like a domestic first class breakfast?


photo ua836 food 16

Well maybe minus the dragon fruit…

photo ua836 food 18

Sans the egg creation and un-flaky croissant it wasn't that bad.

photo ua836 food 17

Fortunately the food service is over. Thanks to the Polaris bedding I slept through wanting a mid flight snack.

How about the IFE?

Nice headphones. I used them to listen to ATC which was the highlight of entertainment.

photo ua836 ife 1

When it was available as the system kept shutting down and resetting. At least 3 times while I was awake.

photo ua836 ife 2

Poor quality monitor on the Queen.

photo ua836 ife 3

Limited selections of movies.

photo ua836 ife 4

And a one screen airshow. (I thought United's airshow was better than this.)

photo ua836 ife 5

Christine and the crew in first class were great on this flight!

What a grand aircraft the 747 is. As I sat after dinner staring at the ceiling in the nose on this aircraft, I listened to the rush of the wind as we sliced through the air at 550 MPH. You don't hear that wind noise on the new 787 or A350 aircraft. Sure it's nice being quiet, but that wind noise sitting in front of the pilots is something that will never be forgotten, as will this view.

photo ua836 nostalgia 1

United 747 #116 was making it's 3rd to last landing at O'Hare. It would do a round trip to PVG followed by one to Narita, landing back at O'Hare on January 4th, 2017. Next it will be re-deployed to SFO where it will finish it's career. I was lucky to be on this flight.

But the sun always sets.

photo ua836 nostalgia 2

Flight path
photo ua836 flight path

A complete report on UA836 with ratings at rewardflying.com

2017 promises to be another year of new flying adventures. Find out where to on rewardflying.com

Thanks for flying with me in 2016!
See more

Verdict

United

5.5/10
Cabin7.0
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi3.0
Meal/catering4.0

Air China First Class Lounge No. 71

5.8/10
Comfort8.0
Meal/catering3.5
Entertainment/wifi3.5
Services8.0

Shanghai - PVG

4.5/10
Efficiency4.0
Access4.0
Services5.0
Cleanliness5.0

Chicago - ORD

6.0/10
Efficiency6.0
Access6.0
Services6.0
Cleanliness6.0

Conclusion

United has made great strides with Polaris. While I think they are making a huge mistake promoting their new business class seat when it really won't be widely available for a number of years, the bedding available now is unbelievably comfortable as are the pajamas. It's unfortunate they are removing first class from their fleet as I believe it has a place on these long haul flights, but they haven't asked my opinion. With new interiors and IFE equipment coming, many of this flight's problems will be resolved. Food is something else. I was greatly disappointed, not only in the quality but the presentation. Maybe it was just this flight, hopefully it was just this flight. I'll be back to try again, but sadly it won't be on a 747 as they will be gone in a few months. Now October 2017 is the planned end date. A 777 GF flight is booked for 2017 out of ORD with a visit to the new Polaris lounge.

Related

13 Comments

  • Comment 392798 by
    Razza_Pr 205 Comments

    Hello, rewardflying, and thank you for this FR.

    "It's difficult to describe Shanghai's airport."
    -Isn't PVG the airport which announces its flights with "Flight XXX /from/ Shanghai to destination.."? Or is that a different Chinese airport? I find it unusually comical that they announce the flight's origin, as if you're not flying out of Shanghai.

    "I wonder what happens on the 11:55 scheduled flight from NRT to ORD?"
    -They offer Polaris on the 'Cago-Narita run, so they must offer it on the return flight. Moreover, they also have a Polaris lounge at NRT I think.

    "I point out "back in the states" because doesn't this look like a domestic first class breakfast?"
    -A lukewarm welcome home?

    Too bad the new Polaris catering was a miss. At least the crew, bedding, and pillow made up for it?

    "When it was available as the system kept shutting down and resetting."
    -Was the crew communicative about this? Any formal apology, or a heads up before they reset the system?

    What a way to wrap up the series. When do you start your 2017 flights precisely? I see you've got GA A330 and TG A359 booked already. Looking forward to reading your reports on those!

    Thanks again. Cheers!

  • Comment 392801 by
    Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

    Hi Razza_PR, That is pretty funny. I don't recall the announcements but would not be surprised.

    Polaris is offered on all international flights. It's the PJ's only on 12+ hours. I did contact United and they do hand them out on NRT-ORD, but NRT doesn't have a Polaris lounge. Only ORD at this point, I think the first international will be HKG for some reason, next year.

    Having flown United too many times my expectations were low so yes the bedding really exceeded them, the rest wasn't a surprise. The crew was good but no announcements; The system simply crashed and restarted on its own, they weren't resetting it. It's old and in desperate need of an update or funeral.

    Yes 2016 was a fun year with new experiences planned for 2017. It starts end of May on BA. The 747 switched to a 380 so now it's 380/787 from SFO to DEL. I've actually got 2 TG 350's planned but not holding my breath. To date I've had 3 prior TG350's reserved all of which were swapped out due to their MEL issue. Then the GA330 probably won't happen. That was married to Delta 747 and they swapped that out for a 777 the other day, not interested unless they change it to their A350 but it's end of the year so time will tell. The DL 747 flight was their last scheduled 747 flight at the time. Now it's been moved up 2 weeks.

