United Airlines Developing New Premium Business Class, “Push Button For Champagne”

United Airlines is working to refresh its business class product, which was first introduced in 2016.

One of the offerings they’re currently surveying is a premium business class-within-business class that customers could pay more for. It might feature:

  • a limited number of seats with more space than the rest of the business class cabin, along the lines of what JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic and some others offer (and that has been speculated for America’s new product, debuting this fall).

  • a button for customers to push to request champagne.

  • private check-in, priority for Polaris lounge sit down dining; preboarding with Global Services; enhanced amenity kit; pajamas; mattress pad; and pre-order menu with additional courses.

United is considering the introduction of a limited number of new seats within the Polaris business class cabin. These seats would be more spacious than the standard Polaris seats. If available, after purchasing a Polaris ticket, you might have the option to purchase an upgrade for the more spacious seat.

In addition to the more spacious seat, United is exploring premium amenities that would only be offered to customers in the upgraded seats.

(Credit: Live And Let’s Fly)

These are all options that would make United’s business class more first class, albeit still in the airline’s larger business cabin. American, for its part, has Flagship Business Plus which comes with first class ground services.

I don’t expect all of these to be adopted. When United originally rolled out Polaris, it was following CEO Oscar Munoz’s return from a heart transplant. They made a big splash, greenlighting all of the ideas under development in the previous CEO’s tenure – that were never intended to all be offered. It was expensive.

Perhaps the oddest idea here is the button to press for champagne.

  • When Emirates unveiled its new Boeing 777 first class in 2017, airline President Tim Clark described the ability for passengers in the suite to order “room service” with a video call button. United now partners with Emirates after years seeking unsuccessfully to have the federal government keep them from growing in the United States.

  • Sara Nelson, the head of the AFA-CWA union which represents United’s flight attendants union, says you should never press the flight attendant call button for a drink, and even tried to get the government to ban alcohol on planes which would reduce the amount of service her members would have to provide. She says passengers should only press the button for a flight attendant in a life or death situation.

  • Three years ago United cut back on flight attendant staffing in business class which makes a more bespoke, on-demand service harder. Maybe they need to restore Polaris cabin staffing to deliver on this. United, by the way, also wants flight attendants to greet customers and thank them.

  • It occurred to me that they may offer a gimmick to make champagne easier to request, but that the actual champagne being served may not be something you’d want to drink. But it’s been pointed out that “the venn diagram of people who will drink bad champagne if it’s free and those who raid the Denver United Club to go food because it’s free is almost a perfect circle.”

    And that was far too snarky a thought in any case, because the champagne United has been serving in business class – Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top – is better than what Delta and American have been pouring.

United has been improving its premium offerings, after a period before the pandemic of cutting them back. Their 2016-era, Munoz-approved Polaris-branded business class was surprisingly indulgent – ‘too good to be United’ – and too-costly.

They went 300% over budget on wine and stopped proactively offering customers flights of wine to sample, and stopped encouraging bloody mary and mimosa consumption, too. They also shifted some amenities from part of the standard experience to on request only. When you don’t proactively offer an amenity, fewer passengers take it.

The ideas United is currently surveying for their new business class offer a window not into ‘how might business class be improved’ but ‘how much more money could we make if we offered certain improvements’. They’re taking a commercial approach to a premium product, which is smart, even if some of the current brainstorming ideas like a champagne button seem a bit unlikely to come to fruition.

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. I don’t think this seems viable unless it’s part of a reintroduction of first class. This would have made more sense if they hadn’t rolled out premium economy, but they don’t need to be perceived to be taking away from the proposition to buy business over premium.

  2. How about they just don’t act like you committed a hate crime if you push the call button? Then they can take your order like a human. Crazy thought, I know.

  3. This is so dumb. Business class within business class. If you want to offer first class, just call it that.

  4. I think of all of the experiments where mice push a button to eat or get narcotics or such. Maybe they should have a hookah type tube and a push button nozzle at each seat so people can get their champagne and the flight attendants don’t have to deal with it.

