united 787-9 polaris business
The Final Verdict
Airport Lounge
Bedding + Amenities

Fauxlaris: synonym for United Business Class marketing fail.

Reviewers at the very least are supposed to show impartiality and an openness toward the experience they are critiquing. Let’s be honest – that is basically no one and it’s certainly not me. In a world of 24 hour news cycles, social media and customer angst aired over the internet (or down the aisle of a plane) it’s impossible not to walk into any travel setting without some level of preconceived notion.

In this “Fauxlaris” journey from Los Angeles to London, I thought I knew what I was in for and I was wrong. I both loved and loathed United Polaris business class. Both are definitively possible.

a seat on a plane
United Fauxlaris, not Polaris – in terms of seat.

Fauxlaris VS Polaris

United Polaris, is the revolutionary new seat, bedding, pillows and business class service United launched to compete internationally. It has gone down in marketing history as one of the absolute worst blunders of all time, thanks to the fact that to this very day, only extremely well informed travelers can actually tell whether they’re receiving true United “Polaris”, or United “Fauxlaris”, the fake version with the same old seat and better blankets. You need to know aircraft type, and even route to have a fighting chance. Here’s a good guide. I received the latter, “Fauxlaris”, but I did know this going in. I’m simply illustrating a point.

a seat with a stack of towels on it
This is the real United “Polaris” seat, on select Boeing 777.

Polaris Lounge At LAX?

The journey was slightly disappointing long before it started. United had promised its gorgeous new line of Polaris lounges would launch in Los Angeles (LAX) in fall 2018. That figure was then pushed to winter 2018, and long after I booked my ticket, a cash fare of $1700 originating from Zurich, I found that United had once again pushed the opening date until January 5th, two days after my departure from Los Angeles. Hey, at least they’re consistently inconsistent. It counts for something.

a seat in a plane a seat with a screen and a monitorThe United 787 Business Class Seat

On the Boeing 787-9, an aircraft which will be amongst the last to receive “true Polaris”, business class is strikingly familiar. United uses B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, which are also used by the likes of Qatar Airways on single aisle planes, American and Delta on transcontinental business class and Air China on many wide body jets. The seats are configured in a 2x2x2 layout on the 787-9 and although they are not revolutionary by any means, they’re quite effective.

a seat in a planeSolo travelers should opt for the middle row if they wish not to step, or be stepped over in flight. Those traveling together will enjoy the oversized windows offered by the Dreamliner. Shooting for the first row, or any bulkhead will secure a wider footwell which makes it easier to toss and turn in the night. The seat offers solid storage above your head to the left or right, near where the power ports and audio jacks are found. In addition, the extra footwell can be excellent for larger items such as backpacks.

a man sitting on an airplane with a stack of clothesNow that you know how to fly United 787-9 “Fauxlaris” like a pro, let’s get back to the roast. I loathe the fact that any non blog reading traveler would have no idea whether they’d be enjoying a private seat with state of the art entertainment – Polaris, or just this seat – Fauxlaris, which has existed for many years as “business first”. I also loathe that I bought a ticket in part to experience United’s newest, best lounge offering with a three month safety buffer and still lost out to delays! But honestly, that’s where *most* of the loathing ends.

a person lying in a plane with a television and a screenGreat In Flight Service And Amenities

Many of the crew members on this flight talked like characters out of the Coen brothers classic cult movie “Fargo”, which I found both amusing and personable. I was greeted promptly with a smile, offered a glass of something relaxing and presented with menu cards. My business class seat was predictably comfortable and my screen was fast and responsive. Most importantly, and far too overlooked in many reviews: my flight left on time.

a pillow on a seatIt’s with great happiness I can say that I was blown away by the quality of the sleep offerings. Not just one big pillow, but a hard gel/foam style pillow accompanied the more than adequate duvet and additional bedding. You know they’ve done it right when there’s “too much”. I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a more comfortable and more importantly, customizable pillow set up. The duvet(s) were excellent and could easily suit any temperature.

a plate of food on a table a bowl of food on a tableAbsolutely Dreadful “Polaris” Food

Enough with the sweet lullabies. Food service came quickly, and it was decidedly dreadful. I’ll defer to the United Polaris cookbook to find out how you can make a “seared tuna”, which looked very lightly seared and tasted like something out of a frozen tin…. for cats. Please note, I rarely ever complain about food up front in business class, but I am only taking the opportunity to do so because any passenger in any cabin would’ve been offended. The poor fish died in vain. My partner politely told me her “chicken” dish, which was actually part Turkey was truly the worst meal she’d ever tasted on a plane, in any cabin.

