8 Ways United Polaris Could Improve

Filed Under: Advice, United

A week ago I had the chance to fly United’s new 777-300ER Polaris product from San Francisco to Hong Kong. The plane commenced international service just a few days prior to that, so it was the first real opportunity to try the “full” Polaris experience.


Overall I was impressed — this is a huge step in the right direction for United, and their business class bedding is the best bedding offered by any airline in business class. The seats are also a big improvement, as there’s direct aisle access from every seat, though I didn’t find them to be that comfortable compared to what else is out there.


Anyway, United Polaris is a huge improvement over what they used to have. However, like any product, there’s room for improvement. In this post I figured I’d look at eight ways United could easily improve Polaris. Most of these points are intentionally very minor.

In other words, one complaint of United Polaris is the lack of storage space, but that’s not something they could easily fix. These are intended to be constructive tips for areas where I think they could improve. Again, some of these are really minor, but when you compare premium products among airlines, that’s what sticks out.

In no particular order:

1. Fix the pre-departure beverage cups

United has really upped their pre-departure beverage game. You now get a pre-departure beverage of choice, and it comes with a chocolate. Well done to them on that.

Unfortunately the cup they serve it in is poorly designed. The cup “hooks” into a plate, though many people don’t realize that the two come apart. I’d like to think I’m pretty good with airplane glassware, but I spilled my cup. So did the person seated across from me. So did the person seated in front of me. That’s about all the sample size I need to know that this is a poor design.


2. Add espresso based drinks

United touts their Illy coffee partnership, though frankly I didn’t find the coffee on the flight to be any good. Furthermore, top airlines nowadays have espresso based drinks in first and business class, which United doesn’t. You’d think they could install that on their brand new, flagship 777-300ER.


3. Get rid of meal trays

If you want to create a restaurant style dining experience, get rid of the trays and serve the meal directly on the table. The only place on the ground you’d eat off a tray is in a cafeteria. Most premium airlines have eliminated trays for the main service in business class, and I see no reason United couldn’t do the same.

United-Polaris-Food - 5

4. Have enough mattress pads/gel pillows/pajamas for everyone

United’s bedding is the best or any airline in business class. They almost overdo it. There are two pillows, two blankets, and then you can request gel pillows, mattress pads, and pajamas. I realize this is probably a cost saving measure, but the items on request are limited, so you have to ask for them early on if you want to get them. I’ve heard of people being denied these products because they ran out.

If you want to create a great business class experience, you should be telling passengers about all the great things they can get, rather than only offering the best items to those “in the know.”

On my flight I barely saw anyone with a mattress pad or pajamas. So I suspect this strategy is saving United a lot of money, though it’s also restricting the experience that people have.


5. Offer higher quality headphones

United’s headphones aren’t great. American has Bose headphones in business class, though in fairness they’re one of the few airlines in the world to offer such good headphones. Given how much Polaris is about designer products, they can do better with headphones.


6. Fix the Wi-Fi issues

There have been many reports of Wi-Fi issues with United’s new 777-300ERs. On my flight it was broken for half the flight (not due to the coverage zones, but rather just because it was broken), and I’ve heard similar reports from others. They should be able to fix this and create reliable connectivity.


7. Improve the still water selection

I realize some people are going to roll their eyes at me for this (and probably the other points), and that’s fine. However, United has great sparkling water — they offer San Pellegrino. However, they offer individual bottles of Dasani water to passengers. At a minimum they should give bottles of spring water, rather than just the filtered, bottled water. If you’re going to make a point of offering premium brands, you shouldn’t be serving Dasani.

Clearly United sees some value in offering “premium” water, but they stopped halfway.


8. Provide labels for the wine flight

One of the cute aspects of United’s new service is that they offer passengers a wine flight. However, there’s no way to tell which wine is which, unless you happen to be able to tell because of the color. They’ll tell you really quickly what they’re pouring, but then they flip the tray around, and it’s tough to keep track of.

If they’re going to offer red or white wine tastings, it could be nice if they had little cards that displayed the wines in order, with a brief description of each (“the wine on the left is ____,” etc.).

United-Polaris-Food - 4

Bottom line

United’s Polaris is a massive improvement over what they used to offer. It’s refreshing to see an airline put so much effort into their product. The above isn’t to take away from the great things they’ve done with Polaris, but rather to share areas where I see room for improvement. Again, many of these things are minor, but that’s the intention — these are things that could (mostly) be easily changed.

If you’ve flown United Polaris, what would you like to see improved? Do you agree/disagree with any of the above?

  1. #9 install polaris on enough flights to where it actually matters and the odds of getting the product are high. We don’t need it 2 years from now if I can fly a good biz class on competing airlines already.

