Despite Polaris Enhancements, United International First Class is still a Joke

11k METRES ABOVE – Hello from the sky. I honestly do not even know where to begin.. Oh, United… I’m presently somewhere over the Atlantic on my way from San Francisco to Frankfurt on a United Airlines Boeing 747-400 in United Polaris First Class (Global First). I was really looking forward to the flight, I’ve read United did get better in the premium cabins since the introduction of Polaris… but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

The flight was delayed by thirty minutes due to aircraft catering. Fair enough, no complaints there. Once I boarded, every passenger was welcomed by a “hello” without a smile. I made my way over to First Class and sat down after storing my bags in the bins. No welcome to First Class, no smiling, no anything.

Then… “here… menu”. Ok, so maybe the FAs aren’t educated to speak in full sentences or maybe they were busy during the boarding process. Later comes pre-departure water in plastic cups. Plastic cups in International First Class! 5 minutes later: “main course?” To which I replied, “I will have the ravioli, please” “The what? Pasta?” “Yes, please.”

Still no welcome from the crew or anything. Then we took off, delayed, of course. So there you have it, two very cold interactions with the crew before take-off. Thirty minutes after we reach cruising altitude…

“Wadda ya wanna drink, young man?”

This crosses the line. First of all, thank you for appreciating the fact that I’m young, but “young man”?! This is NOT how you talk to a passenger in International First Class! To be honest, this FA was different and actually nice unlike the others, it seems like he was in charge of the drinks during this flight.

Then something that totally killed the entire flight experience, the initial FA comes walking through the cabin, yelling: “Tray tables out, either on your left or right side.” You have got to be kidding me. Then, if you didn’t take out your tray table, she would just throw the tablecloth over the seat controls and say nothing. In fact, even though I did have my tray table out, she didn’t even bother to set the cloth, instead she threw it on the tray.

United Airlines Boeing 747-400
United Airlines Boeing 747-400

Then the meal service happened. United serves food on a TRAY in International First Class. On a tray. Many non-U.S. airlines don’t do this in Business Class, let alone in First Class…

FINALLY A POSITIVE – the FOOD. The food was downright delicious – all of it. I was shocked at how good it was since at that point I was expecting everything to be awful. Every bite and every item was fresh, tasty, and excellently prepared. A real Polaris enhancement! But, of course, the food was served without any words being said. ZERO WORDS. Can they not talk or something? Literally, no words. I was in shock.

After the meal service was complete, I requested the mattress pad that is now provided (it is really just a thicker blanket), and it was brought to me.. but of course United’s turndown service includes simply throwing the mattress pad on the seat without even making the seat fully flat. So I did my own turndown service. The new bedding is incredible – super cozy and comfortable. Another positive aspect of United Polaris. But beyond the improved food and bedding, everything else sucks.

Look, I was really looking forward to this flight but now with 5 hours to go, I just really want it to end. Why o why did I think United improved. They are a U.S. airline after all and I swore to myself to NEVER fly U.S. airlines internationally since they all suck – that hasn’t changed. The reason I booked this flight is because the United 747s are set to be retired this year and I really wanted to fly it one last time in Global First before the product was discontinued and with the new enhancements, I was really looking forward to the flight.

Maybe I’m just jaded after flying numerous amazing International First Class products such as Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, THAI Airways, SWISS, etc. Or maybe I’ve just flown Lufthansa First Class more times than I can count. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t fly Lufthansa First Class to Europe.

So that’s United for you. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked since this is normal service by U.S. carriers but I really thought they improved with Polaris. Maybe it is just that I didn’t fly the actual Polaris Business Class seat.. but come on.. this is International First Class!

I will try United’s “true” new Polaris seat on the 777-300ER to see how the service compared to the one on this flight, but I’m feeling like it will be similar… I’m really disappointed in United, because nothing has changed (except the food and bedding). I really thought that with all the marketing and praising Polaris received, that the service would truly be better… But not really, and I was mostly right about this when I made the prediction last year that Polaris wouldn’t be any better from their current service (or lack thereof).


  1. I think you must have gotten a horrible crew. I flew a united 767 last summer from ams to iad in first and had a wonderful crew. They were all in their late 60’s (maybe even 70’s) but had provided me a level of service (warm friendly proactive) I had not even had on the ME3. That was pre-Polaris but I think that the crew you got must have really soured the experience.

    Making the bed (even pre-Polaris) was actually done with care,
    no way they didn’t set the table accordingly. I had 3-4 different welcomes (chief purser, first cabin lead and then 1 or 2 more randoms).

    Either way I hope United address their service quality issues as even a wonderful hard product (which the new Polaris is mediocre at best) can be ruined by a surly crew! I would recommend you write a letter to united at least so the deficiencies are addressed. Normally the long haul crews are the most senior and better ones. If not they shouldn’t be there and make room for the next generation.

