Review of United flight Tokyo San Francisco in Business

Airline United
Flight UA838
Class Business
Seat 15A
Aircraft Boeing 777-300ER
Flight time 09:50
Take-off 06 Jul 17, 16:50
Arrival at 07 Jul 17, 10:40
UA   #91 out of 119 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 235 reviews
Rewardflying
By GOLD 2342
Published on 13th August 2017
photo ua838 cover

Greetings fellow Flight-Report #avgeek fans. They say if you fall off a horse the best remedy is to get right back on. Well after my last disaster trip I got right back on. This trip came a whisker of being cancelled, but the opportunity to fly Lufthansa and Asiana first class was too much to pass by. Then as I like to say, the stars aligned when United's 777-300 with Polaris seats became available the day I was headed home.

The original plan:
ORD-FRA United 777-200 Polaris First
FRA-DUS Lufthansa A320 Business
DUS-NRT ANA 787-9 Business Staggered
NRT-ORD Japan Airlines 777-300 First Class

turned into this:
ORD-FRA Lufthansa 747-8i First Class
FRA-ICN Asiana A380 First Class
ICN-TPE China Airlines B777-300
TPE-ICN China Airlines A300 Business Class

NRT-SFO United Airlines 777-300 Polaris Business Class - This Flight Report
SFO-ORD United Airlines 757-300 First Class

For avgeek anticipation what could be better than boarding a 3 week old 777-300 flying its 13th international flight with the brand new Polaris Business class seats?

My intentions leaned towards canceling this whole trip. That last trip was a disaster and this trip was on UA's old 777 along with a repeat of Japan Airlines 777 in first. While I loved JL, I just flew it. Yes the ANA 787 was anticipated, but on the whole the trip had lost its appeal. I was waiting to see if Lufthansa and Asiana would show up in first class. Lufthansa 747-8 first class and Asiana A380 first class, now that was motivation and sure enough it did become available.

The same day I booked Lufthansa and Asiana first class I typed into United's mobile app NRT-ORD with my return date and flipped the 'search award travel' button. When the results appeared I couldn't believe my eyes. Maybe not so much that UA838 from Narita to San Francisco on United's brand new 777-300 with the new Polaris business seats was available. No, the surprise was that there was a premium seat from San Francisco to Chicago without having to wait 12 hours until the red-eye! Rare, and sad. But there it was. I immediately pressed the Business Saver Award button and reserved it, knowing the next two lines of text had my back. Details to work out within the next 24 hours.

photo ua838 ua app search

The surprise to others probably is I swapped a direct JL first class flight to Chicago for United in business with a connection, for about the same points. I never claimed to be sane. But I'd do it again.

I arrived on this warm sunny day to Narita a couple hours early with the observation deck in mind. Narita is a beautiful airport.

photo nrt term 1

This one could have been my ride had it not been 105,000 Skypesos to fly. However what was really irritating is this same flight was available for the low saver fare of 80K the next day, just not today. Delta's dynamic pricing can be, well that's another story.

photo nrt obdeck 1

Next door, this one's first class cabin is on the bucket list as well.

photo nrt obdeck 2

After some plane watching the sun was getting the better of me so I headed to the United Club anxious to see how it compared to ANA's business lounge by gate 50, which isn't the greatest in the world as I'd label it average. Gold Track priority screening was a breeze and down the stairs to immigration and I was at the lounge in minutes.

photo nrt fast track 1

It doesn't look like a United Club



Well. maybe it does.



Anxious for this flight I headed to the gate.