  5. United had a really high value offering in Polaris when Oscar was CEO. Then a soulless bean counter took over and things got worse. Kind of ironic that United has rediscovered that when they offer more they can sell a more premium experience for more money. Who knew?

  6. @ Gary — This raises so many questions, such as — Will they offer $10 champagne instead of $2 sparkling wine? Will the food be edible, or just larger portions of inedible food? Will the seats actually be cleaned between flights? Will the experience be more premium than Preimum AIrways 767-300s?

  7. I don’t see how United staff could ever offer this service consistently. They could never deliver Global First. Mediocrity is ingrained in the culture.

  8. The post-Covid / Kirby-era FA service in United international J has become one of my favorites. Far better, in my opinion, than during the Munoz CEO era. Maybe the pandemic motivated many of the most senior, surly FAs to retire? The “upgrades” listed here are reasonably priced and offer benefits I would actually want, especially skipping wait list for Polaris a la carte dining. I’ve noticed that great FAs make me less concerned about cost lol.

  9. I disagree. First class if often 2x business, and I don’t want most of the incremental enhancements it offers. Paying a la carte for the things I do want rather than $5k more for all of them seems a better deal for me and a more likely incremental revenue source for United.

  10. IF…BIG IF is the way forward, you’re going to have a lot of psgrs complaining. Just reading this irritates me.

  11. I applaud United’s willingness to explore more premium offerings in a creative way where they will consider unusual ideas. Good for them trying to break the mold wit new ideas. I’d definitely be interested in more champagne on demand!

  12. The saddest part of the Polaris experience is the horrendous in flight food offerings. Flew EWR to LHR last Tuesday – it was much worse than my already low expectations. Not sure how a bespoke drink button can overcome such a huge failure.

  13. Sara Nelson is an idiot. It’s very frustrating when people take positions that are purely populist, rather than sensible. Instead of setting reasonable and responsible expectations for her client, she’s pandering to them. The flight attendant button was never meant to be an emergency button. If it was, it would look like a damn emergency button.

    If the AFA-CWA union had their way, flight attendants would hand out box lunches to row 1 for the passengers to pass back.

  14. I’m not sure how much champagne people would want. Perhaps a refill my current drink preference, but only champagne? I guess it may be a cheaper option. Anyone not at a United hub isn’t going to get a premium check-in experience, I’m guessing this is across to the Global Services check-in line. And, what to they do to the people who are already Global Services who won’t appreciate others jumping into their line?

  15. Gotta shake down the custonrrs for every last nickle in order to pay those new labor contracts. This has desperation and tacky written all over it.

  16. Good luck to United if they think people are willing to pay. It was a sad day when they merged with Continental and took away all the good things that Continental used to offer. Enough said.

  17. Restoring the FA staffing in business class is definitely needed. Food quality has to be upped from where it is now.

  18. I fly United 40/50 times a year. All domestic. Sometimes in business class, sometimes not.
    Scott Kirby is a clown. When United removed TVs was when I got annoyed.
    I was in business (or 1st class, whatever) from Newark to San Antonio. 4 hour flight on a 23 year old 737. This plane was “remodeled” in 2013. No TVs. How can you have a 4 hour flight and no TVs. I don’t wa t to watch entertainment on my phone or get out my laptop and take up all the space so I have no place for my drinks or food.
    That’s ridiculous. And if I have kids and had to get out multiple tablets. Ugh.
    United is slowly working its way to be like Spirit. And I’ll pay more and take connection to fly delta if I have to. They actually have nicer cabins and amenities anyway.

  19. @Mantis hit the nail on the head. Currently staff need to actually provide service before additional options are introduced

    Because if I pay extra, you better bet they need to be on the ball.

  20. Sometimes one really does feel like running around in circles and banging one’s head against the wall…
    I know, let’s all get rid of First Class
    I know, let’s have a Premium Business Class … but Sir, isn’t that First Class?
    Sometimes the folk running the three majors leave me slack-jawed.

