United Airlines Polaris on the 767-300ER Was a Nice Upgrade on our recent EWR-HNL flight, from the 767-400 aircraft that was originally supposed to fly this route. As a leisure market, Hawaii normally doesn't warrant airlines' nicest planes, since few people pay full cost for Polaris; most book it as an award flight using MileagePlus miles or other frequent flyer miles (as we did) or hope to snag upgrades.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, United has grounded its 767-400 aircraft, which have a 2-1-2 seating configuration in Polaris, so EWR-HNL now is on the 767-300ER with a 1-1-1 staggered configuration in Polaris. We'll have a full review of the flight later, but here's our quick take of what it's like flying United Polaris to Hawaii on the 767-300ER during COVID-19:
Plenty of Pre-Flight Messaging About Hawaii Safe Travels Requirements
United sent text messages and emails about the Hawaii Safe Travels requirements 2 weeks prior, 1 week prior, and the day before our flight, with links to the Hawaii Safe Travels site, and noting that travelers with an invalid or missing test would be subject to Hawaii's mandatory 10 day quarantine.
Hawaii Pre-Clear at the Airport
United's Hawaii Pre-Clearance program allows passengers to present their Hawaii Safe Travels QR code at their origin airport to receive a United wristband that exempts them from further screening lines in Hawaii (except for the Big Island of Hawaii, where there is still some rapid COVID testing on arrival, although this is expected to only screen ~50% of travelers by the end of April 2021).
The process was quick, since we arrived at our Newark Airport gate ~1 hour prior to departure. We simply showed our ID and QR code on our phones to receive the blue wristband. A minor child can be included on a parent's account and QR code. We were told to keep the wristband on throughout the flight and while in the Honolulu Airport.
On arrival in Honolulu, we showed our wristband and were quickly waved through into the airport, there was no waiting anywhere.
Boarding: Welcome, with a Sanitizing Wipe
As we were welcomed aboard, we were each given a sanitizing wipe. While at this point in the pandemic most people are more concerned about aerosols and airborne COVID-19 infection, it's still nice to be able to wipe down the high touch surfaces around your seat, particularly the audio controls and seat controls.
United 767-300ER: Odd-Numbered Window Seats in Demand
It's important to monitor your seat assignments if you booked United to Hawaii many months ago, before aircraft swaps were made. My son and I were originally in a pair of seats on the right, when it was a 767-400 with a 2-1-2 configuration. With the swap to a 767-300ER, we were put in 5F and 5L. This was fine for us, as we could see each other, but for those who want to take advantage of the greater privacy and don't need to be next to each other, we recommend odd-numbered window seats, such as 3A/3L, 5A/5L, 7A/7L (although not on the 46 seater 767-300-ER Polaris cabin, where these seats have misaligned windows) and 9A/9L. These seats are right next to the window and feel less exposed to aisle traffic.
Consistent Messaging and Reminders About Masks
During boarding announcements crew reminded us about the CDC's federal mask mandate, and that face masks must be worn throughout the flight, including the boarding and deplaning process and in the airport, that face masks must cover the nose and mouth, etc. I overheard crew politely but firmly insist on giving another Polaris passenger a mask if he wasn't able to produce a compliant mask (he was wearing a gaiter, which isn't acceptable). A different crew member pointedly asked a couple Polaris passengers sitting near me why they weren't wearing a mask, about midway through the flight.
Saks 5th Avenue Day Blanket, Not Duvet
Normally United Polaris features a plush Saks 5th Avenue duvet, but these were a casualty of the pandemic, and were cut as of 7/15/20. A cheap feeling Saks 5th Avenue day blanket has replaced them, so I was glad that I brought my own softer shawl that doubled as a blanket.
At least the Saks 5th Avenue pillow is still provided, and is quite large and comfortable.
Meals Can Be Saved for Later
Since I didn't want to eat at the same time most others were removing their masks, I asked if my meal could be saved for later, and this was no problem. Note that due to the pandemic there's no meal pre-ordering, and there are no menus; the crew describes the options (there was a choice between chicken with rice and a vegan chili on our flight) and you select. When served, my meal still had the note “Save 5L” on it.
Water is Always Provided in Individual Bottles, Meal Items Covered
As you can see from the above, everything is served covered or individually packaged, and water is only served in small individual Dasani bottles. If you don't want to use a ton of plastic, I recommend refilling your water bottle after security, especially on long flights to Hawaii, where it can be challenging to stay hydrated.
If you've flown United Polaris to Hawaii recently, what changes did you notice about the experience?
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