While snapping photos of 2137 which had recently arrived from SFO, there was an ambulance at the tail door. I tried to find out what this was about but never found anything.

photo ua838 boarding 2

Boarding at Narita was the most organized I've ever seen at a United gate. I was first in line until they invited Global First to board. They never did that when I was GF.

photo ua838 boarding 1

Showtime.

photo ua838 cabin wall 1

The entrance was through door two, this is the rear business class cabin. (Note: The cabin shades are drawn and the blue mood lighting made for some poor quality photos. I attempted to adjust the images to no avail.)

photo ua838 cabin 3

I followed Mr. GF to my seat, 15A. The aisles are fairly tight, and a lot of folks would be traveling back to ten wide.

photo ua838 cabin 7

The the rear cabin consists of rows 9-18, minus 13 and 14 for whatever reason.

photo ua838 cabin 4

Sixty, yes SIX ZERO business class seats in two business cabins. (Thoughts on that at some point.)

photo ua838 cabin 10a

Here is one of the angled center seats. Notice the retractable dividers for these center seats.

photo ua838 cabin seat 1

The two center seats straight-forward facing.

photo ua838 cabin seat 2

The lavatory in front of seat 9-A is handicap equipped which offers plenty of room to change into the PJ's they don't give out on this route. (What's the difference between Seoul to San Fran and Narita to San Fran? Answer: PJ's from Seoul.)



Home, seat 15A against the window, straight-forward facing. Most of these seats have three windows, however one window is behind you.

photo ua838 seat 1-1a window

It can be a tight squeeze getting into this window seat pod.

photo ua838 seat 1-2a window

First impressions were positive.

photo ua838 seat 1-3 window

Here is a window angle-forward seat. These seats only have a single window, except row 16 has no window.

photo ua838 seat 3-1 window aisle

Window and center angled seats place you exposed to the aisle.

photo ua838 seat 3-2 aisle

It appears the bulkhead seats, rows 1 and 9, have more legroom.

photo ua838 seat 3-9a

United has installed this handrail to help hoist yourself out of the seat.

photo ua838 seat asc 5 rail

The outer armrest can be lowered to extend the bed width a couple inches. Cleverly the information placards are held inside the armrest.

photo ua838 seat arm rest 1aphoto ua838 seat arm rest 2

Inside the opposite armrest are the seat controls as well as light switch (2nd to last) and do not disturb light (last). I found the wheel seat control easy to use, while I've read some inadvertently move it while sitting. I did not have this problem.

photo ua838 seat asc 3a controls

Hooray for air nozzles.

photo ua838 seat air nozzle

The monitor is a positive responsive touch screen along with being high definition.

photo ua838 seat monitor 1

A large tray pulls out from underneath the monitor. There's also a fold out panel on the back that can be used to secure a tablet for video watching. Below the monitor is a small compartment that can be used for phones or mini tables with a USB charging port in reach.

photo ua838 seat tray 2

Underneath is a foot rest with a small storage area for a purse or travel bag. What's nice about this footwell is that it's equal width from front to back, unlike the reverse herringbone seats that narrow towards the rear.

photo ua838 seat ottoman

While these Polaris seat pods lack storage for all the Polaris bedding and personal larger items you may have brought on board, each pod has a compartment for smaller items such as headphones or maybe your cell phone, although it's not very deep.



A few of the other seat accessories.



The Polaris seat United uses is the Zodiac Optima, which was designed from the Zodiac Skylounge series that ANA employs in their staggered business cabin. The Optima series is obviously in a different configuration but essentially it is the same pod based on seat, tray, footwell and monitor placement.

And away they go.

photo ua838 away they go 3 bye bye jp

This was the first thing I was given. I don't recall being offered a pre-departure drink but probably would have refused. I certainly don't have a photo. However I'm sure warm towels were handed out from the tray with those little tongs they use.

photo ua838 am chocolate

The seat pictures showed the three Polaris bedding items placed at every seat. When I boarded I requested a gel pillow and mattress pad. They were provided before departure and stored in the overhead bin above my seat. If you want a gel-pillow or mattress pad be sure to request them immediately as United only loads these items for about 60% of the seats.