    1. You may have found the food delicious but I cant take an airline seriously where the only dessert served is vanilla ice cream with topping. In first class! Oh and last time I asked for a glass of (what was supposed to be French) champagne, and after tasting it asked to see the bottle, it turned out to be the cheap and execrable Jacob’s Creek Trilogy. United is a joke, and Polaris doesn’t make it any less so.

    2. I flew Ewr- Hnl nonstop on United’s 767-400 – I was in the 2-1-2 business first seat and in the middle aisle of the single seat( my fave) the crew was old Continental and they told me so with sadness ( they miss that company)I was traveling with someone very beautiful and famous and sitting right behind me and our service was Singapore and gangsta Fab- however the other passengers were thrown their food and drinks and it was disappointing to see – the one main problem with United is that the Continental employees still have bitterness and upper management is so Scatterd it creates an un-balanced service standards company wide – United Must Must resolve these issues before Delta and American start chewing them up!!! Case in point Deltas new First/Biz product is a fully closed suite – and with Wines and Spirits substantialy better then United’s

  2. I think you got a bad crew. This happens more often on US airlines and in my experience most often on United. I don’t know if it’s some sort of burnt out Union tenure issue or what. AA first service isn’t like that on the few international Flagship routes. Good news is that fist class on US carriers won’t likely be around for that much longer. They will just to be rude in business class.

  3. No wonder they fight ferociously against ME3. Blaming someone else is the easiest thing to do…

  4. United International First Class, Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, THAI Airways First Class, SWISS First Class, Lufthansa First Class.

    One of these things is not like the others
    One of these things just doesn’t belong
    Can you tell which thing is not like the others
    By the time I finish my song?

    Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
    Did you guess which thing just doesn’t belong?

  5. I recently took a United First Polaris Class flight from CDG to LAX, and my crew experience was very good. They were attentive and consistently walked by and asked if there were was anything that was needed, and when asked, they brought it right away.

    What was lacking was the seat quality – seats would not not move forward and back to get you closer to the screen, and the food and beverages were not of the quality of the foreign carriers.

    The Polaris product as someone stated is mediocre at best and without putting the armrest down, it is skinny and even putting the armrest down, there is not much width.

  6. Wow. Nothing had improved except for the delicious food and the wonderful bedding cushion. Except that those are pretty major enhancements.

    It seems you didn’t get the nicest or most polished crew…but it doesn’t seem like the service was any worse than what someone like you would’ve complained about in the previous years. Of course, I’ve NEVER flown UA GlobalFirst and not had someone do turndown. I’m sure you never bothered to ask….and just prefer to passive aggressively whine about it after the fact. Had you asked for turndown and been declined, that’s a different story–but that’s not what you describe.

    My impression is that you want to be flattered with Asian hospitality and service on a US carrier. So please stick with the Asian carriers. Or Lufthansa, since you obviously like it. Americans are more apt to ASK for what we want, so we ASK. Service tends to expect one to ask as a result.

    But denying the delicious food and other aspects of the improved Polaris experience is just more evidence that United won’t miss you.

    1. “Americans are more apt to ASK for what we want, so we ASK”.

      That’s the strangest defence of poor service I’ve ever seen.

      Good service is based on anticipating customers’ needs and pre-emptively attending to those needs. In any industry.

      Apart from that, the behaviour described was just plain rude.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. I would expect to be “catered to” on international first class.

        I’m in the process of planning a first class trip to Shanghai on United and these reviews are giving me pause.

    2. I should have added, Bill, that United is (or pretends to be) a global airline. It should be catering to a global customer constituency, not just to North Americans. Let’s face it, its customer service has never been up to international standards, but recently they have been, we’re told, trying to improve. Putting aside issues such as having customers beaten up by security thugs, by all accounts service is improving some. Clearly this crew did not get the memo.

    3. You actually chose United First? Sorry bro. In all seriousness sorry about your flight. Totally unacceptable. I’m guessing the cash price of that seat was $5-10K. I would expect impeccable treatment, not just good. And especially not what you got.
      I know people hate on Delta, but their service levels are almost unanimously excellent. Maybe not Cathay or JAL, but very good, especially for an american carrier.

  7. You ARE a young man Dominik! Take it as a compliment!

    (Even if it’s a rather backwards one….)

    Still, hearing the food’s improved is one point in United’s favor. You gotta start somewhere, right?

  8. I’ll have to disagree. Took UAL Global First to/from SFO-ICN in February and it was Great both ways! Maybe your trip was an exception………

  9. the responsibility rests with the purser, and they usually set the standard for the service on any flight.
    my experience with flights like this is that there is no point talking directly to the purser during the flight – because if they did care they would have done something about it. All you can do is eat the food, drink the wine and sleep!
    write a letter afterwards … if you care.

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