When it comes to traveling, the most serious adventurers will tell you to find your favorite airline and STICK with it! There's no better way to earn miles for future trips.
And for me, that's ALWAYS been United. Ever since I was a little kid.
My grandmother's brother worked as a United mechanic for over 30 years, bringing us toy planes from work and always ensuring we flew with them for family vacations as a kid. As an adult, my loyalty has only increased as I've experience... ahem, "other carriers". Whenever I've had the choice, I've always flown United and when I met my husband in 2009, I converted him too.
It's easy to see why we love United so much beyond sentimentality -- they fly to more destinations than any other airline. AND, since their hub is located in Chicago, I can usually find a non-stop flight almost anywhere.
Considering how much I detest and avoid layovers when I travel, this is a serious perk!
I've loved Polaris (United's new international business class) ever since its introduction back in 2016 -- every time Hubby and I have paid for the upgrade to Europe, we've had an incredible experience. I've always wanted to feature it on my blog so I was BEYOND thrilled when United agreed to partner with me to share the Polaris Business Class experience with YOU during my recent trip to Paris!
I always heavily vet any company I work with -- my main rule is if I wouldn't pay full-price for it myself, you'll never see me write about it.
So considering the fact that I've paid full-price for Polaris twice now, I felt like it's genuine and fair to finally share my "official" thoughts with you. Just be warned... you may never be able to travel coach again!
5 Reasons I Fly Polaris
1. The Polaris Lounge
One of the main perks of traveling Polaris, especially if you're flying out of Chicago, is access to the acclaimed United Polaris Lounge.
FYI: Besides Chicago, United has several Polaris Lounges around the country in Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with plans to expand to London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Washington D.C. within the next few years.
United Polaris Lounges are different in a lot of ways from traditional United lounges. For one, they're BIGGER. A lot bigger. And a lot fancier. They have spa-like shower facilities, napping rooms, single-person work stations, a full-service restaurant, a huge buffet, and free beverages of every kind.
My personal favorite perk? The bar serves real champagne. Not Prosecco or some other "alternative". REAL champagne.
I don't know about you, but anytime I'm about to go on a big trip, nothing really sets the tone like a glass of real champagne before I leave.
But there's a lot to love about the Polaris Lounges and I highly recommend heading to the airport a few hours early so you can really experience them before you fly:
Polaris is one of the only airport lounges I've ever been to that actually has outlets and plugs at almost every seat in the lounge. I remember running around another airline carrier business class lounge for almost 20 minutes while in Europe looking for an outlet to plug my laptop into. I ended up having to sit and work at the reception desk for the lounge. Needless to say, I wouldn't describe that experience as luxurious and am always eternally grateful to any airline that provides enough outlets for it's customers. This is the world we live in and I'm happy to see United jumping to accomodate.
The showers look like something out of a spa magazine. They're spacious, clean, and brimming with amenities. I've not yet had to actually use the shower facilities but I know I will be smitten when I do. A clean, luxurious shower when you're long-haul traveling is worth it's weight in gold.
- THE RESTAURANT.
There's an entire restaurant in the United Polaris Lounge that I didn't even know existed the first two times I flew it! Be sure to explore the entire lounge as you might miss major perks like this. Sadly I did not have time to sit down and eat before our flight to Paris but I did make several patrons uncomfortable as I drooled over their beautifully presented dishes. I'll definitely be stopping in on my next Polaris flight so I can report back on the flavor of the food. If it's as good as it looks, I know it'll become a new favorite Polaris ritual of mine.
- THE BUFFET.
The United Polaris buffet is an experience unto itself. If you don't have time to sit down and enjoy the restaurant, you'll still be able to enjoy a delicious full meal before you take-off. There are so many options! And so many of them healthy, gluten-free, or vegetarian (perfect for my girlfriend Sapna). I always bee-line for the salad bar and never forget to hit-up the water bottle fridge too. There are unlimited free water bottles and other beverages in the lounge and it makes for a perfect opportunity to hydrate before a long flight (one of my best tips for dealing with jet-lag).
- THE BAR.
Of course, the bar at the Polaris Lounge is my favorite part of the experience. It's a beautiful bar -- all blue and futuristic! And they have a fantastic selection of cocktails and drinks. The bartenders are incredibly friendly too and are a lot of fun to kill time with while you wait for your flight. If you have the time, I highly recommend you stop here for at least one glass of real champagne.
- THE CUSTOMER SERVICE DESK.
Another great perk of the United Polaris Lounge is the private customer service desks located just inside. I've never once had an issue when flying Polaris (as a matter of fact, every single Polaris flight I've taken has landed me EARLY at my destination) but I love knowing these are here to help in case there's a problem.
As much as I love the United Polaris Lounge there are two upgrades I would really like to see someday. The first is a designated spot for exercising and stretching. I know this is quite a "wishlist" item but it'd be great to exercise my legs on a treadmill before a long flight or do some deep stretching without making my fellow Polaris travelers uncomfortable. As it stands I walk laps around the lounge and, while that does work, I always seem to get weird glances too.