In one of the footwell photos above United's white slippers were shown. Here's my fashion show wearing the socks provided in the amenity kit. Yikes!

photo ua838 am socks-slippers

While the United Polaris First amenity kit is outstanding as well as a prior Cowshed business class kit, this new Polaris Saks Fifth Avenue kit, not so much. 

photo ua838 am kitphoto ua838 am kit contents

The menu has a single page insert for beverages.

photo ua838 food menu 1

My flight attendant had no clue what the Sommelier's wine choice was today. Nor did she know what champagne was on today's flight. Which brings up the question, why is a menu necessary? Especially an insert to the booklet menu.

photo ua838 food menu 2 bev

There were two flight attendants in the back cabin of twenty-eight people, which is a whole other issue. One worked each aisle. The FA working the opposite side was taking dinner orders. Probably because my FA barely spoke English. I think she was either Taiwan or Hong Kong based. So when the other FA was taking orders for 15 G/L I heard her request a second choice from a passenger who ordered the Japanese Dining Service, "just in case they ran out".

A few minutes later she took my order. I asked for the Japanese Dining Service. She requested a second choice "just in case". I said the Chicken. "And a third choice?" Hmmm, ok the beef. I've taken the liberty to amend the menu as shown.

photo ua838 food menu 3 food

White or red?

photo ua838 food wine 2

Do you have champagne?

photo ua838 food wine 5

Red.

photo ua838 food wine 3

The wine flight was a taste of each, which is fine. Last time is was a full glass, apparently I had a friendly pourer that day. Today I decided I liked the one on the right and asked for more. I still don't know what it was. She flashed the bottle when I asked. I think it was Chateau St. Michelle which makes sense at about $15USD retail. 

photo ua838 food pres 1

Apparently I wasn't getting the Japanese meal. The smoked salmon was good, but there was almost too much of it. 

photo ua838 food app 1

Cherry tomatoes must be in season.

photo ua838 food salad 1

Well the mystery is solved.

photo ua838 food main 2

No surprises here.

photo ua838 food main 3

I don't know if I ever knew the name of my flight attendant. She was in over her head. Now in fairness she had 14 people on her side. But she wasn't organized and as I mentioned didn't speak much english. I wouldn't say she was not nice, but she certainly wasn't personable. I don't recall a single smile.

This is exactly how the cheese course was placed on my tray. The menu says Port, none was offered.

photo ua838 food cheese 1

United management, travel on some other airlines and see how this done. Please.

The menu says Sweet treats. This plate was placed on my tray with the coffee I requested.

photo ua838 food des 1

Let's see, looks like a tart and a mini-chocolate cake and ???

photo ua838 food des 2

The menu states to "Ask your flight attendant" four times.
Champagne
Sommelier's Choice (for both white and red)
Sweet treats
Hot bites

And the anytime A La Carte menu suggests cold bites anytime after dinner service. Maybe they are hiding.

photo ua838 cabin self serve

The entertainment system is quite nice with brilliant colors and a good selection of movies. This flight also had Channel 9, for a few minutes.



When I awoke from a few hours of sleep the IFE system was not working. Teething pains on a new aircraft? Disappointing nonetheless. (Nor did Wi-Fi.)

photo ua838 ife broken 1photo ua838 ife broken 2

Time to sleep. On UA836 last year in first class I marveled at the Polaris bedding and the great comfortable sleep. My comment was something like, "snuggling in your own bed". The star of that show was the Saks Fifth Avenue plush duvet. What is missing from this picture?

photo ua838 am bedding

So no plush duvet. What do you think the chances of getting a turndown service were?

photo ua838 seat bed 3

I did it myself of course.

photo ua838 am gel pillow

I guess a lot of people didn't want to sleep.

photo ua838 cabin darkened 1photo ua838 cabin darkened 2

The bed is comfortable. I got a great sleep. Polaris hard product is pretty darn good for a business class seat.

Outside of San Francisco breakfast was served.

photo ua838 food brk 0

How much sugar is in this yogurt, I don't read Japanese? Do I really want to eat this? What a boring bowl of fruit. See China Airlines flight #106 TPE-NRT for what a bowl of fruit should look like United. It's really a simple thing.



