United Introducing New Polaris 2.0 Business Class Product This Month

United Airlines launched its Polaris business class product seven years ago. This was both a new soft product – meals, blankets, amenities – and a new seat or hard product.

The new seat was signed off on by disgraced penny pinching ex-CEO Jeff Smisek, they’d found a way to offer fully flat direct aisle access without taking up a greater footprint in the cabin. It wouldn’t be necessarily as good as what American or Delta had, but the difference would be small enough that customers wouldn’t book away from United to avoid it any longer.

The new soft product was signed off on by then-new CEO Oscar Munoz. Coming into the role, trying to reinvigorate the airline, and coming off of a medical leave just prior to the announcement he seemingly signed off on every idea that executives had come up with for business class.

Former United CEO Oscar Munoz Announcing Polaris Business Class, June 2016

They introduced some of the best bedding in the sky, much better food, and indulgences like wine flights and dessert carts. The cost here went beyond expectations and quickly saw cutbacks under Scott Kirby’s leadership. They even cut a flight attendant from business class, and began pre-plating meals in catering kitchens rather than plating on board.

The airline’s Polaris lounges are excellent, with sit down menu-based dining as well.

Now that they’ve finally rolled out the new seats, they’re looking at the next generation of seating. Even American Airlines will be introducing suites with doors to business class. Last spring United was considering new business class seats and last fall allowing some customers to provide feedback.

According to internal memos first reported on by Live and Let’s Fly, United Airlines is launching Polaris 2.0 on September 20th, a refresh of the airline’s soft product. Employees are being given a mandatory one hour course on the new product.

On September 20, we’re implementing Polaris 2.0, which features new amenity items and seat provisioning.

United is replacing their current Saks bedding – still one of the best offerings in the sky – with a new ‘sustainable’ product. We don’t know what it is yet, but the sustainability items Delta has moved to (such as their business class amenity kit) are cheaper, lower quality.

Later this month, we’re launching new United Polaris, Premium Transcontinental, Hawaii and International United Premium Plus (UPP) bedding, as well as pilot and flight attendant crew rest bedding. This change is part of a sustainability initiative to reduce single-use plastics on board. After this change, we will have no single-use plastics on our customer bedding in the premium cabins. Additionally, the new bedding will be made of sustainable materials.

And in fact, United has already stopped provisioning its hard shell Away bags in favor of grey Therabody pouches which appear less premium from the photos I’ve seen.

We’ll have to see what United has in store. But a true evolution of Polaris simply needs to return as much as possible of what’s been cut, because what the airline introduced initially as its Polaris soft product was genuinely nice – indeed, way nicer than what customers had come to expect from the airline. It doesn’t sound like that’s the direction they’re heading in, but I hope to wrong on that front.

Update: on the soft product to be revealed:

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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. Another good one bites the dust for the “sustainability” scam. Delta ditched Westin heavenly bedding for nasty recycled water bottles that shock you to death with static electricity – now the worst in the sky. Way to ruin a great product United

  2. I agree that to improve Polaris they simply need to restore the soft product to when it was first launched.

  3. The best way to improve your soft product is to fly another airline. Alaska or JetBlue in the US. LH F, AF/KL J/F, BA F to Europe, and just about anything from an Asian carrier come to mind…

  4. Sounds like they may cheapen the bedding, a big no-no.
    It does not work out well for the airlines to cheapen business class, they need to be carful here.
    Business class has certain expectations and when the experience falls below a threshold the customer moves on.
    I have seen this happen to airlines that sent business passengers to the Swissport lounge at ORD, not the experience you want for someone paying a premium fare.

  5. What a farce. United had an opportunity — a moment — to be the only US legacy airline actively trying to get better. American and Delta are racing to the bottom. Then United cut everything that made Polaris, well, Polaris. Now they’re gutting it even further just as the last of the planes finally got the Polaris seat even though people had for years booked Polaris only to find a legacy seat that was a significant downgrade.

    I don’t like American, Delta’s upcoming changes worry me, and United shows they are clueless. Right now, Alaska and JetBlue seem to be the only domestic airlines with a forward-cabin product that’s worth buying. Otherwise, I’m buying a foreign-flagged airline when flying internationally.

  6. The top tier of the industry business class is a suite w/ doors and Polaris does not deliver that. The Delta One Suite is the only US carrier product flying right now in that category.

