I’ve only ever flown coach for 32 years, but I just splurged on my first international business class trip — and it was as good as flying United gets

Basically, me, stepping out of coach and into United Polaris Business class for the first time.

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Basically, me, stepping out of coach and into United Polaris Business class for the first time.
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  • I have only ever flown coach for 32 years.
  • But I’m pregnant and needed to take a red-eye flight for a business trip to Germany, so I decided to drop $829 on a last-minute upgrade from coach to business class.
  • It’s definitely the best flying experience I’ve ever had, although I wouldn’t say it lived up to the hype.

As a New Jersey resident who flies a few times a year for work, mainly in and out of the Newark airport, I am subjected to many United Airlines flights.

For 32 years, I’ve always flown coach. I can never justify spending a few thousand dollars extra for fleeting comfort.

But every time I roll my suitcase past the business passengers to my seat in the back of the plane, I stare longingly.

They look so happy, curled up in their cushy chairs, sipping champagne and scotch, surrounded by fluffy bedding. They know they will de-board better rested and with fewer neck cramps than the rest of us.

Finally, I had an opportunity to peek behind the blue, class-dividing curtain.

I had to take a business trip to Germany. But I’m pregnant, and for $829 I could upgrade from coach and guarantee a seat in United’s Polaris business class for my red-eye flight.

It was about $100 extra an hour. So I said, “Screw it!” and treated myself.

Off I went, on a nonstop flight from Newark to Berlin, swaddled in Saks Fifth Avenue bedding and a 180-degree reclining bed.

Here’s what it was like to finally fly business class after 32 years in coach:


I fly a fair amount, so I’m a United gold premier member. That might mean more on another airline, but on United, it basically means you get a free checked bag and economy-plus seating (which means slightly more legroom). Now, I had my upgrade. I was ready to finally get pampered and my hopes were high.

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The scene at Newark’s United counter was picturesque. No lines. Just super special me, waddling up to the counter with my two carry-on bags, almost giddy for my red-eye flight. I used mobile boarding passes, so I zipped past the counter and straight to security.

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If there’s a special Polaris line for security, I didn’t find it. I have TSA Pre-Check and just stuck with that. The line was sort of long but it moved quickly, and I was through security in under 15 minutes.

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Newark doesn’t make you take your computer or liquids out of your bags, or take off your shoes. You can sail right through, whether you’re business class or not.

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I arrived a little earlier than usual so I could take advantage of the airport’s Polaris lounge. Unfortunately, the one nearest to my gate was under construction.

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A “pop-up” lounge appeared in its place. A message outside it warned that not all guests would be accommodated due to the smaller-than-usual space. I almost got turned down at the door because the woman told me it was too crowded inside. I assured her I’d only be there about 30 minutes. She sighed and let me walk through.

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The “lounge” left a lot to be desired. Every seat was taken and there was not much to graze upon.

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I settled on a free bag of Smartfood popcorn and a small, crinkled water bottle.

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But I could smell Auntie Anne’s wafting into the lounge from the outside, where all the coach flyers were happily munching away on a much better selection of food. A cinnamon sugar pretzel would surely be better than whatever sad excuse of a business lounge this was. Plus there were no bathrooms. So I bolted and chowed down on a pretzel.

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Finally, the moment I had been waiting for. I had long wondered what it took to become “Group 1” boarding on United. I’m usually in Group 2 and can never seem to get any higher. Finally, with my business-class seat, I had what it takes to get on the plane first.

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Once boarding began, Group 1 people were ushered down a different aisle than everyone else. This aisle would take us to the front of the plane and to the promised land of fully-reclining chairs.

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My seat was 1K, the very first row on the plane. I looked down and saw my fluffy Saks Fifth Avenue bedding awaiting me. <em>Heck. Yes.</em> It was also the comfiest plane seat I’ve ever sat in, by far.

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The pillow was plush. I wanted to steal it and swap it for my one at home. It was the perfect thickness — not so soft that you could feel the chair beneath it, but not so firm that you got a stiff neck. Just right.

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I was also given a comforter.

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There was plenty of storage space, both next to my seat…

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… And in the cubbies in front of me. I had legroom for days! The chair could recline and accommodate someone who was more than 6 feet tall.

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Here, you can also see all the fancy ways your seat can recline.

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A vanity pack gave me all the flight “essentials”: a scented eye mask, pillow spray, tissues, ear plugs, hand sanitizer, a pen, lotion, ChapStick, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

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The best perk of flying business class is arguably the free, unlimited booze. The menu is extensive.

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Being pregnant, I promptly ordered a club soda.

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My seat mate ordered a scotch. There was also a lot of wine, beer, or champagne to choose from.

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And free chocolate! Mmm, caramel.

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The bathroom was the same as coach, nice and squished, with one added perk…

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Free lotion!

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Back at my seat, I tried to use my personal clicker to scroll through movies. Mine was broken, even after the flight attendant tried to reset it. Oh well.

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I was also given a pair of United noise-cancelling headphones, which worked great.

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Aside from my reclining chair, I was perhaps most excited about the food. My colleague Ben Zhang had told me I might be served four courses (!). And indeed, I had choices. Did I want spicy chicken? Seared short rib? Or Poached shrimp?

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The flight attendant handed me a moist towel that smelled of lavender. Bring on dinner.

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Up first: A snack of salted nuts, served warm. None of those peanut bags, snack mixes, or pesto “breadsticks” for me.

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I didn’t have to choose between appetizers. I was served both the kale salad with roasted fennel <em>and</em> the smoked duck. I got a pretzel roll and garlic bread on the side. It was definitely better than the microwave meals in coach, but if you got served this in a restaurant, you would probably be underwhelmed. I ate it all anyway.

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Out came my seared beef short rib with wasabi grits. The meat was a bit chewy and I only wound up eating half of it. I was pretty full from the appetizers and warmed nuts anyhow.

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However, I was not too full to eat this cheese.

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Or the ice cream sundae! With toppings ranging from chocolate sauce to M&M sprinkles, this was definitely the best food of the flight.

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Om nom nom.

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There were also trays of cookies.

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Don’t mind if I do.

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After dinner, I reclined my seat and attempted to sleep. Despite the ear plugs, eye mask and stellar pillow, I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours. Being in the first row, I was right next to all the flight attendants who are on shift all night long, working and gabbing away. But it’s still more than I would have gotten back in coach on the very-full flight, so I was still grateful.


In the morning, I was woken up with breakfast in bed — a choice of either cereal or eggs. I chose the eggs.

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It was only about four hours after I’d eaten dinner, so I was still fairly full. Plus there was a strange cheese oozing out and the sausage was meh. So after a few bites, I called it quits.

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I thought about splurging on business class again on the flight home — which wound up being on my birthday — but opted for coach since I wouldn’t need to sleep. United told me I couldn’t get a free birthday upgrade, but they did give me a nice birthday card. Honestly, that flight was fine, too.

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So, was it worth it? Well, if you’re pregnant, taking a red-eye flight, and you can afford it, probably. I also flew a red-eye in coach while pregnant. That was survivable because I had a whole row to myself where I could lay down. But on a full night flight, business class was, for me, the way to go. Even with the shortcomings, it’s way more comfortable than coach.

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