Did I mention service was bad? Have you ever gotten up in the morning and had open liquor bottle or glass laying around from the night before? Insert gag here.

photo ua838 fa service

It was a glorious approach into the bay area.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 1

Can you spot the Golden Gate bridge? One of the anchorages is peaking through the clouds.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 2

I'd hate to be a weather forecaster in San Francisco. (Maybe not, they get paid when wrong anyway!)

photo ua838 scenic sfo 3 weather

Destination below.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 4 over top

Love the raked wing tip on these 300's, and the GE90-115 is massive.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 5 turn

Postcard view!

photo ua838 scenic sfo 6 lined up

Full flaps.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 7 full flaps

Hello Etihad and SFO.

photo ua838 scenic sfo 8 home

This was the 13th international journey for this new United 777-300.

photo ua838 plane history

Flight path

photo ua838 flight path

Full report and ratings for this flight and others at rewardflying.com
See more

Verdict

United

5.8/10
Cabin9.0
Cabin crew3.5
Entertainment7.0
Meal/catering3.5

United Airlines Red Carpet Club

7.4/10
Comfort8.0
Meal/catering7.5
Entertainment8.0
Services6.0

Tokyo - NRT

8.0/10
Efficiency8.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.0

San Francisco - SFO

8.0/10
Efficiency8.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

The true Polaris business class seat is the Zodiac Optima fashioned after the Skylounge series and a quality product in my opinion. As I mentioned, ANA uses a similar model as their staggered J seat and business class is highly recommended on these international planes. While United has 60 Polaris seats the cabin doesn't seem as crowded as it does for example on Swiss that has 62 J seats. That could be because United's two front cabins are split 32/28 versus Swiss 10/52 due to having a first cabin. The mini cabins are great if you can get them but otherwise it has the flavor of economy class. Not so on United. Also the Polaris pods are high enough to shelter the person sitting in one. You just see the pod, and the top of the occupants head. They are very private. Combined with the excellent Polaris bedding, you can get a good sleep. And of course with this plane being brand new that was special as well.

Everything else was not so special. I don't want to beat a dead horse but the crew and food were at the bottom of all my experiences. Flight attendants are hit and miss. The woman working the other side of the cabin seemed fine. My side was terrible. Third selection for entree? So maybe I'm not their best customer lately but I've flown more miles that that plane had to date, enough to gain me lifetime status. What's wrong with pre-order? Even American lets you do that on domestic flights.

An early arrival set the stage for yet another most welcomed surprise! Stay tuned.

Informations on the route Tokyo (NRT) San Francisco (SFO)

The contributors of Flight-Report published 3 reviews of 2 airlines on the route Tokyo (NRT) → San Francisco (SFO).


Useful

The airline with the best average grade is ANA with 7.7/10.

The average flight time is 9 hours and 26 minutes.

  More informations

13 Comments

  • Comment 408404 by
    Razza_Pr 203 Comments

    Greetings, Rewardflying, and thank you for this FR.

    "The the rear cabin consists of rows 9-18, minus 13 and 14 for whatever reason."
    -13 would be understandable. But missing a 14 when a 4 is present is quite unusual..

    "The seat United uses is the same Zodiac Skylounge III that ANA employs in their staggered business cabin, obviously in a different configuration."
    -I initially thought it was RECARO's CL6710, given the configuration. Though I think the CL has more storage space in the seats.

    "My flight attendant had no clue what the Sommelier's wine choice was today. Nor did she know what champagne was on today's flight."
    -Maybe she wasn't told it in the pre-flight briefing? It's even funnier considering United's victory for best champagne offered by airlines..

    "Apparently I wasn't getting the Japanese meal. The smoked salmon was good, but there was almost too much of it."
    -This commenter knows no such thing as 'too much salmon' :p - fun fact: eating salmon can speed up your hair growth for some time. How about that?