    As much as United talks about upgrading its fleet, there is no way that they can introduce a competitive hard product because seat manufacturers can barely keep up w/ the orders for new aircraft fixtures and seats – let alone enough to retrofit aircraft.

    All of the soft goods that are attached to the product can be enhanced and relatively minor hard product enhancements can be done – colors, covers and add ons.

    US airlines have the market from the US for business class covered pretty well with their current products including by their ability to win large corporate contracts for domestic and international service.

    It will be interesting to see what AA does w/ its refurbishing and changes to its 777W fleet and if it filters down to its other business class products.
    There have been rumors for years that DL is working on enlarged business class cabins on its A350s and A339s as well as adding a suite type product to its A333s and A332s.
    Obviously the AA and DL products have been in the pipeline for years so UA could find itself playing catchup once again.

  7. After flying in the new BA Club Suite, can’t wait for AA to follow suit. Rumor of Qatar taking a share of AA will accelerate the up gauging of the product. 773 and 789 will be completed by early 2025 and then retire old 772 and upgrade newer ones, redo older 788 with 2 more rows of suites (back to the original) and another row of PE with fewer MCE seats. Think that can all be done by end of 2026. Of course the new XLR will shine and really give DL a run for the money in transcon and open more seasonal routes across the Atlantic and South America. If AA can get the Admirals clubs remodeled by end of 2026, they will have a solid premium product. . .now about the FAs. . .

  8. I will be sad to see the bedding change- it was excellent and I loved the two pillows especially. I sincerely doubt they will do anything to make business class better – despite charging outrageous prices ($8k+) for business class to Asia, they seem to be living like they are starving for cash.

    I don’t mind the new amenity kit- I have two and my husband immediately stole one. Even my son wanted one. It is a practical, and even stylish, grey patterned crossbody bag. I’ll use it when I travel and just need a small bag that is not a purse for walking around.

    I liked the Away bag amenity kit since I have an Away suitcase, but only needed one. Now it is wasted when I get more. I love the contents but just don’t need another plastic hardshell amenity kit.

  9. On BA LHRORD on Sunday, perhaps I should change to UA to steal a blanket before they remove them. They are nice.

  10. And meanwhile…they are still selling us Fauxlaris with the old Continental seats on planes and no direct aisle access, that were never upgraded in the first place. Not to mention serving Polaris food that is basically not edible with snotty service.

  11. US carriers have to compete with Middle East carriers.I have traveled on Polaris, sorry to say I still like Qatar business class. I do not think I could travel any airline business class to Asia in the future, reason cannot find business class for less than 7-8 K. The prices are ridiculous.

  12. Oh NO!

    They don’t have a door. However will I survive!

    Anyway, I only fly in international carriers. Even the vaulted Delta can’t carry their water.

  13. “The top tier of the industry business class is a suite w/ doors” There you have it. Jesus has spoken. So it is.

  14. david,
    I’m pretty sure that when Jesus calls his people, they will not be flying airplanes.
    and, yes, in terms of sheer structure, a suite with doors is pretty well considered the top tier of the business class product.

    patti and nan,
    As noted above, the US3 carriers (AA, DL and UA) are the only ones that have access to not just the largest domestic market in the world but also one end of most of the largest international markets in the world. No international carrier can say that which is why the US carriers don’t have to deliver the top shelf product because they dominate so much of what they do.
    The US carriers as well as those of a few other countries including the EU ensure that employees can build and stay for a career which many carriers esp. in Asia incl. the ME do not offer their employees. While some US carrier employees should move on, it is no more realistic to say that airline employees should be limited to just a few years because of low pay and/or benefits that make the job unsustainable for an extended period of time. Working conditions and supporting American workers matters to some of us.

    And United knew that suites w/ doors was becoming the standard. Delta ordered its A350s after United ordered its first 787s. UA has ordered more 787s since DL’s Delta One Suite debuted; they could have upgraded the product if they wanted to – but Polaris will become even more uncompetitive by the time they get around to upgrading it.

    you do realize that Delta is introducing A321NEOs with lie flat business class seats and premium select that will be used almost exclusively on transcon routes. They just will not be XLRs so are not intended to go overseas – but I can bet the DL transcon product on those planes will be as good or better than whatever AA or UA puts on their XLRs.
    and employees are THE biggest negative for US carriers compared to foreign carriers. DL might not have the fanciest service but they have a consistent level of service that never stoops as low as the lows that are often heard from AA or UA.
    All of the hard or soft product enhancements do nothing if employees can’t or won’t deliver to brand standards.