a double decker bus on the streetWas United Fauxlaris better than expected? Yes, much. As is protocol with many seasoned travelers, I aim to eat on the ground before flight and self cater my own snacks. Airline food is almost always going to be bad and therefore the sub par food was somewhat inconsequential. What makes a flight, in my eyes, comes down to: timeliness of arrival, sleep comfort, quality of entertainment and disposition of the crew. My crew was excellent, my sleep was rock solid, all down to the pillows and we arrived right on the nose at 12 noon. I’ll fly this again, I just won’t get too excited about the cosmetics.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Isn’t that tune just the appetizer which is supposed to be served chilled? What was your main? My issue with the Polaris coursed menu was actually that there was too much food and I loved the tuna starter. Maybe you just got a bad batch.

    Not having the Polaris Lounge open does stink but I think the official opening is now set for the 12th so you missed it by more than a week anyways. Did you have a chance to check out the United Club at least? The new LAX United Club might be my favorite one in the system, even better than LHR (though the LHR First Class Lounge is pretty solid).

    I’ve been trying to understand the issues with the delayed Polaris hard product roll out but a colleague of mine made a good point talking about how heavy UA has been utilizing their WB fleet and that the issue could be that they couldn’t afford to take more aircraft out of service for retrofitting due to demand / schedule growth. But I agree, the marketing rollout was like 3 years ago, they need get on with it. This product will be outdated before its even complete.

  2. Well, this was quite the hilarious review and illustrates why I think your blog is one of the best. And really, what could anyone expect from UA? Some phrase about putting lipstick on a pig comes to mind. What I have to argue with is your assertion that “airline food is almost always going to be bad.” Nope, not even close. Not on Thai Royal First, not on ANA, not on Korean. On UA, yes, always. Aeromexico? Absolutamente. UA trying to compete with the top airlines is always hilarious, because they’re so clumsy and inept. It’s like a natural law of airlines, that you can’t consistently trash and degrade your economy class and then try to have a top notch premium product. BA works quite well to illustrate this. Anyway, thanks for the entertainment (and that expression on your face in the photo was priceless, btw).

  3. Hmmmmm,
    So you mention you paid $1700 cash fare for your ticket that originated and Zurich. And you flew back to London. So, you received an upgrade of some sort, or used miles? That’s a pretty good deal to fly business class. And yet you still complain. My goodness, how people feel they are so entitled these days. Sad.

    1. No, fares from Europe are often much lower than from the USA, so I paid $1700 for a (P) (discounted business class) fare outright. I received no freebies, special treatment or acknowledgement from any airline. Just a mediocre flight.

      1. …but the flight wasn’t mediocre by any means. You slept well, enjoyed the bedding, the excellent crew, the on-time performance, the great 787 IFE.

        The tuna let you down. And someone else’s Turkey, not your own.

        The old BusinessFirst seat, whilst not Polaris, is still a pretty damn comfortable seat; just without direct aisle access for the window seats.

        Doesn’t really sound particularly mediocre, to be honest.

  4. Ugh. I got converted to biz class on leisure trips last January. I’d been so screwed over by Air Canada on a cheap miles trip to Sao Paulo via Toronto that I convinced the United counter to get me the hell out of Pearson, as United was the original ticketer. I arrived in Newark after a 24 hour delay in Canada in January having hustled my way through two days of travel hell (NEVER will I ever even consider Air Canada). Got to the gate and thought I’d check the cash upgrade. $499. SOLD.

    It was true Polaris, and it was wonderful. And the food was FANTASTIC. I’m a foodie and the Thai Curry was as good as anything I’d had in LA or Sydney, and it went uphill from there. I decided at that point that I would never would I ever AGAIN fly coach or Premium Economy for anything over 6 hours.

    Returning to Sampo in October, paid business on Untied is relatively affordable. But it’s FAUXLARIS.

    What to do…

    Next will be planning all of the ins and outs from blogs like this on how to maximize award travel. Thanks for that, by the way.

  5. Gilbert, Your link “a good guide” for the Fauxlaris points to a Premium Econ article. I’m looking for help as I think we have the Faux for our first ever Euro trip, which we are taking with 2 teens.

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