    "Hello Etihad and SFO."
    -In a short while it'll be 'bye Etihad, sincerely SFO'. One wonders where the 77L working AUH-SFO will go to in the future?

    What a review for Flight-Report's first look at UA's True Polaris. A hard product to make up for the shortcomings of the soft? The cabin is easy on the eyes, I must admit.

    One wonders which aircraft family is next in line to be equipped with these Zodiac seats.. the 777-200 to replace the ancient seats, the 787-9 for premium routes (I'm thinking SIN to compete against SQ, or SYD for premium yields), or 757/767 running transcontinental routes?

    Thanks again for this FR. Cheers!

  • Comment 408416 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    Hi Razza!

    >I initially thought it was RECARO's CL6710, given the configuration. Though I think the CL has more storage space in the seats.
    That was the original rumor when first announced. Given the delays with Zodiac maybe Recaro would have been a wiser choice??

    >This commenter knows no such thing as 'too much salmon' :p - fun fact: eating salmon can speed up your hair growth for some time. How about that?
    -More smoked salmon please...

    >What a review for Flight-Report's first look at UA's True Polaris. A hard product to make up for the shortcomings of the soft? The cabin is easy on the eyes, I must admit.
    - Yes thanks, I was impressed with the cabin as well. It was very attractive.

    >One wonders which aircraft family is next in line to be equipped with these Zodiac seats.. the 777-200 to replace the ancient seats, the 787-9 for premium routes (I'm thinking SIN to compete against SQ, or SYD for premium yields), or 757/767 running transcontinental routes?
    -Currently a 767 N664UA is getting a retrofit to Polaris. The seat map looks nice and private. You need to get a window seat for the best privacy. This aircraft must be getting a D check as it's been in HGK since May. From what has been rumored the 767s, then 777's will be retrofitted. 787's are last except the 787-10's will get the new seats. I'm convinced they are going to cancel the A350 order and replace with either more 777-3, 787-10s or the new 777x. Either way, the fleet won't be all Polaris for 5-7 years. I made a reservation the other day for a 777-200 J flight next year, then cancelled it and paying to fly to Toronto to take the AC 787 instead. I do agree with you on the SQ competition but United makes some odd decisions. Why you would put these new seats in 20 year old aircraft is a mystery. They are waiting for Boeing's MOM aircraft that hasn't even been announced. So another 10 years of these old 767/777.

    Thanks for reading and happy Reward Flying. Oh, keep an eye out on FR this week. More surprises!

  • Comment 408468 by
    BenChDC 4 Comments

    Many Asian carriers do not have row 4 or 14 because the number 4 sounds like death in Chinese and 14 sounds like certain death.

  • Comment 408550 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    BenCHDC, Thanks for reading and the info. I do see where Hainan and China Eastern forgo these numbers while Air China doesn't. But the United cabin has a row 4. Anyway thanks for the note.

  • Comment 408614 by
    dreamweaver888 41 Comments

    Great review! As suspected, UA has finally brought the hard product up to par but the soft product has a long way to go. At least the bed is comfortable. I'm quite impressed that they were able to achieve the comfort level that they did even with a relatively high-density business class layout.

  • Comment 408629 by
    socalnow GOLD 610 Comments

    Greetings Rewardflying and thank you for the review of the new UA J experience. Minus the Polaris Lounges, of course.

    "For avgeek anticipation what could be better than boarding a 3 week old 777-300 flying its 13th international flight with the brand new Polaris Business class seats? "
    -JAL F. :P

    "Narita is a beautiful airport."
    -For the age of the facility I too am impressed with the airport. The T1 observation deck is fantastic.

    "The seat United uses is the same Zodiac Skylounge III that ANA employs in their staggered business cabin, obviously in a different configuration. "
    -Interesting, i would not have guessed that. Now that you have educated me I can see the similarities. This might be teh only similarity between UA and NH...

