Just 5 Months for United to Start Cutbacks in Polaris Business Class: Fewer Pillows and Mattress Pads

Ever since United launched its new international business class ‘Polaris’ soft product (service) on December 1, the airline has been gaining a reputation for having stepped up its premium class game.

We know United is cost conscious. Three years ago they had the gall to refer to their effort to trim $2 billion in costs ‘Project Quality’. So it was no surprise given the extra spending for better meals and blankets that United told their flight attendants they had to be on the lookout for business class passengers trying to bring home the pillows.

The Polaris roll out has been plagued for sure, they had to stop serving ice cream sundaes because the glass dishware was cracking, they’re running low on wine and most importantly manufacture of the new seats is so delayed that brand new aircraft have had to be mothballed.

When I visited the new Polaris business class lounge in Chicago my reaction was, “this is United??” My pre-inaugural flight with the new Polaris seats and service was fantastic as well.

It was so good — and really closed the gap enough with other carriers that I thought it would ultimately no longer be necessary to book away from United (once the seats were sufficiently widespread) — and so out of character for the airline that I also wondered how long would it take before they started cutting back on the service?

Now we know the answer: Less than five months.

Via the indispensable Brian Sumers, starting May 1 United is eliminating the second pillow at each seat and reducing the number of mattress pads they board on each flight.

This doesn’t affect the cooling gel pillows that are made available on request.

  • There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ at each seat, but instead of boarding some second pillows they won’t board any.

  • “Too much stuff at the seat” doesn’t explain the reduction in mattress pads. United doesn’t board one for each passenger as it is. If you want a mattress pad, ask for one early in the flight before they run out.

United also continues to complain to flight attendants that passengers buying business class like the product so much they bring home a momento out of Polaris bedding.

Update: A United spokesperson adds a statement,

I hope you’ll agree the United Polaris product is still amazing and one that we LOVE! The change was made based on the feedback that got from our customers.

From lounge to landing, we want customers seated in United Polaris business class to truly enjoy their experience. We’ve been listening to the feedback our customers are sharing, so we have removed the small pillow and are reducing the number of mattress pads to help our customers settle into their seats. We will continue to offer all other Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding including blankets, the large pillow and the gel pillow (available upon customer request).

I do think that the Polaris product is still a big step forward for United. Lack of room at the seat is definitely an issue, and this just underscores the lack of storage.

However reducing the number of mattress pads boarded — which aren’t placed at the seat, but are made available on request — isn’t about ‘helping customers settle into their seats’.

With the space freed up by the removal of mattress pads, you’d think they could store some of those extra pillows removed from the seats. Instead, United says “Reducing the mattress pads creates some additional space for other items” which go unnamed even when asked.

My advice remains — ask for mattress pads (and pajamas on 13+ hour segments) early in the flight to ensure they don’t run out.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. To be fair, there was not ONE person that did not complain about how many items there were on each seat, even all the bloggers. I can’t talk about the pads, but I don’t think removing a pillow is a great problem.

  2. Much ado about nothing.

    This isn’t cost-cutting. It’s cutting the product back to a more reasonable amount of stuff.

  3. Swiping pillows just because they say “Saks Fifth Avenue” is something that a crass nouveau riche parvenu from Dubai, or worse, New Jersey, would do. Perhaps a note attached to the bear indicating that one may take it as a memento of Polaris would help identify proper boundaries.

  4. Big whoop. This tiny change affects a small percentage of people and really isn’t a big deal even to those affected.

  5. I agree with JoelFreak. There was so much stuff that we felt we were drowning. I would rather they scaled back…..AND upgraded the Economy experience to a reasonable level of comfort.
    Last trip, the bears were gone, and the slippers were gone. The blankets and pillows were there. And the Saks label is in invitation to those who think that is some sort of status to just walk off with them.

  6. Advertising a service and then not carrying enough stock for all pax is terrible customer service.

  7. If they are so worried about passengers taking home amenities then they should just build the cost of many items into the fare price and tell people they are welcome to take the stuff home. I think they will find few people will even want to cart the stuff home, even for free. It is hard enough to carry your own stuff home let alone airline pillows and bedding. The few who want this stuff let them know “Be My Guest.”

  8. @Garysund – I totally agree that they should build it into the cost and let anyone take them home.

    Doubt that they cost very much – and they are completely sub-standard in any case!