  15. @D.A., none of the sCO planes have any of those seats left. Every international plane has the Polaris hard product.

  16. @Tim Dunn
    Whatever Delta does means nothing if they don’t fly to places that matter. I was looking at where former Northwest Airlines (now merged with Delta) used to fly in southeast Asia, the aviation market that is growing at a faster pace than mature markets in the west.

    Cities directly operated included Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Taipei, Seoul, Busan, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, to name a few. Heck, DL couldn’t even sustain San Francisco transpacific after the merger.

    United now covers many of these Asia cities that Delta abandoned, even as they have a JV with ANA. AA is a strategic and financial wreck, so no need to bother there. What’s Delta’s excuse? 🙂

  17. marco,
    Delta walked away from SFO to Tokyo and added SFO to SEA and carries far more revenue on that route, including connections to Asia, than it did on the transpacific route. SFO is UA’s hub.
    Let me know how many transatlantic flights UA operates from JFK. Wait, wait. They don’t even serve JFK but DL does serve EWR and SFO domestically.
    And we all – or at least those of us that follow the industry – know that UA touted that it held onto aircraft during the pandemic so it would be capable of expanding when demand returned. And they had a financial edge over AA and DL for precisely one quarter – the 3rd quarter of 2022.
    By the 4th quarter of 2023, all 3 had very comparable margins and this summer – int he 2nd quarter – UA had the LOWEST profits of the big 3.
    Cling to the number of cities served if that makes you happy.
    That is not the reason that AA, DL or UA or any other US large jet carrier exists. They exist first and foremost to generate profits for their owners – the stockholders.
    AA and DL have much newer fleets and DL particularly has renewed its widebody fleet so that its widebody fuel efficiency is now as high as or higher than some of the largest global airlines – and certainly higher than AA and UA.
    DL has dozens of new aircraft coming online in the next 3 years. If there is economic potential to serve the cities you listed, they will serve them. If they don’t choose to serve them, they will deploy those aircraft elsewhere where they generate more profits.
    And given the massively larger amount of debt that United will have to take on to support its massively larger fleet spending – much of it to replace the much older fleet it currently operates, DL will end up in a far better position than UA. United is acting for the short term while Delta is acting for the long term.

    By the way, do you know that jet fuel is headed back up and United has long paid more for jet fuel than any other of the big 4 US airlines (including Southwest) and Delta’s refinery has served as a very effective hedge against high prices over the last 2 years? DL has paid more than $1 billion less for jet fuel and generated more revenue – including more passenger revenue.
    Let’s hold off on declaring international winners and losers just a tad, shall we?

  18. @ Mark
    I guess you haven’t flown 757 transatlantic international out of EWR lately? You still get a sCO old seat. Not every international plane has the Polaris seats up front. Just look at EWR-EDI this weekend.

  19. JetBlue is by far the best product with it’s Mint service ! Transcon and to Europe . Flight attendants are consistent on every flight I have been on . They greet us with a personal note with our name which is placed in your cubicle
    Each Mint cubicle has a door , largest TV screens and a plethora of choices that each passenger chooses when making their meal choice ! I suggest to give them a try …..Then compare to the big 3 .

  20. Oscar was the best goddamn CEO for consumers since the Wolff/Greenwald decade of the 1990s when UA Silver fka Premiers could UFC for $25-100. It was most unfortunate that Oscar’s health prevented him from serving longer. Kirby has kept UA afloat but the long-term damage to UA’s product (hard, soft, miles) will be difficult to repair.

  21. I love that Saks 5th Avenue bedding so much. I later bought the blanket on eBay. It’s a great travel blanket, takes up little space, and folds easily for travel.

    I agree, Boraxo, Oscar Munoz was great to us consumers.

  22. Good Lord, what a fuss over ‘soft product’. You need a pillow for your head and a blanket if you are cold. A ‘mattress pad’ is a nice touch. The whole subject is just something for people to talk about, it means little.

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