    "Did I mention service was bad? Have you ever gotten up in the morning and had open liquor bottle or glass laying around from the night before? Insert gag here."
    -Ha! Change is difficult and United hasn't. They have a competitive J seat now, not cutting edge mind you, just equal to the competition. But the service... Complete (un)luck of the draw.

    "An early arrival set the stage for yet another most welcomed surprise! Stay tuned."
    -A special arrival beating? ;) Looking forward tot eh surprise.

    Thank you again for the detail and effort to share this flight with us. Happy flying.

  • Comment 408767 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    Hi Dreamweaver888, and thanks for your comments.

    >UA has finally brought the hard product up to par but the soft product has a long way to go
    -So true. But the bedding is good and the amenity kit isn't all that bad. I prefer the earlier versions but that's just me. Food, that's the downfall.

    Thanks again.

  • Comment 408771 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    Hi again SoCal,

    >JAL F. :P
    -appears my fate has been cast!

    >This might be teh only similarity between UA and NH...
    -When UA flies the 300 to NY you will get PJ's to take home, not on NH. That counts for something doesn't it? Didn't think so:)

    >A special arrival beating? ;) Looking forward tot eh surprise.
    Maybe, however more likely if I was departing ORD, not arriving.

    Any luck with TG to Sydney?

  • Comment 408886 by
    pwecar 51 Comments

    Thanks for another great report! The service and soft product of United is still years behind its competitors.

    I'm afraid that the Polaris seat is not Zodiac Skylounge III, it should be the prototype of Zodiac Optima, which saves even more space than usual staggered seats by inclining aisle seats towards the aisle.

    • Comment 408896 by
      Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

      Hi Pwecar and thanks for the note. Yes, United has a long way to go. But they get away with it, their fares are high and planes are full. Not much incentive.

      It appears Zodiac has added this seat to their website under the Optima name as well as revamped the Skylounge seat names. So thank you for that update. The basic design of the seat is identical to the Skylounge in terms of tray placement, monitor and footwell. The configuration angling towards the aisle is of course different as I indicated. BTW, you don't want to get one of those angled seats, no privacy. Thanks again, I will make the appropriate name changes.

  • Comment 411987 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    Hi Razza, Well predictions can be a risky business. This morning United confirmed they are taking not 35, but 45 A350-900! These are to replace the 777-200 fleet starting in 2022. The 1000 version is out. But then again they have 5 years to change their minds. Hope things are well!

    • Comment 412106 by
      Razza_Pr 203 Comments

      Hello, Rewardflying.

      I'm alive and kicking, and I hope this comment finds you well.

      Predictions can be risky indeed. 2022, eh? That's interesting. Are we then to assume UA will save themselves some capex by not refurbishing some of their 777-200? If anything, I bet the Hawaiian configuration will be last to see any changes.

      I've yet to see more reviews from you. I thought your next series was due in August? Whatever will I read during breakfast/dinner? :p

      Many thanks for the update regarding UA's (CO's?) order. I must say I'm very surprised that they've decided to stick with their A350 orders at all instead of scrapping it for the 777X, especially since the queue to get the latter is shorter.

      Thanks again for the update!

  • Comment 412117 by
    Rewardflying GOLD AUTHOR 356 Comments

    Hi Razza, I am surprised too. My guess (here I go again!) is they can't get out of the a350 contract without paying too big a penalty. But I doubt we will ever know.

    Good point on the refurbishing. Yet if they don't refurb the 777 international fleet they are going to get killed with American already done with a better seat and Delta starting with their new Vantage XL seat. The 8 across on these 777's don't stand a competitive chance over the next 5 years. It would be interesting to see the a350 rollout schedule. Maybe it's backloaded towards 2028 allowing a good 6-7 years with new Polaris seats on these 777 if they get installed in the next couple years. I am too surprised they didn't take the 777X. Boeing took a hit on this today.

    Just got back last week. Putting the reports together. First one this weekend. I have like a million photos from 12 flights so it will be probably 1 or 2 a week going forward. Glad to hear you are kicking!

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