  2. I’m curious on your thoughts about the bedding compared to First Class bedding on various carriers.

  3. Sparkling wine out of a plastic cup should only occur on New Years, and chocolate seems like a god-awful flavor pairing.

  4. so you don’t spend some time learning about wine tasting and it’s somehow UA’s fault of not labeling them ?

    and regarding the headphones, can you objectively measure that the AA ones are better than UA’s, or purely because one is branded Bose and one is unbranded ? what if they were Bang & Olufsen ?

  5. Lucky,

    Have you had wine at Vino Bolo in any airport? The little blurb cards they have for all their wines, flights included, are awesome.


  6. @ henry LAX — I found the United ones to be uncomfortable, and the sound quality to not be great.

    I’m not sure I understand your first point? The flight attendant quickly poured all three wines and was talking quickly, and then turned the tray around and placed it in front of me. How am I supposed to “spend some time learning about wine tasting?” Actually, that’s *exactly* what I’d like to do, in the form of them giving me a card explaining what I’m being served. 😉

  7. @ Ben — Can’t say I’ve ever been, but just looked it up, and that seems like an awesome way to do it. That’s exactly what I was envisioning.

  8. @henry LAX Dont you think of B&O partnered with UA to provide headphones that they’d slap their name on them? Alternatively, if it was a mediocre/dismal product wouldnt you want to keep your brand off the item? Hello? Marketing?

    Also wouldnt you assume that having the names of the wine’s would help you learn about wine? And if you happened to favor one over the other, wouldnt you want to know the name so that you can request more of it? Do you go on wine tastings expecting to figure out what wines you’re given from a list?

    Did you forget to take your meds this morning, sweetie? *pats head*

  9. To be fair, the items you can request are clearly stated in the menu so everyone should be “in the know”

    I think originally they were on the seat but the gel pillows had a habit of going “missing”.

    Should be enough for everyone though you are right

  10. @Dave : wow how immature are you ? 12 ? another rich kid spending dad’s dollars flying first class yet know nothing about the world ?

  11. @Lucky it really is perfect. I write notes and save the cards in case I want to buy a bottle.

  12. I think #4 is very important and essential.
    It makes no sense to have s shortage of sleeping materials that everyone paid for.

  13. Agree re water. Bottled filtered water (quite the same as tap water) is not fine. Any spring water would do.

  14. You could broaden that wifi point to their ENTIRE fleet. Not surprising the new planes are having issues and I’m not sure if it’s a broader hardware / software issue but I’ve had so many problems with their wifi regardless of the plane. And it extends beyond wifi to their personal device entertainment – if they’re going to stop installing IFE systems, they should make sure their streaming solution works more than 30% of the time…

    They’ve had more than enough time with their slow wifi installation over the past few years to figure this stuff out

  15. I love reading the blog and at the of the day most of our quips are first world problems. But when I read the point about something better than Dasani you lost me. I mean I’m a travel snob of the highest order but even that got me to think wow our complaints really aren’t that bad. It was a good post but maybe make the list one less item as it was super petty.

  16. @henry LAX What makes you think I’m a rich kid? I like spending exactly zero of my parents money. Have a nice day boo boo kitty!

  17. 10) pick a best-in-class off the shelf J seat and give it some UA-specific finishings, vs. getting a custom mediocre one that now is going to cause major delays

  18. I actually kinda like the meal trays! Usually if I’m flying business class, it’s not to enjoy the meal. Airplane food is never going to be restaurant quality, and I just want to get the meal over with as fast as possible so I can either work or sleep. With the tray, I can get everything at once (I always choose the express dining option on United), and then hand the tray off to the FA right when I’m done. +1 for trays.

    And regarding the headphones, I kind of prefer that they don’t provide Bose. It’s so annoying on AA when they come around collecting them. I have my own headphones, and don’t need the extra annoying announcement that wakes me up. Also, I can’t even imagine how dirty those AA headphones are.

  19. Lucky, I think the biggest thing UA could do to improve the experience is provide better consistency in the product delivered. I recognizes variation exists on all carriers to some degree, but in my opinion it’s extreme on UA. The entire experience can range from reasonably pleasant to terrible simply depending on the attitude presented, and whether the FA’s look at pax as customers who fund their paychecks, or as people only there to inconvenience them and interrupt their galley chats. Even if they don’t care, they should pretend to. Aside from attitude, I’ve repeatedly experienced significant variations in service, skipping over parts of the service (meal orders missed, not delivered, no drink offered with meal, a side salad served with a salad main, etc) and in each of 3 times when I very kindly asked if it might be possible to have a replacement pillow because the (pre-Polaris) cotton ball filled one on my seat reeked of sweat and BO from prior passengers, the attitude returned was appalling. One FA huffed away and came back 20 minutes later and tossed a pillow at me about 3 feet away and said “I hope this works for you because it’s the only other one we have”. No apology for the stinky one, not a kind word at all, just attitude. It doesn’t matter how good a hard product may be if this is the attitude. I’d much rather have a deficient hard product and a nice flight crew than the opposite! I’ve been a million miler and 1K on UA for many years, so have spent a lot of time on board and still never know what to expect. Actual “friendly skies” and consistency would be a big step forward!

