Holy Moly: United Airlines Is Facing Wine Shortage Due To 300% Increase In Consumption

Now this is surprising and interesting (at least to me). United has introduced their new Polaris premium cabin product as of December 1, 2016. While only the 777-300ERs have the new Polaris seats, all longhaul international flights have the new soft product, which includes much improved bedding, and also better food, drinks, etc.

Polaris

One of the Polaris features that United has been showcasing is wine flights. You can request a flight of their selection of whites or selection of reds. It’s a cool concept, though ultimately could be executed a bit better, in my opinion.

United-Polaris-Food - 4

Well, wine has become so popular in Polaris that United is experiencing a shortage. Apparently wine is being consumed at a rate 300% more than United had forecasted. Brian Sumers shares a memo that was sent out to United flight attendants about this issue:

Polaris wine service
You may have noticed that our United Polaris customers are really enjoying the new wine offerings and as a result we have been utilizing more wine on board — which is actually at a rate of about 300% more than forecasted. As a result, we are running out of popular wines too quickly. When we plan and buy our wines for the year, we purchase in large quantities, often even buying out the entire stock of a single vintage. This makes it difficult or even impossible to spot-buy more bottles when we encounter a shortage, as we’re in now.

Am I the only one who finds this really surprising? I could see wine consumption increasing maybe 50%, or even 100%, though I would have found that to be high. I would have assumed that increase in consumption would just be due to the novelty of Polaris, and the wine flight concept. But a 300% increase in consumption???

Airlines allocate strict budgets to all aspects of their product, so you have to wonder what this will mean long term. United has not only added the wine flight, but has also improved the quality of their wines (somewhat). So:

  • Are they willing to quadruple their wine budget?
  • Will they cut the wine flight concept in hopes of that decreasing wine consumption?
  • Will they reduce the quality of the wine so that they can continue offering the wine flight?

Only time will tell, I guess…

To those of you who have flown Polaris since it was introduced, has your wine consumption increased?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Comments

  1. Yes, I’ve consumed wine where before I would only have had spirits.
    I’ve done a wine flight of either red or white on each of three Polaris flights and then made a selection from the three and had a couple glasses of that selection.

  2. “You can request a flight of their selection or whites or selection of reds”

    You have been flying too long! 😉

  3. We flew NRT-DEN J class on a 787 last Sunday. I wasn’t aware of the wine flight. When I inquired about the wine selection, the response I got from the flight attendant was “red or white” and an eye roll. After having just come off of an ANA flight from PEK-NRT, this was a jolt back to the reality of US carriers

  4. To clarify, this is not a 300% increase in consumption. It’s 300% more than forecast, as stated in your direct quote. That means people are drinking 3x more wine they expected. If they thought Polaris would bring a 10% increase, then it’s actually a 30% increase. That would still be a 300% increase over forecast.

    This is most likely nowhere close to a 300% increase in wine consumption as you’re making it seem.

  5. It’s 300% more than FORECASTED. Not a 300% increase in consumption. Maybe they underestimated their customers in their forecast.

  6. I think the presentation and the “show” the wine flight is probably gets a lot more people than anticipated to try it. It’s kinda like a Mai Tai….it would be the last drink I’d order in a bar…but it’s the first drink I’ve had on my last 5 flights to Hawai.

    I think the need to rethink the glass size if they want to reduce consumption

  7. “which is actually at a rate of about 300% more than forecasted.”

    That does not imply a 300% increase in consumption, as you have stated.

    It suggests that United’s forecast sucked. So no, I don’t find this surprising.

  8. @Terry, I think the same FA worked our ATH-EWR flight last July. 😉

    I flew Polaris in March. Drank two glasses of wine. Same amount I typically drink while flying. The “gentleman” across the aisle went to town on the wine tastings.

    My husband flew Polaris last week. He actually tasted several wines. I wonder if the FA’s are being two generous with the pours. For the “flight” I would expect three small pours, you decide which you like and then get a full glass of that. I don’t think that’s what they are doing.

  9. Terry Ruch…would not the menu provide that information? We pretty much know that most FAs are not very well versed on matters of wine or other beverages and still live in the worlds of red or white, chicken or beef! Don’t know how many times when I’ve asked for a Scotch I get shown a mini of Bourbon. With wine, one might be lucky to find an FA who can at least respond with “the Italian or Chilean?”. But this is an interesting development though can’t believe that many people in business on any given flight would be asking for such flights of wines…I know when AA offered this in their international F a few years ago (since withdrawn) I made a few tasting sessions, and even when in J asked and the FA would bring me the sampling sheet and wines since nobody was doing it up front. One of the best reasons for flying QF in F or J, or NZ or SA in J and doing a sampling of all the onboard wines.

  10. I flew Polaris to Sydney and back and on both routes they ran out of the top red wine selection after the first service. How is that possible on an international flight? To me it indicates they completed missed the mark on the forecast and stocking of flights. Didn’t appear people were drinking more wine than usual.

  11. I’ve seen no shortage of Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Brut nv, Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Domaine de la Villaudiere L’Evidence 2015
    Sauvignon Blanc or the other selections. I find difficult to believe Doug Frost can’t find suitable replacements in the price range. It is another story if the airline is implying crew theft or inventory fraud. AA had an incident not too long ago, employees were fired for theft of spirits found being sold in stores.

  12. Hmmm…something doesn’t smell right on this one. I’ve flown Polaris on routes to/from SCL, AKL this year with no change in wine consumption. I’m guessing this preemptively secures bullet point #3.

  13. I guess when you “upgrade” your wine offering from Boones Farm to box wine, consumption goes up. Who could have predicted that?
    If they need more they can grab it at 7-11 on the way to the airport.

  14. I predict the wine flight will end at any time. I also wonder what else will be scaled back. You know it will happen. That’s a COST!

  15. Also what are the absolute numbers? Percentages don’t tell the whole story. If they forecasted 1 bottle per flight and are now using 3 bottles…

  16. I think a lot of it is going down the drain. I often sit in the last row of Business and just about always request the wine flight. Especially on redeyes to London where most pass on wine, I have found the FAs are required to open one, if not two bottles of wine just to facilitate my tasting. As I usually don’t order any more than a tasting, I am guessing the remainder gets thrown out.

  17. Can we all agree that the Polaris rollout has been a total and utter disaster in every sense? Running short on wine. Horrible champagne glasses that aren’t practical and tip over. Marginally improved food menus. Delayed business class seats. Lost revenue as they park brand new airplanes that are missing seats. And the list goes on… It seems like the only thing they have going for them is comfy bedding.

  18. @Trex – how many Polaris flights have you flown?

    Rather than the constant bashing on United, what’s been your personal experience?

    I have had three flights. No shortage of wine. No problems with PDB glassware. Better food than before. Fun dessert options. Better pre-arrival options and mid-flight options. Improved bedding.

    YMMV but I have no complaints.

  19. “300% more than forecasted”, which could actually even more impressive, as surely they had forecasted some kind of number before.

  20. United wine has been swill for years. I stick to Buffalo Trace now on UA. As for their shortage, send a couple big rigs over to Trader Joe’s now and then and snap up an entire vintage of Charles Shaw.

  21. UA simply underestimated how much the poor quality of their previous cheap swill was depressing wine consumption.

    This was the “genius” of what Smisek did: Serve food and beverages so cheap and awful that no one will consume them, thus allowing the airline to purchase even less of said garbage. He just forgot about the revenue side of the equation.

  22. I know AA FA’s who work TATL flights and they pour out a lot of wine at the end of a flight because once a bottle is open, if it’s not consumed it’s not saved for the next flight. So maybe more bottles are being opened so perhaps there is a lot more waste.

  23. Or, perhaps you need to be so drunk to fool yourself that the United Polaris service changes are really that good? :p

  24. Gary from View from the Wing posted the wine list. Columbia Crest, La Crema, Colby Red, etc… These are cheap wines (less than $15 a bottle). Also, 300% more than FORECASTED could mean they thought nobody would drink these cheap wines but they were wrong. This proves that if there is alcohol some people will take anything.

  25. My guess is instead of $15-$18 bottles of wine they’ll become $10-$12 bottles.
    Gotta keep up those multi-billion dollar profits!

  26. You don’t think this is a fake news story on behalf of United to get free publicity for the new services?

  27. I ordered a flight to share with my wife and we told the FA to pour it light but she poured half a glass in each. We had to throw away half the wine, so that’s 6 quarters of a glass. FAs need to learn the flight should be a tasting, but then come back for a glass order.

  28. I think it is the fact that the wine now served is a significant upgrade from the previous plonk.

  29. I’m pretty sure I drank 300% more Tito’s Vodka that United forecasted back when I had Premier status and got complimentary upgrades.

  30. Flight Attendants were required to open one of each bottle of wine for each side of the cabin, so 12 bottles of wine for each cabin, which makes 24 bottles of wine! That is a lot of wine. Way more than carriers usually use on any given flight. Some of the open bottles were not even tasted. However, United has since sent out a memo to only open the wines as they are requested. Hopefully this will lower the amount open bottles that are put in the trash every flight.
    And by the way, flight crews are subject to random searches. Taking a bottle of wine is not worth termination.

  31. I have to say I drank more wine on recent United flights, on both occasions there wasn’t a pre meal beverage round as such, the FA’s came round proactively offering wine as the pre meal drink rather than asking what you wanted. Subsequently I did the wine tasting and had a couple of glasses of wine rather than a G&T as I would normally have with maybe one glass of wine whilst eating.

    Maybe rethink how the service runs United if we are drinking more than expected.

  32. I used to fly United a lot and never drank the wine, but am now flying Emirates and have them do a wine flight for me. In business and especially First Class, that is a real wine tasting.

  33. Hey – don’t slag Columbia Crest. They make some very good wines so it would depend on the specific wine.

    I flew BA F a number of years ago and they featured a very good Columbia Crest wine that turned me onto the winery.

  34. @Alan, I totally agree. These are perfectly fine wines in my book. But then again, I’m a beer snob, not a wine snob 😉

  35. And if we’re going to slag off an airline’s premium class wine selection, ahem, Garuda First class, anyone? Loved the Billecart-Salmon, but the wine — except for a “just so” Bourgogne Blanc (that retails for about 20 bucks) — was AWFUL. I don’t even know where they found the Australian wines one the menu. The worst I’ve ever had, and I rarely meet an Aussie wine I don’t like.

  36. Having seen the wine lists, they have substantially upgraded the quality of their wine. While they would sometimes have decent stuff before, it was usually a mix of terrible and barely drinkable. As the wines have gotten much better, and are names people actually know (Jolivet Sancerre, La Crema, etc.) and probably drink at home or in restaurant, they had to expect a major climb in consumption.

  37. Pat, I’d guess at least $100 of your ticket cost goes on the booze that they figure you will drink. You are doing them a huge favor by drinking only water.

    Personally I like to drink on flights, partly because it helps me sleep, and partly because flights can be soooooooo boring.

    It follows that I would never take a dry airline like Kuwait or Saudi

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