    Aaaaand, in closing, anyone who thinks Delta offers a “more premium business class” hasn’t flown their A330-200 business class lately.

  21. United should focus on making all their business class flights actually business class rather than a hybrid business/ premium economy. Claiming the service from Scotland to the US to be Polaris is a joke that is wearing pretty thin.

  22. Maybe they should just work to improve the mediocre Polaris experience they are now charging a fortune for. Terrible service and horrible food so bad I eat before I board. A gimmick drink button, sorry, not stupid enough to fall for that fluff. And, boarding with GS further weakens being a GS, which is already in question in my mind. Don’t see the difference between GS and 1K anymore. So why spend the extra on UA? At a time when people are actively questioning the safety of the airline and choosing to fly on other carriers for fear of their lives, focus on fixing the basics rather than adding fluff-n-stuff enhancements.

  23. Listen Up United + Any US carrier :

    A Great Premium Economy seat = Elevated Calf Leg Support w/ Recline; i.e. La-Z-Boy chair.

    If not, a 100% Waste of Time + Money.

  24. Wait, “cocktail waitresses??” Yeah, some of y’all are getting the service you deserve.

  25. Different service levels for people is the same cabin – it’ll be labeled discriminatory inside a month. How about “that passenger” that plops their ass down in your seat because of the proximity to their companions.

    People coming up in here taking… call it first class. That happened years ago. There are still four cabins. Polaris, premium econ, econ+, and regular econ. That’s 4 groups of seats!

    If UA wanted to make people pay more for better Polaris seats and service… then they need to refund me when my window seat has no window!

  26. Really stupid totally-American-business-school-mentality idea. Take what you’re *supposed* to offer in Business Class, and unbundle it then charge extra for what you had been getting already.

    For instance, does anyone really believe that the not-paid-up C seat is going to be what you have today? I doubt it. For one, today’s seats offer plenty of room (with the exception of Virgin’s) – do you really want/need more? So United will simply come up with a smaller seat for the not-paid-ups and use the existing ones for the paid-ups. Bottom line – this is exactly how the US carriers have approached everything over the ages.

    As for the champagne button – that exists today: it’s the call button. I have no hesitation using it for another drink, etc, since that’s what I’m paying for. And guess what – the attendants on SIngapore or JAL or Cathay show up immediately with a smile. It’s insane that Americans have been conditioned to see this as a demand item rather than a service item. Another reason for using it is when the attendant forgets to include you in a service item. I’ve not had this happen on the foreign carriers, but on US ones, I can’t tell you how many times the attendant gets interrupted just before my seat and then starts back in a few minutes later on the next row.

    Bad ideas, but not surprising from one of the 3 main US carriers in a race to be the bottom.

  27. United needs better and more attendants on some long flights. Service has gone downhill.

  28. Would be nice if United figured the basics first. If the flight gets delayed (most delays of majors) or a pilot flakes – who cares about the rest?

  29. Maybe it would be nice if UAL upgraded the “business” class to the Caribbean. I fly to Aruba at least three times a year and for the price the product is insulting. At almost 4 1/2 to almost 5 hours surely it should be more than simply a little larger seat and leg room.

  30. I ravel to India every year from iAd to New Delhi to bdq going from USA in mid oct and back in mid April in business i go by air India cuz only one stop but i like to try if i can get from u even if it is through mumbai(Bombay) from IAD (USA)to Mumbai to BDQ(Vadodara)if local or your partner will let us take all bage without. Hansel


  31. United Polaris has gone down hill since covid, food sucks, choices suck, service is pathetic. Only half the current Polaris seats are any good, those at an angle all seem to have mis-aligned windows and the middle equivalent have this tiny hole to see your partner when the divider is down. I recently tried Delta and Vergin, man much better, Virgin even serves you course by course. The there is Lufthansa and Singapore, they wipe the floor with United. Even being Global Services doesn’t help. So sad……oh and the Polaris lounges went down hill as well, the counters at SFO seem only partially filled compared to the early days….oh well I feel I will be flying more Delta and Virgin for my London trips and Singpore to Asia….

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