United Is Cutting Back Polaris Amenities

Filed Under: United

United introduced their new Polaris premium cabin experience on December 1, where we saw them invest very nicely in their soft product. I wrote a post about how United’s new bedding is the best offered by any airline in business class, and it’s almost unnecessarily over the top.


Well, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but United is cutting back Polaris amenities somewhat as of May 1, 2017 — they’ll be removing one of the pillows from each seat, and also will be provisioning fewer mattress pads. Brian Sumers shares the following memo that was sent out to flight attendants:

Customers and flight attendants both reported that there are too many amenities placed on customers’ seats, which makes it difficult for them to get settled. In addition, United Polaris amenities take up a lot of storage space on the aircraft. The solution: We’re removing the small pillow to reduce the number of items staged on customers’ seats. We will continue boarding the large pillow, and the gel pillow will be available upon customer request. In addition, we’re reducing the quantities of mattress pads provisioned, which will free up space to store other items. This is possible as use of mattress pads is less than 100 percent of the quantities currently provisioned.

On the surface I don’t think removing one pillow is a problem, especially since United also has gel pillows available on request. Three pillows really is quite over the top.

United-Polaris-777 - 20

My concern is that United doesn’t increase the provisioning of gel pillows, in which case many passengers will have “just” one pillow, rather than three (since I imagine they’ll run out of the gel pillows more quickly now).

United-Polaris-777 - 38

United is also decreasing the provisions of mattress pads. The mattress pads that United offers are excellent, and along with the gel pillows and pajamas, they’re only available on request.

United-Polaris-777 - 76

I’m not sure I totally follow United’s logic when it comes to justifying the cut in mattress pads:

This is possible as use of mattress pads is less than 100 percent of the quantities currently provisioned.

But if you cut the provisioning it might not be anymore, right…?

I think none of these changes really come as a surprise, and I suspect over time we’ll see some more Polaris cost cutting. A while ago I wrote about how United reported that wine consumption was 300% more than they forecasted due to Polaris, which is surprising. Presumably that means that wine consumption is actually up significantly more than 300%, since I imagine they forecasted an increase in consumption due to the introduction of the wine flight.

United-Polaris-Food - 4

Airlines have notoriously tight onboard budgets, so that money has to come from somewhere. Also keep in mind that United is having issues with passengers taking pillows, etc., to go, so that might contribute to increased costs as well.

Bottom line

It’s not surprising to see United cutting costs in Polaris. In fairness, I even noted that the bedding in Polaris was overwhelming and there was nowhere to store it, and that was in their new seat. I can’t imagine what it’s like with their older seats, which have less personal space.

I don’t think either of these issues are major, assuming that they don’t regularly run out of the gel pillows or mattress pads. If they’re cutting a pillow and frequently run out of the gel pillows, that would be a big cut, in my opinion, as many passengers will go from three pillows to one pillow.

What do you make of United’s Polaris cuts?

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

  1. Everyone quit stealing pillows 😉

    But yes, three pillows is too many to stage at every seat.

  2. United is seeing a big problem w theft of the grey duvet blankets and memory pillow. European and Asian long haul airlines pick up these items before landing and tell pax that its for safety.

  3. What’s the first thing you do when boarding with all the things placed on your seat for you?
    You put them away somewhere.
    From your earlier posts you’ve said there’s very little storage especially as they opted not to have centre overhead bins. If there is nowhere to put all this stuff then it should not be placed on the seats in the first place. What are you supposed to do, sit on a giant pile of bedding for take off?

  4. @Lucky

    When you flew Polaris did you request the PJs, Mattress Pad, and Gel Pillow all at once. I have an upcoming Polaris flight and planning on doing that, but wondering what kind of glances I will get from the FAs and if they will think I am needy before a 15hr flight

  5. @ Brad B — They seemed busy before takeoff, so I asked right after takeoff, since I was warned that they often run out. They gladly obliged.

  6. @Lucky good to know, my last flight I found there was never a right time to ask, except after the meal service but then they were out of Gel pillows.

  7. So now they re-accommodate pillows. United seems to always never have enough space. Don’t they plan and anticipate before doing?

