The rollout of United Polaris has been rocky, to put it mildly. The airline started rolling out their new international premium cabin experience in December 2016, though the execution has left a lot to be desired:
- In the 16 months since United has introduced Polaris, they’ve opened a single Polaris Lounge, and it will be several more months until the next Polaris Lounge opens; as a point of comparison, American has opened four Flagship Lounges in about six months
- So far United has reconfigured a grand total of five planes with Polaris seats, in addition to the 14 Boeing 777-300ERs that were delivered with these seats; not a single 777-200 or 787 has been reconfigured with Polaris seats
- As if that’s not bad enough, United has been slowly chipping away at the Polaris soft product
United has made several changes to Polaris service delivery lately. Basically they’re making the service increasingly on demand, so that you’ll only be offered various service elements specifically if you know to ask. To me their motive is clear. If they don’t proactively offer things then fewer people will request them, since many people don’t know about these things being offered.
Over time the demand will decrease, and then United can decrease provisioning or cut an amenity altogether “due to customer feedback.” That’s not how United views these changes, though. I’ve received corrections to my stories in the past from United when I suggested that these were cuts, so I guess I should mention that United says that’s not the case. Instead, United says that these changes are not cost cutting initiatives, that they continue to invest in the Polaris product, and that they’re simply continuously listening to customers’ feedback and evolving parts of the United Polaris service to ensure an enjoyable inflight experience.
I’ve already covered some of the changes that United is making to Polaris service this year:
- United has removed the mention of gel pillows, mattress pads, pajamas, and slippers, from their menu; these items have been available on demand and the only way you’d know they exist is because they’re listed on the menu, but that’s not the case anymore
- As of May 1, 2018, United is eliminating the bloody mary and mimosa cart from morning departures, and the wine flight from evening departures; these items will still be available, though you’ll have to specifically ask
Wandering Aramean notes the next “enhancements” that United is making to Polaris, as of May 1, 2018:
- Pre-flight beverages will be served as pre-poured sparkling wine, orange juice and water offered from a silver tray, with other beverages available upon request
- Mid-flight snacks will no longer be proactively offered; passengers can request them when desired
- Polaris First no longer gets the soup course
For pre-departure beverages you used to be asked what you want, while now you’ll only be offered champagne, juice, or water, though you can ask for something else. Most people won’t know that they can ask for other things, and this will keep costs and consumption down.
By not offering mid-flight snacks proactively, the number of people consuming them will be reduced, since many people won’t know that United has substantial snacks. Over time they’ll be able to reduce how many of these they have to load on a flight.
United is in the process of eliminating international first class, though it’s strange that in the meantime they’re eliminate the soup course, which was one of the few things that differentiated first class from business class. Given that first class is on the way out, I don’t view this as a huge deal, though.
When United Polaris was first announced, it was all the hype. It looked as if United was actually going to do something special. United’s new Polaris seats are good. United’s single Polaris lounge is great. Unfortunately everything else has been less impressive, from the pace at which planes have been reconfigured with the new seats, to the pace at which new lounges have opened, to the service cuts.
I don’t get the point of offering so many items that are “hidden.” Either offer a service or don’t. By May, pre-departure beverages of choice, mid-flight snacks, wine flights, bloody marys and mimosas, mattress pads, gel pillows, pajamas, and slippers, will all only be offered to people who specifically know to ask. C’mon now…
Individually none of these changes are a huge deal, but combined they really add up. If United wants to claim that pre-poured pre-departure beverages streamline the service, I can respect that. But are they removing the mention of gel pillows, pajamas, mattress pads, and slippers from the menu due to customer feedback? Are they no longer proactively offering mid-flight snacks due to customer feedback? I’d love to sit in on one of their focus groups…