    I brought my own down duvet on BOM-EWR-BOM flights for years – just as Jet used to give us, and used it for a mattress most of the time – it took up almost half of my rollerboard, but it was (a bit more) comfortable…

    Still, what they have on board now has upped the bar – I fail to understand why they are dropping the ball – but wait, their wifi hardly ever works, and one can go on and on…

    LH is a more solid offering, but then you really cannot sleep on their intercontinentals for longer than 3-4 hours!

  9. I actually agree that the small pillow is unnecessary.

    I’m more concerned about the number of gel pillows boarded. On my last Polaris flight they boarded TWO for the entire cabin.

  10. Seems like a lot of unnecessary drama to me. What’s the big deal about losing a small pillow? United deserves plenty of criticism but not for this trivial thing.

  11. United is trash. If you willingly fly United and actually think Polaris is something to be excited about, I feel sorry for you. Try flying a real airline for once. You people who support united get exactly what you deserve- garbage.

  12. Of course Gary found a reason to complain about United…always does. In this case, like every other person here who has actually flown revenue flights – there’s just too much stuff on/around the seats, especially non-new aircraft where space is tighter.

    Yet somehow this is “plagued”. Further, they didn’t run out of wine – it’s just out of line with their forecasts. Meaning that it has zero effect on consumers (at this point anyway).

    In unrelated news American is *still* flying non-lie flat biz class seats…yet that doesn’t get brought up every week.

  13. It’s probably not a bad move actually, as they didn’t have the foresight to provide adequate storage at the seat. Even in the old J, I find myself often having to cram things in beside me in the chair, or on the floor, or in the foot cubbie when not in use. Only legacy UA Global First actually has a storage compartment for bedding when not in use. I’d personally rather NOT have so much stuff if it means I have to sit on it or put it on the floor when not in use. The concept may have been good, but it was half-baked in implementation unfortunately.

  14. The mattress pads are often stored in overhead bins and passengers always complain that there are “blankets and stuff” in the bin above their seat. In addition, many times the mattress pads are being stored where crew are supposed to store their bags. Cutting back the amount of mattress pads makes sense because NO ONE asks for them. Why board enough for half the cabin when only 2-3 people ask for them? It’s not a cost cutting measure by any means. It’s a space issue. As I’m sure you are aware of, airplanes have a finite amount of space.

  15. As a UA flight attendant who often works in Polaris, I always inform customers of the on-demand items listed in the menu and upon completion of my service I ask if I can provide a mattress pad or gel pillow. I give out maybe one of each every two or three flights. People seem happy with what is on the seat already.

  16. Shame- that little mattress pad made a big difference and got me to switch my $ from other airline to UA a sir was a comfortable nights rest.

    Time to switch the $ spend to someone else.

  17. Hi Janet, the mattress pad isn’t being removed. Only the small pillow. Matress pads and gel pillows are staying.

  18. The problem is United is like the definition of insanity: You do it over and over again and expect a different result. After years of being thrown off airplanes so a celebrity could have my seat, being told I had to leave the first class restroom on an international flight so a flight crew could go to the bathroom, denied the right to use an earned promotion, and countless other anti-customer conduct, I gave up my 1K status and concentrated on Delta. Delta does not have mattress pads or multiple pillows. What they have is a comfortable business class cubicle, good service and the ability to address problems when they arise. I have some United miles left so I am going to fly LAX-MEL. I sure hope the flight is staffed with Continental employees and they don’t drag me off the plane to give my seat to a celebrity or an employee.

  19. i am sure i am not the only one that like to cuddle with a pillow when i sleep. i also would think that if i pay almost double for a B. class seat on united on some international routes it more than offsets the price of a pillow that at times a passenger decides to take to their next leg domestic economy seat flight. While meals have been upgraded united keeps to cheese with everything ignoring over 10% of passengers who are lactose intolerant and don’t want to order special meals that are actually worse from business class meals on international flights through snack boxes on economy united is all about cheese overload.

  20. I wonder how much this really has to do with Zodiac and more related to the fact that the new seats / space are not as comfortable as travelers expected, on par with the comp set, and the negative feedback on the 10 across seating in coach. Perhaps UA are rethinking their strategy with these new planes and the investment into the increased number of Polaris seats to which travelers are unwilling to pay the high fares associated with them. Furthermore, could they be planning a much needed dedicated premium economy section and rather than refit again, wait until they have the plane redesigned to include PE and then roll it out.

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