United Airlines launches its new Polaris business class service for international travelers on December 1, promising a special "lounge to landing" experience for well-heeled travelers.
To offer a glimpse of what's in store, the airline built a mock-up in the lobby of Terminal E at Bush Intercontinental Airport a few months ago showing the new seats and amenities, such as a "build-your-own" Bloody Mary and mimosa bar, plush bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue, and amenity kits with products from Soho House & Co's Cowshed Spa.
The new bedding and amenities will be immediately available on trans-continental flights. The suite-like pods with new business seats are being gradually added to the fleet of Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, with some in place next year, as well as on retrofitted Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 planes. United created a new custom-designed seat that offers direct access to the aisle, 180-degree flat bed recline and bed space measuring 6-feet, 6-inches long and 23 inches wide.
United conducted more than 12,000 hours of research over three years before rolling out the new service, said Nick Depner, senior manager of brand identity and brand marketing, who gave me a tour. "We really tried to put a lot of thought into the design. Ninety-four percent of passengers said that sleep was their No. 1 concern."
Each passenger's suite will feature mood lighting, one-touch lumbar support, several storage areas, multiple surfaces for simultaneous working and dining, a 16-inch high-definition entertainment screen, a "Do Not Disturb" sign, and electronic privacy dividers for seats in the center of the cabin. Even the size and design of the mirror on the back of a small door in the suite was made with the customer in mind. "We want you to be as comfortable on the aircraft as you would be in your own home," Depner said.
Amenities include designer bedding, duvets, three kinds of pillows, slippers, PJs for flights of 12 hours or longer, ergonomic eye shades, and even an aromatherapy mist that you can spritz on your pillow before you go to sleep. Meals will be tastier, United vows, but service times will be shorter so passengers will have more opportunity to sleep.
As part of the new service, United is building a separate airport lounge for Polaris travelers at nine airports. The first one opens December 1 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport; a lounge, which aims to replicate the experience of a four-star hotel, is planned at Bush Intercontinental Airport in 2017, with a private elevator, marble floors, relaxation suits (with white noise pumped in), showers, a concierge, a barista, bartender and waitstaff, and a self-serve gourmet buffet as well as "thoughtfully done" small plates, with a kitchen on premises in the event you want your ravioli cooked a different way.
"We want to make the lounge a destination for people and make sure they use it," said Depner. "We're trying to amp up the service level."
But the new lounge will have only one TV. “That's very intentional,” Michael Landers, United's managing director of airport lounges, told Crain's Chicago Business magazine. “Our Polaris customers found the TVs in our other lounges to be an annoyance. They want to be in here to relax or be productive."