Winston Aldworth flies aboard UA917 from San Francisco to Auckland.
A 777-300ER. When they restarted this route back in 2016, United were flying a Dreamliner, which was fun and very much "of the day". The switch to the 777-300ERs is good news for passengers — especially business travellers. These are United's newest planes and there are more premium seats (102 in Economy Plus and 60 in Business — shout out to the 204 folk back in Economy), and the Business Class cabin is fitted with the airline's latest high-end product, Polaris.
Class: Polaris. It says much about the significance the industry places on business travellers and those willing to pay for premium that almost half the floor space of the cabin is taken up with Polaris seating. Other than the seat, the rest of the product (service, food, etc) is the same United Business Class offering.
Price: Return in Polaris starts from $5212.
Seat: I was in 8A, seated near the galley at the rear of the front cabin.
That Polaris seat is an impressive thing, and a worthy rival to other established longhaul lie-flats flying out of Auckland. The very comfortable bed is inset in a shell, giving a sense of privacy from other passengers.
The seats are staggered, one faces straight ahead, the next is angled slightly towards the aisle. Those facing straight seemed a little more private.
There's flash new bedding and a mattress that is — apparently — more comfortable than previous mattresses. The bedding is from Saks Fifth Avenue, don't you know. Whatever — I had an excellent sleep.
Time: Scheduled for a 10.45pm departure, we rolled away pretty much bang on time. The 8.55am arrival in Auckland makes this a great sleeper flight.
Food and drink: With such a late departure, the crew quickly get us all tucking into our tucker. In Business Class, there's a smart seared tuna appetiser, followed by a choice of beef short rib, spicy chicken in coconut broth, turbot with risotto or portobello mushroom ravioli. I opted for the chicken and was impressed by the smart Thai noodle soup that arrived.
The icecream sundae car that comes around is legendary and — for a sweet-toothed traveller like me — dangerous. It's a dinner that compares favourably with any served in rival Business Class compartments in these skies. Good wines, decent beers, and, most helpfully, good scotch.
Breakfast just before arrival was more functional — a knockabout omelette, fruit on the side and coffee to be avoided. Good java remains the challenge for even the finest Business Class products — surely a dirty old Nespresso wouldn't be asking too much ...
Service: Smart, efficient and a credit to their employer. "Honey," one of them tells me upon landing, "we only get one day in Auckland. We won't even get to Waiheke!"
Entertainment: There's an impressive selection, and the Polaris screen is very large with excellent clarity. I watched Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky — a sort of Ocean's Trailerpark.
Social conscience: United last week announced they would join Delta and a bunch of rental car companies in no longer offering special deals for members of the NRA. Nice one!
Airport experience: I'm still yet to find the comfort dogs at San Francisco Aiport. Bow-wow boohoo!
Final word: A terrific trans-Pacific haul for anyone needing to arrive fresh and well-pampered. Just be sure to dodge that second icecream sundae.