This is Part 2 of our Deep Dive series about United’s much anticipated new Polaris business class which will debut in December. The fleetwide rollout is expected to take about three years. In our previous post (Part 1), we focused primarily on the new seat.
In this post we’ll look at the new food and beverage offerings and take a peek at what Polaris business class lounges are all about.
Food and Beverage
United is making a big deal of its partnership with the Charlie Trotter group to come up with restaurant-inspired menus, although there weren’t many specifics in terms of the food that will be served. It sounds like they partly want to keep it a secret, but also that the food is still being developed and hasn’t been finalized. But apparently UA will introduce more variety into its menus, offering more regionally-specific meals than in the past.
For example, the airline previously considered China a single region and offered the same menu on all flights departing China, but now realizes that cuisine varies widely from city to city and will offer a different menu from each of the airports it serves in China. It sounds like the entire U.S. will have the same menu for originating flights, but different food will be offered across various cities for European departures. When I asked about providing healthier options, a spokesperson said that they are definitely keeping that in mind, but couldn’t promise anything specific other than that they will begin offering a fifth entree option on all flights, which will be a salad with a warm protein.
For pre-departure beverages, Polaris will now have an integrated design where a plastic cup will be slid onto a post that’s part of the plate that will feature a welcome-aboard chocolate. United will be serving real champagne from Pouilly-Fuissé in addition to water and juice choices.
In terms of new, unique service features, United will begin offering a bloody mary cart for flights departing before noon. Flight attendants will wheel a cart down the aisle and allow customers to customize their bloody marys — in the words of a United product lead, “if someone wants 10 olives in their drink, they can have 10 olives.” For flights departing after noon, in lieu of the bloody mary cart, Polaris will feature wine tasting flights.
For wine selections, the airline says it will focus on offering some up-and-comers who you may not have heard of, in addition to some classics that are more familiar. But the wine lineup will be consistent across the globe. So if UA is featuring a Greek “up and coming” wine, that will be offered on all flights around the world.
All the serving ware is being updated to be more stylish and incorporate a lot more United branding. You’ll notice the pixelated globe design from the United logo will show up prominently in the ice cream dish, while more subtle nods to the design will adorn plates and cups. Linens and glassware all felt upscale. (See photo at top.)
Introducing a little fun on the dinner tray, the salt and pepper shakers are both plastic globes that mimic the United logo design. United folks jokingly refer to the pepper shaker as the “death star” and the salt as “the golf ball.” I could see these as being great gifts to take home to loved ones after a big international trip.
Finally, United says that flight attendants are being trained much more extensively on the food and wine service so they are more knowledgeable about the offerings. And they’ve also re-designed some of the service to be more efficient (such as serving the appetizer and salad at the same time on a single tray instead of as separate courses, as is done currently), for a couple of reasons. First, that should make the meal service go faster and allow passengers more time for sleeping, a top priority of the Polaris experience. Second, it should free up flight attendant time to spend more effort on new elements like the wine tasting flight, where the crew can chat with customers and tell them the story behind the wine and have it be more of an interactive experience. Sounds great in theory, but will be interesting to see if this pans out in reality.
Another important component of the Polaris experience involves a new business class lounge that will be offered at nine of United’s largest stations for international flights. United says they believe they will be the only U.S. carrier with a true business class lounge.
The Polaris lounge will include a few features that do stand out from the competition. First, as previously mentioned, customers can have a sit-down meal with waiter service if they wish to eat prior to the flight, so they can maximize sleep while on board. There will also be an upgraded buffet of “premium” hot and cold food, although no specifics were given at this time. The next is a series of sleep rooms that will include chaise lounges and offer a quiet place to relax between flights.
A product spokesperson said that United actually considered adding a spa to its Polaris lounges, but ultimately decided it was a liability because so many customers are disappointed when they can’t get an appointment. I actually agree with UA, as it’s nearly impossible to get into the British Airways spa as a business class passenger, and I’ve also has challenges when flying Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, and JAL, even as a first class passenger.
While I wasn’t able to see a real-world sample of what the lounges will look like, United was offering a very slick virtual reality tour of them during this press event. And the virtual tour certainly did make the lounge look great, but I’d reserve final judgement until we see the real thing.
And speaking of seeing the real thing, the first Polaris lounge will open Dec. 1 at Chicago O’Hare. There will be 9 lounges in total, including Chicago-ORD, Houston-IAH, Los Angeles-LAX, Newark-EWR, San Francisco-SFO, Washington Dulles-IAD, Hong Kong-HKG, London Heathrow-LHR, and Tokyo Narita-NRT.
That’s it for part two of our Deep Dive series on United’s new Polaris business class. Next up we will look at bedding, amenity kits, inflight service, and more. Come back!
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