United Fails Basic Marketing With Polaris Business Class Rule

I think the biggest problem with United’s new Polaris business class product is the customer confusion is sows.

I hear from customers almost every day who aren’t getting the new business class seats on their upcoming flights over the next few months — and argue with me that they are. “But the confirmation says Polaris” they tell me and I have to explain that this simply means they get the new soft product, and it will be years before most flights have the new seats.

That’s a problem, but there’s something far pettier and a much bigger lost opportunity, that I want to highlight.

I made this point in the middle of a longer post on Friday, and it’s something United seems to fail to grasp. They’re asking flight attendants to make sure blankets and pillows aren’t taken by business class passengers now that the airline is actually offering decent blankets and pillows. I wrote,

United doesn’t feel that extending their business class marketing into your home is a worthwhile investment.

United spends a lot of money marketing Polaris – on television, airport billboards, promotional events. However the most targeted marketing in the world is to an existing customer who has tried and liked the product.

If any agency pitched United with a way to put a daily reminder for business class customers of their positive view of the United business product, what would that be worth to the airline?

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 believe the amenity kit serves that purpose.

    Let’s remember that the sheets/blankets are sized for airplanes, and are practically useless at home… unless your dog bed needs luxury linens on it.

  2. Well, there is marketing, and then there is reselling! Check out EBay to see all of the bedding items being sold by those United customers with “sticky fingers”! I’d prefer to collect mine the old fashioned way, and hopefully on a genuine Polaris seating flight. I guess that will take another year or two. 🙁

  3. While I would to think there is enough profit margin on airfares that can approach $10,000 for United to afford pillows and blankets, I actually think this is a PR stunt by the airline to make up for its epic fail — that is, launching Polaris well before the first aircraft with the new seats was in service. They’re basically saying that the new soft product is so great that passengers are stealing it.

  4. I’ve received several emails from UA about its “enhanced” business class so not sure what you’re getting at. Indeed, there is confusion because those email messages (and their links to web pages) continue to show the new business class seat that, as you correctly note, will not be available in any real preponderance for a couple of years yet. The problem for UA is that if it acknowledges the lack of the new seat, it undermines the promotion of the new soft product. And we know UA’s existing business cabin and seat is like a sardine can, that squeezes eight across into tight too-close-for-comfort-with-a-stranger seats. (Even the new seats are really eight across, but both UA’s seat maps and its “all aisle access” belies that reality.)

    At least having the soft-product system wide is a positive, and has been the focus of UA’s ads, but there remains confusion about the hard product availability. Perhaps UA should have held back on the new seat until later this spring when they are actually in the air, and clearly ID which routes.

  5. I don’t get what the big deal is in criticizing airlines not wanting passengers to take first/business class duvets, pillows, etc. I’ve flown Emirates, Cathay, Etihad, AA all in International First and have never thought about taking the bedding. Do any of these or other airlines really allow it?

  6. Gary, this is your second post on your dissatisfaction with United asking you not to steal their bedding. I don’t get it why you can’t let it go. It’s petty at best to want to take these products off the aircraft.

    Is what you’re saying that in a few years when Polaris seats are fully rolled out, only then will you not take the bedding?

  7. They should do what hotels do. Have an on-line store if you really want to buy any items. Better to get it new, anyway.

  8. I don’t want bedding, though I would like the PJs on shorter flights. The seats don’t bother me as much as the current lie-flats are fairly decent, and better than some other airlines. And I appreciate that they are trying to upgrade the experience. I think the failure to quickly roll out Polaris lounges other than the one in Chicago is a bigger disappointment. The regular UA clubs (except LHR) are far, far behind what the other carriers provide to international business class customers.

  9. I’ve grabbed several of the wonderful blankets and pillows from Delta. They’re perfect for twin-sized beds, loafing about on the couch or bringing to the bleachers at a football game. Delta doesn’t mind.

  10. What I am curious about, is that Delta has had “enhanced” bedding in Delta One (formerly Business Elite) for some time (Westin Heavenly® In-Flight Bedding). Why aren’t people “stealing” (or “gifting themselves”) Delta in cabin amenities? Or are they and it’s just not mentioned. I mean, is the Polaris stuff really that nice and really that special? Or, is it just something with United customers?

    Far bigger problem, as you mention Gary, is flight attendants “policing” the products and requesting them back far to early to prevent theft. It’s almost as if United is helping to spread a media-story that their customers are dishonest. And, even if United thinks and believes that… probably not a good idea from a PR standpoint. (IMHO, not a good idea for any company to mention in public their customers are thieves…)

  11. @baccarat_guy – Delta doesn’t hand out memory gel pillows. That seems to be the big issue – and the reviews from people who use them are raving.

    And for the uninformed, a Saks label on the duvet seems more expensive than a midscale Westin label.

  12. I have highlighted this multiple times in the past. United has a habit of advertising something that they know won’t be available to most customers for a long time. They did this for years with wifi claiming their aircraft had wifi when in fact the roll out took years. Quite honestly it’s fraudulent advertising when you knowingly promote something that doesn’t exist. I had a friend tell me he was flying Houston to EZE next month in the new Polaris seats and I just laughed. He insisted it was true and I suggested he call the airline to verify. Of course after calling the airline he discovered there are only 1 or 2 planes in the entire United fleet that have the new Polaris seats and his 777 was not one of them. Caveat emptor folks!

  13. I have a couple of blankets that I bring on future trips to use on United when I’m in coach and they won’t give you one. I see nothing wrong with that. I don’t take the pillows, pretty much useless.

  14. Gary, I gather from your bio that you are a frequent business traveler, but your comments on this issue creates the appearance that you’re not.

    Those of us (including yourself) who fly hundreds of thousands of miles annually in first and business across a variety of airlines are probably all pretty accustomed to the standard business class rules regarding what you can and can’t take:
    Amenity kit = yes
    Pyjamas = yes
    Slippers = yes
    Individual shaving kit in lavatory drawer/cabinet = yes
    In flight magazine = yes
    Air sickness bag = yes
    Safety card = no
    Metallic cutlery = no
    Ceramic dishes/cups = no
    Glassware = no
    Cloth napkins = no
    Larger bottles of moisturizer/soap/cologne in lavatory = no
    Pillows = no
    Blankets = no
    Bedding = no

    This is all pretty standard around the world. I’d expect this sort of confusion from people who aren’t well-traveled in business/first, but not from people who should know better from experience.

  15. I agree with David’s list and agree it shouldn’t be taken off the plane. I also think the flight attendants can “remind” passengers who don’t seem to know/care and are stuffing pillows and blankets into their bags when they see it happening.
    I do have a problem with treating ALL passengers like thieves by collecting everything that’s not tied down long before arrival. But then again, we shouldn’t be surprised: after all, UA management thought that their frequent travelers are too entitled and UA has always been ready to “fight their enemy”, the traveler!

  16. Sorry but taking blankets or pillows off an aircraft is just theft. Since when do airplane tickets include free blankets and pillows? I’m no big fan of United but I think they have a right to expect certain things to be left onboard when passengers deplane.

  17. @Mark: It isn’t theft. Ask the airlines–except United–or hotels. They’ll tell you taking this stuff is free advertising. Why do you think the airlines–at least Delta–put their name and Westin in prominent positions on the bedding?

  18. @FNT… That is ridiculous. They put their name on it so you won’t steal it. I’ve never heard a flight attendant in all my years of flying say feel free to take home the blankets and the pillows. Nice try.

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