As you read this, United jets are taking off from Asia with the new Polaris business class product onboard- that eye-catching Bloody Mary cart is rolling down the aisle somewhere! And tomorrow, the same thing will be happening on all United long-haul international flights departing the U.S. Also tomorrow, business and first class passengers will be able to lounge in United’s first Polaris Lounge at Chicago, O’Hare.
“We have a hard cut over beginning on December 1. Over the past few months we’ve been designing, purchasing and shipping more than two million items which have been stored in warehouses around the world. It will all be ready to go on December 1,” United’s Polaris product lead Maria Walter told TravelSkills in an interview earlier this week.
For the time being, Polaris passengers will be seated in United’s regular business class seats, but the soft product surrounding them will be all Polaris, which includes a mattress cover for sleeping, Saks pillows and blankets, pajamas/slippers on ultra-long-haul flights, big new amenity kits including contoured eye masks and new inflight food and beverage service.
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The new Polaris seats are going to take a while to roll out— the first seats are not expected until late February on a new B777-300ER. United says it will take up to three years for the new seats to appear fleet-wide. Walter could not provide us with any further details regarding timing or which routes will be the first to get the new seats. But she did reveal a bit of behind-the-scenes color regarding the development of the seat.
“My entire staff has slept in the new seat several times,” Walter said. “As soon as the seats became available at the Zodiac factory in Wales, we flew over and slept in them on the creepy factory floor. The seat functioned just fine, but there was no food and the entertainment system was not operational, so we watched a TV with a DVD player. The overnight exercise made us realize that it’s not just the seat that is important with Polaris, but the soft products and service as well.”
In previous interviews with TravelSkills, Walter made it clear that United’s main focus for this product was on providing the best possible sleeping experience. Through extensive customer research, United found that a good night of sleep is the one thing customers want the most, and UA has tried hard to deliver on that. From the new Polaris lounge that provides the opportunity to eat a sit-down meal prior to the flight, allowing for maximum sleeping time on board, to a comfortable new fully-flat seat/pod with enhanced privacy, and all-new bedding including and mattress pad, multiple pillows and blankets, it does look like United has done a lot to make it easier for customers to arrive at their destination well-rested.
So what can you expect if boarding a Polaris flight starting today or tomorrow? Let’s recap from our previous Polaris series…
In addition to the seat, United says that bedding is another critical ingredient for providing a good sleeping environment. To that end, Polaris now includes a pretty impressive set of goods to help you get comfortable.
When you arrive at your seat, there will be four pieces of bedding waiting for you — a small pillow, a large pillow, a light day blanket, and a heavier duvet. The airline says the advantage of all those pieces is that it makes it easier for customers to control their temperature, which is a common complaint.
Once seated, if you are cold or tired, you can immediately use all four pieces to get warm and comfortable, without having to request anything from a flight attendant and possibly wait until after takeoff. The drawback to this approach is that many customers won’t need all the pieces right away and they’ll have to find places to store everything as they settle in, but United says its research found that passengers didn’t have a hard time figuring this out.
There will be a few additional items that customers may request from crew. You can ask for a cooling gel memory foam pillow as well as a mattress pad. Crews won’t actually turn down your bed for you, but they will at least give you a mattress pad so you can do it yourself. I say hooray for that, as who wants to sleep with their face pressed up against seat upholstery that thousands of other people have also been intimate with?
On flights over 12 hours, you may also request pajamas and slippers.
The bedding materials prominently feature the Saks Fifth Avenue brand. I told a product director that I thought the branding seemed a little gimmicky, as people don’t generally think of Saks and bedding and it just felt a bit forced. But she told me that it’s not just Saks slapping their label on these product, it’s a true partnership that has allowed United to leverage the Saks supply chain to acquire this much-upgraded bedding at the same cost as their old bedding. She also said that they liked the idea of partnering with an upscale retailer because it allows room to extend the partnership into other areas like crew uniforms and dishware.
United apparently considered partnering with a hotel brand (as Delta has done with Westin) and easily could have done something with UA’s tight hotel partner, Marriott. But they felt like this type of partnership is a bit tired and constraining, so United wanted to do something different here.
Waiting at your seat upon boarding will be a brand new amenity kit. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with it. The case itself is beautiful and feels very high end with a nice textured exterior, a zipper closure, and a variety of pockets inside. United will continue to leverage its partnership with Soho House to provide quality Cowshed products, including relaxing pillow mist, lip balm, hand cream, and towelette, as well as other standard items like eyeshade, ear plugs, socks, tissues, comb, hand sanitizer, mints, dental pick, toothpaste, and toothbrush.
A couple of standout items were the pillow mist that is meant to be sprayed on one’s pillow or bedding to help you fall asleep more easily, as well as some really nice eyeshades that included a contoured foam back that fits more snugly against your eyes and blocks out more light than usual.
United says it spent three years developing this new business class product and tried hard to be truly innovative, rather than just catching up and copying the competition. While in many ways this new Polaris product does finally bring United up to par with major U.S. and international competitors, it is nice to see them going above and beyond in some small and even some more significant ways.
But time will tell! We look forward to hearing from travelers returning from their first Polaris voyages to see how the rubber is hitting the road. Anyone out there ready to reveal their first experience? Email us, or leave it in the comments.
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