  20. Actually none of these problems for you even register on my list. I’d prefer they provide a comfortable seat that doesn’t require a mattress pad, improve the food and wine.

  21. Sorry but there are things in life that money cannot buy. You get when you are born or you don’t. No matter how hard United tries they will always be United. They will never be Singapore, Cathay or Emirates. Their strategy is well thought but poorly executed. They will always lack “finesse”.
    As for the water, this is a plague called Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They bottle tap water and force airlines to take it if they want to serve their sodas. Dasani and Acquafina are a disgrace we are forced to drink in the US. In the espresso side not sure if there are any issues in having a Nespresso machine on board of a plane but that would be a great start having it available for first and business class passengers.

  22. @Raj: Wow!!! If you think Dasani water tastes great I don’t ever want to know about your taste for wine. Just do some research on Dasani and you will see how bad it is. It is not just tap water but tap water with added chemicals to “improve” the taste. There are so many cheap options of great spring water in the US but we are forced to drink this garbage.

  23. Sorry, I have to disagree on the Meal Tray…

    1) Polaris is supposed to be all about the sleep…That is why there is a tray service, because Business Class passengers said that rest was their #1 concern…

    2) It’s –60– passengers, do you know how many flight attendants UA would have to staff that plane w/ to do a table side service…

    3) Not Paying for extra staffing is probably the real reason they are doing the tray service, but…that’s the way of the U.S. Carriers…I remember the days of 14 F/A’s on the UA 777-200’s pre-9/11…However airline mgmt today isn’t going to give up these record profits just to make the passenger happy

  24. Lucky,
    Was checking through your posts, but somehow missed: Has Polaris Business improved the inflight snack service (i.e. available throughout the flight, apart from meals). What is offered?
    Thanks very much!

  25. @Jeff you are dead right about the United FA’s. If you get a good one, or a good group, it’s fantastic. But get some lousy, lazy ones and no matter what the seats or configuration it’s going to be miserable.
    A few years back if flew UA back from Honolulu to LAX on a flight that left at 10pm. Obviously we all just wanted to sleep. After a fairly average business class snack meal all of us just wanted to try and sleep. But the 3 flight attendants for our section spent the entire night talking and laughing loudly behind the curtain. We all sat with dirty, completed meal trays for well over an hour! Didn’t matter if we pushed the call buttons, NO ONE CAME. My fellow passengers all looked at each other in disbelief. Finally I put my tray in the aisle and got up and brought it to them, asking why we were all sitting for more than an hour after service. No answer. They said they thought we were still eating.
    Twice more during the flight other passengers had to get up and shush them from behind their curtain. You coukd hear them through noise cancelling headphones! Absolutelythe worst service I’ve ever had.
    Landing at LAX I immediately found the manager and gave him the names of these three awful crew members. Who knows if anything was done, but I haven’t flown UA anywhere outside the continental US since. I just don’t trust them.

    They can pretty everything up inside over the next 5 years, but if it’s the same old team doing the serving, it’s just lipstick on a pig.

  26. I agree with the plastic champagne glasses. Not only are they cheap, but are also flimsy. Learning curve is also a factor here, but considering many passengers will be first time fliers, UA might already need to use a proper champagne glass.

    The meal trays are preferred by cabin crew especially that they have a strong union. Even Cathay Pacific is still using meal trays on long-haul flights. Although I already heard CX will introduce ala-carte service this year, and their cabin crew union will surely not be happy especially about the recent announcement of reconfiguring economy on 777 to 10-abreast, plus the trials for dine-on-demand on flights to the UK.

  27. “The cup “hooks” into a plate, though many people don’t realize that the two come apart.”
    Do people really think they’re meant to drink from the cup with the plate attached?? They don’t think that looks downright ridiculous?

    “The only place on the ground you’d eat off a tray is in a cafeteria.”
    You forgot prison canteen.

    And I can’t even with the still water comments.

  28. Have to disagree with you on the pre flight champagne flutes. Have taken 5 Polaris flights and haven’t seen one spilled yet. I found it pretty intuitive and the fa’s on all my flights have made a point to remind pax about how they work.

  29. @ Adam — Maybe that’s the problem, they didn’t tell us how they work. And perhaps that’s also indicative of what the problem is — if the crew has to remind passengers how to use a plastic cup, maybe it’s time to come up with a different design.

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