My second suggestion would be to increase the number of seats in the Chicago lounge. It's only been an issue once but if there are a lot of flights leaving around the same time, it can take a while to find an open seat. I'm excited the Polaris Lounge has become so popular but I hope United will add more seating for it's high-volume days. Again, this hasn't even been an issue on most of my Polaris flights but we did struggle to find a table before our flight to Paris.
2. The Flight Experience
When United introduced Polaris in 2016, they claimed to have spent over 12,000 hours of research developing the Polaris product.
And it shows.
The in-flight experience is heavenly. From the moment you step onto the plane to the moment you touchdown most of the stress of traveling just melts away. At least it has for me.
There are tons of useful amenities like fully reclining seats, huge TV screens with tons of entertainment options, multi-coursed meals, and extra-wide bathrooms stocked with deluxe toiletries. As someone who always brings comfortable clothes with me when I travel, I deeply appreciated having a wide bathroom to change in.
But the best part of the flight experience is always the service. From the moment you sit down you're downright pampered as the crew brings welcome beverages and cozy slippers to change into. Throughout the flight they're constantly refilling glasses, checking that everyone is comfortable, and telling the most hilarious stories. United flight attendants really have seen it all and I always like to hear tales from their travels!
3. The Food
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I'll admit that I never expect to be FLOORED by airline food. Your taste buds change at 35,000 feet and any chef worth their salt will tell you that in-flight food needs to be seasoned differently in order for it to taste good. My rule is if I can manage to eat some of it without sending it back, I'll call it a win.
So when I found myself actually ENJOYING my first Polaris meal, I was intrigued. When I found myself actually cleaning my plate on my second Polaris flight, I was genuinely pleased. After this third flight I can confidently say that Polaris consistently serves satisfying and delicious food. All presented on real china and with real silverware. And cloth napkins.
In-flight refinement does still exist!
I also genuinely appreciated the options and variety they had for my vegetarian friend Sapna. Many airlines approach vegetarian dishes as an after-thought and it was such a pleasant surprise to actually find myself craving her vegetarian meal!
4. The In-Flight Amenities
Polaris Business Class offers some truly fantastic in-flight amenities. Beyond the fully reclinable seat and delicious food, there are some pretty amazing perks to traveling with Polaris:
- V.I.P. Passport Lines At Certain Airports.
Okay, okay this isn't an "in-flight" amenity but it's my favorite amenity and one of the very best.
We didn't get this perk when we flew to Paris but often flying Polaris gives you access to a V.I.P. line through passport control at your destination.
When Hubby and I flew Polaris into Heathrow in December, six other planes had landed at exactly the same time and we expected the passport control line to take us 3+ hours. That is until our flight attendant handed us a V.I.P. Polaris voucher. We found the V.I.P. line for passport control, ignored the evil stares from those waiting in the massive lines, and were through all U.K. border entry proceedings in under 10 minutes. Putting us in London almost 3.5 hours before we had expected. What did we do with our time? We had a memorable brunch with my Mom and sister and got a few extra hours romping around London. MAJOR perk!
- Constant Water.
Hydrating with plenty of water is so important for staying healthy on a long-haul flight. And Polaris makes it ridiculously easy -- attendants were always refilling my hot water for tea and my water glass, not to mention constantly passing out water bottles. After I passed out for the night, I even woke up to a brand new water bottle next to my head. Merci!
- A (Lockable) Locker.
So many business class flights don't give you anywhere to stash your valuables or toiletries except in the overhead bin. Which is frustrating for someone like me who can never remember to grab all my toiletries out of my bag. So having a lockable locker right next to my head is such a revelation, especially one with a personal mirror inside! I was able to keep my valuables safe and close-at-hand while I slept. Which I'm sure helped me sleep more soundly if nothing else.
- Luxurious Bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue.
The Saks Fifth Avenue bedding in Polaris is just magical. Each seat has at least two blankets of different weights and two different types of pillows so you can customize your "bed" to your liking. I'm partial to the Saks Fifth Avenue duvet which is so fluffy and warm (and possibly comfier than the one I have at home...).
- Socks and Slippers.
To help you feel more comfortable, customized socks and slippers are passed out before take-off (and pajamas if you're on a flight longer than 12 hours). I kept my slippers and used them throughout my trip in France too! They came in very handy.
- Toiletries from Sunday Riley.
The new toiletry kit includes a lip balm, a face cream, hand cream, and a facial cleansing cloth to cleanse off your makeup or refresh your face before landing. My skin loved them all and I'd be lying if I didn't say I've been carrying around the lip balm religiously since my flight.
- The 'Do Not Disturb' Button.
I love that each Polaris class seat has a 'do not disturb' button to give you some privacy whenever you need it. Press that and you can rest easily knowing you won't be woken by the attendants. Hubby especially loves this feature when we fly to Europe as he rarely ever wants breakfast and can sleep soundly through the service.
