NEW YORK — United Airlines President and CEO Oscar Munoz revealed the carrier’s plan to introduce what he called a “culture of caring” via its new Polaris business class product.
At an event here in historic Gotham Hall, Munoz noted that an upgraded experience on United has been missing for far too long. “But there’s a new spirit at United,” he stated. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I can feel a new energy.”
To that end, the Chicago-based carrier is making what Munoz called “serious investments” in the products it offers, including planes and the club experience.
Munoz said he challenged the United team to be “defiantly innovative,” which he said is reflected in the Polaris product. “Travel now is like going to the dentist. So we wanted to look at how we make everything from the lounge to the landing a better process,” he said. “When looking at international business class, our research showed that a good night’s sleep was what customers wanted most.”
This wasn’t a complete surprise, said Munoz. “It let us design a product where sleep is at the center,” he said. “We want to make the weary traveler a thing of the past. One of our customers said that ‘sleep is the new black.’ The better rested you are the better you can start your day.”
United worked with a set of partners to create what it calls a transformative international business class experience. Starting on the ground, the carrier will open nine exclusive United Polaris business class lounges that will feature custom-designed chairs, private daybeds, spa-like showers and chef-inspired hot meals served restaurant style. Premium sparkling wines and spirits, refreshing snacks and bottled water will also be offered. Access will only be given to those with international business class tickets.
The first new Polaris lounge will open at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on December 1, 2016. Lounges in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark, Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong and London Heathrow will open in 2017.
United worked with Acumen Design Associates and PriestmanGoode to develop a bespoke business class seat, manufactured by Zodiac Seats United Kingdom. Each seat offers direct aisle access, a 180-degree flat-bed recline and up to 6’6” of bed space.
The forward-facing, suite-like pods have a “Do Not Disturb” sign, mood lighting, lumbar support, plenty of storage space, a tray table that can accommodate a laptop and a tablet, a 16-inch high-def entertainment screen and privacy dividers for seats in the center of the cabin.
The carrier has also teamed with Saks Fifth Avenue to create custom-designed bedding for the new Polaris cabin. Products include duvets, lightweight day-blankets and a large and small pillow, along with mattress cushions available upon request.
Inflight amenities are getting a major upgrade, with slippers, customized Polaris pajamas on flights longer than 12 hours and a gel-cooled pillow. New kits will feature ergonomically designed blackout eye shades, a lavender pillow mist and other products from Soho House & Co.’s Cowshed Spa brand.
When it’s time to eat and drink, Polaris customers will be welcomed with a pre-departure drink of choice, along with gourmet chocolate. United has partnered with The Trotter Project to create regionally influenced seasonal inflight menus. The effort is being led by a group of critically recognized chefs, including Bill Kim of Chicago restaurants Urbanbelly, bellyQ and Belly Shack.
United’s wine level is being upgraded, thanks to the efforts of Doug Frost, one of four people in the world with the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine designations. The airline’s popular made-to-order signature ice cream sundaes will remain, along with a dessert cart with a variety of petit dessert options, chocolate truffles and wine flights. On daytime flights longer than eight hours and on all flights longer than 12 hours, hot mid-flight snacks such as lobster macaroni and cheese will be available.
International Business Class passengers will get to experience Polaris starting on December 1, 2016 on United’s Boeing 777-300ER. The new cabin will subsequently appear on the Boeing 787-10 and on the Airbus A350- 1000 aircraft, along with Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 retrofits.
Maria Walter is United’s managing director of product development and brand strategy. She oversaw the creation of the carrier’s domestic fleet last September.
“What you saw in September was our new standard for the domestic fleet, including a new first class seat and new interiors,” said Walter. “Polaris is the extension of that to our international widebody fleet.”
This isn’t just a new business class seat, said Walter. “It covers everything from brand paneling to carpet to dress covers,” she said. “It’s a fully refreshed product that is the new standard for United.”
“We wanted passengers to feel the way they do when going to a high-end hotel. The lighting, the music and the scent creates an emotional connection with the brand,” said Walter. “We want to do the same with our cabin product. We want to make you feel welcome from the minute you come aboard the aircraft.”
United wants customers to have options, said Walter. “You can control how you sleep with the introduction of two different pillows. You can control your temperature by offering a lightweight blanket and a duvet, all for a better sleep experience,” she explained.
“United Polaris will change the game in international business travel with an exceptional level of relaxation and comfort throughout our customers’ journeys,” said Munoz. “This completely reconceived experience exemplifies the new spirit of United and the innovation, excitement and operational momentum across our airline.”