CNN Business Traveller’s Fascinating Look At United Polaris

Filed Under: Media, United

Richard Quest is probably my favorite guy on TV, given how entertaining and intense he is. He also happens to be an aviation geek, which doesn’t hurt, and in particular is why I love his monthly program, CNN Business Traveller. For this month’s CNN Business Traveller, Richard took a look at the development of United’s Polaris product. Unlike what I’d expect from most traditional media outlets, this is a really comprehensive and accurate look at the product over the past couple of years, from development to where it is now.

Richard looks at the “test flights” they did on the ground to test the new Polaris soft product, the Polaris lounge in Chicago, and the inaugural international Polaris 777-300ER flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

Even though he’s a United fanboy, I appreciate that he doesn’t just look at the positives, but also addresses a lot of the negatives, including with Oscar Munoz. For example, he addresses the issues United has had with their seat manufacturer, the ice cream bowls breaking, the Dr. Dao incident that emerged around the same time that international Polaris service started, the Polaris lounge being too crowded, them cutting some of the amenities already, etc.

If you have ~25 minutes, this is an insightful and entertaining look at how United Polaris came to be (hopefully the below videos work, though they may not be available in all markets):

(Tip of the hat to Live and Let’s Fly)

  1. Did anyone else notice at 28 seconds into the first video, they refer to Qantas first as “business class?”

  2. Hey Lucky I know you’re probably never short of ideas for blog posts but I thought it would be fun if you considered doing a weekly post of your ‘best and worst ever’ of one topic related to travelling. This could be absolutely anything, from best and worst crew you’ve ever had, dessert you’ve ever been served, transit experience, hotel bed you’ve ever slept in, amenity kit you’ve received, safety video you’ve ever seen etc. Just one simple, short post, say once a week with a different topic each week. It would be fascinating to see the best and worst side by side. It would be especially good to see on weekends when aviation news is slower.
    Just an idea!

  3. @Will Morrison Yep, and they keep showing pictures of their F product later in the video while still referring to it as biz.
    Probably referring to their new A330/787 Vantage XL Business Suite, and an intern didn’t know the difference. Fascinating video, besides that one slip-up.

  4. Great piece. Munoz comes off as fake as a three dollar bill. Akbar’s comb over is the stuff of legends. Brian Kelly needs a new tailor.

  5. Great overview of the current business class products. With Qatar and their new suites, I couldn’t help but wonder what they defined as a “family.” Their double beds and family suites concept is great until an employee decides that a western family of all men, all woman, or woman traveling without their husband or a male relative doesn’t meet their definition.

    @Lucky, would you and Ford lay together in their double bed? I sure in the heck wouldn’t with my husband; thus, won’t tend to fly carriers whose values don’t align with mine. No alcohol? Not flying with them.

  6. “It’s our people that will make the difference.” –Munoz
    The people who will be politely escorting me off the plane? Sure.

  7. @CR: Yes, Cathay actually had to refurb the first, I believe, four A350 deliveries. The business class seats had a variety of problems and had to be replaced.

    As to the subject of this blog, I find Richard Quest to be an arrogant, irritating, blow-hole. The fact that he is supposedly a UA fan boy further diminishes his reputation in my book. United was the first to suck, although AA has gleefully followed them downhill.

  8. Sloppy editorial by CNN Business Traveller. They couldn’t even get the correct visuals for the Qantas business class seats. The one in the show is for Qantas First.

  9. @1KBrad “I find Richard Quest to be an arrogant, irritating, blow-hole.”

    You forgot, loud, shrill and sloppy. And he’s an unapologetic shill.

  10. This made me cringe from how transparently BS it was. It played like a long paid advertisement for United with a couple of fairly-common-knowledge critiques thrown in for the appearance of journalistic integrity. Did CNN or Richard do a long, in-depth overview of AA’s new products? Or Delta’s? I’d argue that both AA’s and Delta’s hard products are superior *and* AA’s has been out much longer. And why on United when the new product is neither new to the industry nor revolutionary in both hard and soft product? There are many foreign carriers that blow United out of the water on every aspect and have been doing so for years. I mean, the tackiness of plastic champagne flutes on the ground is just the tip of the crap iceberg about Polaris. This piece is celebrating mediocrity. Late-to-the-game mediocrity, at that. Kinda pathetic.

  11. Quest…gross…just gross…
    I’ve flown UA 862/869 at least 4 times a year since 2000. The Polaris upgrade was nice, but barely in the same class as Emirates or Cathay.
    The seats and entryways to the pods are narrow, there are regular malfunctions with the trays (I’ve had two flights where the tray was held in place with tape), and the food and service are inconsistent. The flights regularly run out of gel pillows, mattress pads, and pajamas and the lounges are nowhere near online. I go out of SFO as my main gateway to Asia and walk straight past the United “Club” to Silver Kris or EVA (if I’m lucky enough to be there when they’re open).
    IMO UA is so big that they’ve fallen into that typical corporate trap: all innovation and creativity gets dumbed down by committees, accountants, economies of scale, and focus groups to the point that all change just becomes a mediocre, dumbed-down exercise.

  12. @Will Morrison I was about to say the exact same thing thing as someone who lives in Australia (Perth) I straightaway noticed that and thought that’s interesting for such a big company as CNN surely that can get the picture of the product right

  13. @ schar

    “and loved Akbar so confidently saying his product is the best”

    He can afford to be confident: he’s right. Qatar is currently winning this game.

  14. Thanks, Lucky – that was interesting.

    Does anyone know if United still use paper cups for ice cream? That’s shockingly amateur…

  15. A few thoughts.
    1) I don’t know why Richard Quest isn’t on CNN domestically. His stuff is good.
    2) With that said, I do find that sometimes Richard Quest’s travel journalism crosses the line between journalism and promotional advertising for an airline or travel destination. I’d be curious to know if he actually pays for these flights. A few years ago, he did reviews of each airline’s business-class on the JFK-LHR route, as an example.
    3) The Points Guy gets way too much publicity. I wonder how much money he makes. While his stuff is good, it’s all about points. The writers on TPG doesn’t understand or value paid business-class travel or airline elite status as much as free rides through points.

  16. I don’t believe anything on CNN. I don’t watch CNN. I don’t understand why anyone would quote CNN since they are known for FAKE NEWS. Get your information somewhere else.

  17. I have flown several times this year in 747 GF (great seat) with the new Polaris service. For the first time in many years (or decades), I was impressed with the combined soft and hard product.

    If Smisek had offered this after the merger, I’m convinced we would not soon have a First Class service behind us. And for that, I am disappointed.

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