- the USB and Universal International Outlet.
At each seat you can expect to find working power. I can't tell you how many times I've flown international business class on other carriers and been stuck with an outlet that doesn't work. It's frustrating when you can't take advantage of all the space and get some work done on a long flight. But so far, I've always had easy, reliable access to power on my Polaris flights. And -- for that -- I am SO grateful.
- Entertainment Options & Wifi.
I always love the entertainment options Polaris offers too -- there are tons of classic movies, new releases, and hundreds of hours of great TV shows. Personally I always like to fall asleep while watching 'Sound of Music' and I am always so grateful to see it on the movie list. I'm also always grateful for in-flight Wifi so I'm able to catch up on work easily too.
5. The "Sleep" Factor
Don't you just hate how great you feel when you leave on a big flight only to arrive massively sleep-deprived, cranky, and generally uninterested in your new surroundings? Not being able to sleep on an international flight is the easiest way to ruin a trip.
And -- for me personally -- if I don't sleep well on an international flight, it shows in my photos. So sleep isn't only a luxury, in many cases it's a professional necessity for me.
So when I DO fly international business, I generally do it for a good night's sleep. And I can honestly say I get the best sleep on Polaris. I've flown international business class on several other carriers and have always found the beds to be awkward and short (and I'm only 5' 4"!). Not so on Polaris. From the moment I recline my seat into a full bed and the attendants bring me a plush bed pad, I am minutes away from deep sleep. The eye mask and noise cancelling headphones seal the deal.
This is the "sleep factor". How quickly and deeply I can fall asleep is dependent on a lot of factors. Luckily Polaris gets them all right for me and getting good sleep on an international flight can make all the difference for the first few days of my trip too.
While this may not be everyone's priority, it's my #1 consideration when deciding whether or not to upgrade to business class.
I truly feel like the luckiest girl to be able to do what I love and travel the world with my camera. I deeply believe that traveling is the only thing you can spend money on that actually enriches your soul.
But traveling for work has also meant I often don't get to choose my flights or my airlines. I've had some ROUGH travel experiences and have spent a lot of time flying on a lot of different carriers all over the world. I've been cramped into middle seats for 12+ hours with a dead phone and a sick baby sitting next to me. I've had flights cancelled, reasonable requests ignored, and a veritable buffet of the most inedible airplane food you can possibly imagine served to me over the years.
So any chance I get to fly business class feels like I've won the LOTTO. I'm always smiling like an idiot, sampling the toiletries, reading the menu 10x times, and ordering a glass of wine (or two). I'm testing out the pillows and reclining my seat dozens of times. I look like it's my first time, every time.
What I'm really saying is I'll never complain about business class on an international flight. Any business class flight is a good one.
But, when it comes down to ones I'll actually pay for, Polaris is my run-away favorite. It's a fantastic service run by my favorite airline. I know every time I upgrade I'll land at my destination well-rested, well-fed and ready to explore.
And THAT is exactly what premium international business class should be about -- reducing the stress of travel so you can make the very most of it!
Disclosure: We received a complimentary upgrade to Polaris to facilitate this partnership. You can read Sapna's review of our Polaris experience here. Review and all opinions are ALWAYS my own.
My Best Tips For Surviving Long-Haul Flights
I've traveled enough these last few years to pick up some pretty fool-proof tips for long-haul flights. If I do these things before, during, and after my flight, I can usually hit the ground running wherever I land, regardless of how much slept I've actually gotten on the plane.
Planes are notoriously dehydrating so be sure to carry plenty of water. Hydrating constantly before and during a long-haul flight can help combat a lot of jet-lag symptoms. My best trick for hydrating on the run is to sip hot water with lemon -- it makes me feel more hydrated than regular water. I always buy an extra large water bottle at the airport too so I have plenty with me.
2. Olive Oil
Rub some olive oil in your nose with a Q-Tip to prevent illness. I learned this from an old Indian woman on a flight from New Delhi who swore if I did this, I'd never get sick on a plane. I've done if for years now and it's eerie how the only times I get sick when I travel are when I forget this step! We all know that there's nothing worse than being sick while traveling, so why not give this old remedy a try?
Doing a few walking laps around the airport is a must before any flight! It helps increase blood flow to your legs and prepare your body for the hours of sitting it's about to do. Walking a bunch beforehand also helps me sleep soundly on my flight so win-win.
4. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
I don't know how I flew internationally before these were invented but now that I have a pair, I never travel without them. They block out most noises and voices and ensure you have a good chance of sleeping thoroughly on any flight... in Polaris OR coach.
5. Lemon Balm Tea
I learned this trick from a nurse on a long-haul flight to Italy. She told me ER nurses use this natural tea to help them shift their sleep schedules from night to day as needed. She let me have a bag to try and I swear I slept like a baby the rest of the flight. In coach. Now I carry several bags with me whenever I travel so no matter the circumstances, I have a natural way to get some sleep.