When United first announced it would re-brand and upgrade its business class cabin under the Polaris brand, the reviews were almost entirely positive. Here was a US-based airline making plans to actually compete on the world stage. The introduction of the new seat and lounges has been slower than anyone would have hoped, and there have been many reports (some just rumors) about coming cuts to the product long before the roll-out is ever completed. Let’s just put those rumors to rest. United is planning on going bigger than anyone could have imagined.
In a rare Saturday press conference yesterday afternoon, CEO Oscar Munoz made the surprise announcement that Polaris was getting an enormous upgrade over the original plan. He was truly bullish about the future. “With these plans, we will make United’s Polaris shine brighter than any other premium cabin in the world. The employees of United are the best ever, and they totally deserve to have the best product flying. This is an ambitious vision, and it’s one we hope to actually implement some day.”
Those are some big promises, and usually announcements of this type seem like pure overstatements. But in this case, the opposite is true. Some of the product enhancements Oscar announced are pretty remarkable, including:
- The number of business class seats will be cut in half. The new seats will be in more spacious suites with a door. They will include a separate sleeping and eating area.
- The Polaris suite will have a large bed specially-designed by Craftmatic, a brand familiar to United’s key demographic. This will allow passengers to sit up during takeoff and landing.
- To show its commitment to dogs, United will provide a comfort puppy to every Polaris passenger. (In an entirely unrelated announcement, overhead bins will be removed from the cabin, and there will be closets instead.)
Here’s an early image of what they’re planning.
Pretty swanky, eh? Surprisingly, those in coach will see enhancements as well. All rough edges on seats will be smoothed out, and armrests will be cushioned to prevent any unfortunate injuries onboard. This was in response to what President Scott Kirby described as “snowflake complaints.”
You might expect universal praise for this improvement, but many of the initial reactions to the announcement were negative. Those who actually pay to fly in Polaris were concerned that this would price them out of the market, but Oscar said there wouldn’t be any appreciable impact on current pricing. That sent United shares into a tailspin with the airline shedding half its value in after-hours trading. Scott quipped, “at least it wasn’t my fault this time.”
The loudest cries came from several miles and points bloggers in attendance who correctly feared this would mean fewer seats available for upgrade. Many of them stormed off saying they would never use their miles to fly United again, at which point Scott could be heard laughing in the background.
The most important question here is… how long will this take? Oscar said “the team is hard at work, and we expect to have this done eventually.” When pressed to give a firmer timeline, Oscar pivoted and started talking about his the upcoming football season for his alma mater, USC. “They gave me a great suite and made me a member of the Board of Trustees. All I had to do was give them $70 million of United’s money to upgrade the stadium. Pretty cool, huh?”
After the press conference, I was able to snag some time with Scott, and he was in a talkative mood. “I can’t believe I had to fly up from Dallas on a Saturday for this crap. At least we have mainline airplanes on that route now. Anyway, this plan is going to make United a true leader when it’s implemented decades from now or something like that. I didn’t come up with the idea initially, but you may be shocked to learn that I love it. This gives us an excuse to stop rolling out today’s Polaris cabin beyond the 19 airplanes it’s already on. Those old Continental seats should be good for a few more decades.”
Happy April Fools’ Day everyone! I’ll be back Tuesday with a regular post.