United Airlines is raising the bar for Business Class with its new Polaris service, which features all-new individual, suite-like pods that offer all-aisle access and 180-degree lie-flat seats. The airline spared no details in wooing the well-heeled travelers, starting with an entertainment system that features a 16-inch, high-definition screen. Meal service includes top wines and international cuisine developed by famous chefs. Even the bedding is from high-end retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. The premium experience doesn’t stop there. It continues into the newly renovated, spa-inspired Polaris lounges located at nine key airports around the world. The lounge at the Narita Airport in Japan is scheduled to open next year.
United’s long-haul international flights across the Pacific will all offer the Polaris service, and while it’s not available on flights into and out of Guam, local customers can still experience it via United’s Narita hub. Some Polaris-type amenities are also available on the reconfigured Boeing-777 aircraft that fly the Guam-Tokyo route. The planes were retrofitted with the new lie-flat seats, as well as the upgraded entertainment system and enhanced in-flight meals.
“We listened to what our customers wanted in a business class product…and we are happy to provide them with this premium lie-flat seat experience,” explained Sam Shinohara, United’s Guam-based managing director of operations for Asia Pacific.
The airline showed off the new service at a Polaris Showcase event last June in Tokyo hosted by Marcel Fuchs, United’s vice-president for Atlantic and Pacific Sales. “I think with United Polaris we raised the bar…we know that our global road warriors will be really happy about receiving this industry-leading product and trying it out…it’s really important that we can provide the highest standards for our international frequent fliers, and with United Polaris we’re doing exactly that,” Fuchs said. At the event venue in Tokyo, the actual airplane seating was installed on-site for international media representatives to experience, and the various luxury amenities were also on display.
Fuchs added that United sought input from employees and customers in coming up with the new business-class experience. They first launched Polaris on long-haul flights between some of their main hubs. “We started the service between San Francisco and Hong Kong, and also from New York to Tel Aviv, and Narita to San Francisco. The response has been marvelous,” Fuchs proclaimed.
But the airline didn’t forget their economy-class passengers either. The 777-planes flying the Guam routes also got a complete makeover from front to rear. “The entire cabin has been changed, from the seats to the carpet, to the wiring. You can see it has lots of space,” Shinohara explained. The seats were also refurbished down to the subtle branding elements of the stitching. “The important part of the seats, quite frankly, is they’re a lot sleeker. You may recall we had cloth seats before. These are substantially easier for us to maintain,” he continued.
Shinohara said the seats will not only look better and feel better, but they will also provide convenience for customers using personal devices for entertainment and the airline’s streaming content. “It’s got some retractable capabilities, so you can put an iPad mini on there or some sort of tablet. United Economy will offer two options: Personal on-demand entertainment with high-definition seat-back monitors and USB ports along with United's personal device entertainment, enabling customers to play thousands of hours of movies and television programs on their electronic devices. Customers will also have access to in-seat power outlets and the opportunity to purchase satellite Wi-Fi,” he explained further.
Shinohara added that while every plane is a little different, he estimated the cost for each complete retrofitting was about $100 million. The improvements even include redesigned lavatories, which many passengers might actually place high on the list of priorities. The bathrooms now feature modern finishes, and for improved ease-of-use, traditional, deep farmhouse-style sinks.
“We listened to what our customers wanted in a business class product…and we are happy to provide them with this premium lie-flat seat experience.”
— Sam Shinohara, United’s Guam-based managing director of operations for Asia Pacific