    Thanks for your comments and traveling with me! Talk soon.

  • Comment 392813 by
    757Fan 572 Comments

    Thanks for your report, Rewardflying! I actually just read an article about United's new Polaris product and I was interested to see your photos. The bedding, welcome drink, wine flights, pillow, etc, look to be the stand out of the product, but I'd agree the food doesn't look all that amazing, at least by seeing your photos.

    Looking forward to your next report.

  • Comment 392820 by
    Nick 172 Comments

    Great report and thanks for mentioning the over-marketing that United has done with the Polaris hard product. People in the AvGeek world understand the situation, but it may feel like a bait and switch to regular customers, especially when the website says "Polaris" when you're booking business class. It's aggravating to see Oscar Munoz touring the new hard product and rubbing elbows with journalists while ignoring some of the more tangible issues United is facing. Their mess of a boarding process you highlighted is one example. I even had United's reservation system change a leg in one of my itineraries to a flight in the opposite direction once. Those aren't really sexy topics though, so United's upper management seems to ignore them.

  • Comment 392824 by
    Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

    Thanks for reading Matthew. Apparently Saks Fifth Ave sells this bedding. It's impressive. I've had some decent food on United, but certainly not this time. Hoping for better next.

  • Comment 392825 by
    Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

    Hi Nick, well they could be Delta! I'm sure you've read about their week. I read an article reviewing Polaris where the reporter thought he was on the new seat but was on the dreaded forward/reverse 4 across in the middle pattern and LIKED them! But for the most part you are right about the novice flyers not knowing and expecting what they see in the ad. They shouldn't be marking these flights "Polaris" for sure. Anyway thanks for reading!

    • Comment 392826 by
      Nick 172 Comments

      Haha, yes I read about the Delta devaluation. Another reason I try to burn points and miles as fast as I earn them. I also read that article in which the author thought United's old product was actually Polaris. Pretty funny.

      • Comment 393030 by
        Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

        Saw a great tweet yesterday, went like this: Dear @United, Thanks! Sincerely @Delta. UA does like to follow Delta, Guess they out did them this time!

        • Comment 393033 by
          Nick 172 Comments

          Haha, United's incident certainly made everyone forget about Delta's rash of weather cancellations and SkyMiles devaluation. The aviation blogosphere's reaction to the United incident made me disappointed. It seemed like a lot of bloggers were defending United for the sake of seeming more knowledgeable and intellectual than the general public. My personal opinion is that United was 100% to blame and actually broke the law by ordering the police to remove the passenger.

  • Comment 393035 by
    Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

    I agree with you to the extent they didn't handle the situation properly. The Chicago and O'Hare police didn't need to beat the crap out of the guy, that wasn't UA's fault. And the CEO didn't do himself any favors by saying "we had to reaccommodate" a passenger. They should have offered the guy or whomever whatever amount it was needed to have them give up their seat. Whatever that amount would have been is a tiny fraction of what this is going to cost United. It does appear once they allowed the guy to board they can't boot him unless he does something to cause it. So you're right and United needed to find a way to have someone voluntarily give up their seat.

    • Comment 393045 by
      Nick 172 Comments

      I wonder what the gate agent said on the phone when they called the police. I don't think the situation falls under "denied boarding" but rather "refusal of transport" since he was already on the plane. If I was the police officer who answered the phone I'd ask what the guy did wrong. I wouldn't be too apt to help if the gate agent said, "Well nothing, but we didn't plan our crew re-positioning well and we don't want to offer anyone fair compensation to get off so we'd like you to just physically drag them off the plane."

  • Comment 395781 by
    jetsetpanda 2296 Comments

    Hi rewardflying and thanks for sharing this FR.

    Another new marketing twist on UA's premium product. Remember when it was called "Connoisseur", then changed to "United Business" and now "Polaris"? It's pretty embarrassing when the audience laughs at your Polaris ad like what happened at the Tribeca Film festival in NY and you end up pulling it off. At this point they should just redirect their energy and concentrate on improving the product across all cabins.

    The new wine tasting seems like a nice feature, but what good is it when on the return flight you run out of wine selections to sample as one FA told me? i'm not surprised by your score on the catering. Presentation is awful for a F cabin.

    Hope that your next Polaris flight is better.

  • Comment 395886 by
    Rewardflying SILVER AUTHOR 486 Comments

    Connoisseur class, the good old days. Those seats on the new (at the time) 777 were nicer than what they have now. I think it was a decent airline back in the late 90's before 9/11 and BK. Hoping for LH first to become available so I can swap the UA flight next time. Really only want to try the new Polaris seat and that looks to be a disappointment as there is no storage space. I think AA and DL have much better long haul business class seats IMO. At least UA got the bedding right. Anyway, thanks for reading Jetsetpanda!

Login to post a comment.