United has had an industry-lagging business class for some time, with “exciting” features like eight-abreast business class cabins with seats that face both forward and backward. I’ve never had any desire to pay for it with cash or miles when there are plenty of other superior options available.
But today United unveiled a new business class, and like Delta and their Delta ONE, they’ve decided to give it a special name. Start looking forward to United Polaris. (The one video I can find is on Twitter, and I can’t seem to embed it here.)
The new business class product rests on four key features:
New lie-flat seats that are 6 feet and 6 inches in length, with direct aisle access and forward seating for all passengers.
New bedding designed in partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue, and pajamas for overnight flights. Mattress pads will be available upon request.
“Elevated dining experience” — although I fail to see how this is guaranteed to be an improvement or why United needs a new brand name to justify good food.
Exclusive Polaris business class lounges at nine airports (ORD, LAX, SFO, IAH, EWR, IAD, NRT, HKG, and LHR) that include pre-flight dining.
There’s also a dedicated launch page available to learn more about the coming improvements with United Polaris. It all looks very similar to Delta ONE, which I hear good things about.
I do think that international first class is going the way of the dodo, in the U.S. in particular and likely across the globe. If it survives it is will be on key routes between major financial centers. I also suspect that it will be the domain of airlines in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that have shown themselves more capable of offering a truly premium experience.
North American carriers are exiting this market steadily — Delta and Air Canada already have, and United previously said they weren’t adding first class to any new planes. Only American seems to be trying to make a go of it. If that means that international business class will be the only premium product to remain, then they had better make it an impressive one.
I think United’s announcement of Polaris is a step in the right direction, and for once I’m actually interested in booking United’s business class when they begin rolling out Polaris this winter.
United says the first flight will be on December 1, 2016, and the the first Polaris lounge to open will be at about the same time in Chicago with other locations to follow. Polaris will initially be offered on Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and subsequently on new Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 aircraft as well as retrofitted Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft.