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Did United Overpromise and Underdeliver on Polaris?

At the end of 2016, United Airlines launched their new premium product, Polaris, with great fanfare. Future projects included multiple Polaris-class lounges, alongside improved in-air amenities. Over 14 months later, much of that never came to fruition – with even more plans being cut from ever coming to life.

Was United Airlines too ambitious in launching their signature Polaris service? In an editorial published by Skift, one writer argues that although the much-needed improvements were exciting, they have so far not lived up to the product’s overall hype.

United announced the launch of Polaris in 2016, with a gala at their newly minted Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) lounge. During the rollout, United executives promised a number of new experiences for the premium flyer, including refreshed in-flight amenities from Saks Fifth Avenue, traveling wine and bloody mary carts in the skies, as well as a brand new food and beverage menu on the ground.

But since announcing the product’s launch, many of the promises have yet to materialize. According to United, only 21 percent of promised aircraft have been fitted with the Polaris seat: 14 new deliveries of United’s 777-300ER and only four 767-300ER airframes. A subsequent investigation by FlyerTalk revealed that some of the routes that were promised Polaris amenities, including those from Hawaii, were not actually receiving them in the premium cabin.

Furthermore, the airline confirmed that the promises of wine flights and bloody mary carts will never come to fruition, as both ideas have been grounded until further notice. Although flyers in the premium cabin can still order custom drinks, the idea of offering a forward cabin-only drink cart turned out to be a stretch too far.

What about the ground experience? Of the promised Polaris lounges, only one remains open: their flagship location at ORD. Three others are still promised, but have not yet come to life.

“On paper, the enterprise probably seemed brilliant, a chance for United to leapfrog its competitors in the United States and abroad,” Brian Summers wrote for Skift in his assessment. “But almost from the beginning, flight attendants complained. They were being asked to do more work, but United didn’t give them more resources.”

The lack of premium resources in Polaris is not the only issue United has faced this year. In January, the Chicago-based airline also admitted to losing $100 million after their rollout of basic economy fares.

[Photo: Joe Cortez]

Comments are Closed.
NellieVA February 26, 2018

Thank you for writing this. Every point is accurate. The schedule you note as having been missed was pushed and hyped by United, so to point out how FAR behind they are in retrofitting aircraft and building lounges is not out of line. I fly 150K+ miles a year out of IAD, and have yet to see a new 777-300 with the "new" Polaris seats. All I ever get are the tired and horrible forward/backward old business seats. The statute of limitations on them blaming their seat provider also expired a long time ago. Look at the breakneck speed with which Qatar and others are rolling out new seats and retrofitting aircraft, and United can only make TWO planes in 18 months? What, is each seat hand-crafted like a Rolls Royce dashboard or something? They really should be ashamed. Flying out of Dulles, too, I at least can book United tickets on Star Alliance partners, and suffice it to say EVERY SA carrier out of IAD beats United HANDS DOWN on their premium product -- ANA, Turkish, Austrian, Lufthansa, SAS, Brussels Airlines, South African, and even Ethiopian and SAS. I remain a slave to United because of geography, but the "benefits" I get from United for my loyalty are pretty much useless. Even the C/D terminal used by United at IAD is a decrepit dump, with the A/B concourse used by most international partners and United U.S. competition being far superior, not to mention the great lounges there. I think i just talked myself out of sticking with United!

RUAMKZ February 25, 2018

One of the problems is that United is not focused on delivering the product. Instead of doing this, and other good things, they are distracted with other things, that are insignificant in the big picture. Too much attention on Basic Economy and other nonsense. And there was lot spent on the naming rights to the L.A. Coliseum. The money on the sponsorship could have been spent on finishing up the installation of Polaris on the wide-body fleet that doesn't already have it....

KevAZ February 23, 2018

At what point will United be forced to defend themselves in a fraud case?

Burch1 February 22, 2018

United international business class is a joke. Every other major airline has individual pods, many with 1-2-1 layouts allowing for aisle-only seating. On the Asia routes they will continue to lose out to Singapore Air, Emirates, Air Canada, and others.

lawrencelane February 22, 2018

Yes, United is the selfish and greedy businessman of the air industry. Yet we use them because they go everywhere and quite often the cheapest to fly.