  8. The mattress pad I had on my flight from HKG was not as fluffy as yours. I would never change to pajamas on a flight. The bathrooms are too small and gross to use as a changing room. I won’t miss the small pillow. I love the gel pillow. I tried to buy one from UA/1K but they are not for sale. I would NEVER steal one even though I really wanted one. A couple of days ago I bought a similar one from Amazon Prime for $23.99. I think it’s a little bit larger. It squishes down a lot so can be crammed in a carry-on. The day they get rid of real champagne is going to be the sad day for me.

  9. I’m happy they are cutting back – just got back from asia and just about the only thing in ocerhead storage was pillows.

  10. Kirby the Bean Counter strikes again – Allegedly.

    For all of the visions that Oscar Munoz and his creative team dream up, Scott Kirby will probably pick apart and eliminate them if his spreadsheets can justify that – Allegedly.

    Veterans of the former US Air management team (most still running AA) are allegedly the stingiest penny-pinchers out there. Kirby might not be directly responsible for these no-frills moves at United, but wouldn’t it seem odd if United scaled back like AA has (since the merger)?

  11. Flew Polaris for a 12hr+ flight (777-200 though).

    I’m not surprised they are cutting back on these items (first the bear, now the pillows, next will be the PJs). They even stopped offering the wine selection, plus the ice cream sundae!

    Not too impressed with the Polaris brand – seems like a glorified first class service under a new marketing term. Service was OK. Plastic wraps (from blanket, duvet, etc.) and bottles were not cleaned up..

  12. You know these pillows have as much right to be there as anyone else. I’m not buying the “reaccommodating” story.

  13. How they managed to not design enough in-seat storage for the bedding when Polaris is all about “a good night’s sleep” is totally beyond me.

  14. It doesn’t spell success to start cost cutting measures months into the launch of a premium product. UA is seeing the reason other carriers severely limit the access of non-revenue pax into an expensive cabin. Punishing the paying customer is not the way to grow a business.

  15. “A while ago I wrote about how United reported that wine consumption was 300% more than they forecasted due to Polaris, which is surprising. Presumably that means that wine consumption is actually up significantly more than 300%, since I imagine they forecasted an increase in consumption due to the introduction of the wine flight.”

    I think this was pointed out in the comments last time, but I believe you are misunderstanding what this number means. The consumption increased at a rate 300% more than forecasted, the total consumption is not 300% more than the original consumption. For example, say they catered 20 bottles of wine for 60 seats before introducing the Polaris soft product. Perhaps they forecasted a 25% increase in consumption with the new service, so planned on catering 25 bottles. The consumption increased at a rate 300% more than forecasted, or 100% of total consumption, so the new demand is 40 bottles. Your understanding of this seems to suggest an increased demand of significantly more than 80 bottles.

  16. and nobody thinks about these “storage” problems of introducing an IKEA bedroom, BEFORE introducing a new product? *sight*

  17. Can’t bring myself to make a point about the 300% wine consumption. TL;DR: wrong. because math.

  18. I think 2 pillows and 1 large blanket is the perfect amount. I also think there would be enough room in the overhead bins to store a mattress pass for every single person. On my Austrian flight recently, I took the pillow and blanket from the empty seat in front of me and used those with mine as Austrian only gives one pillow and a small blanket to each business passenger.

  19. My wife and flew Polaris last month from EWR to Frankfurt and back, boy what a disappointment. The servive was flat awful, 300% more wine?! No way!
    I asked for a gin and tonic with the nuts before dinner it came after the I had the salid. The flight attendants were far and few between.
    I’d be happy to go back to the old days with clunky drink carts, at least the didn’t pretend to be high class.

    Doug W

  20. There were dozens of comments correcting the enormous maths error last time this was stated as well, maybe he’ll never get it!

    Though in his defence, it’s easy to see how you could misinterpret it that way. I’d go as far as to say the statistic was most likely deliberately used to make people think that. It could have been stated in a much clearer way.

  21. United should just fail as a company.

    They should be made an example of so other airlines think twice about dragging people off their planes.

  22. Not the end of the world – Polaris is lipstick on a pig, anyhow. All the fluffy bedding and private seating in the world can’t make up for the sour-faced, unpolished clock-punchers who crew most United longhaul flights, many of whom feel they’ve somehow “earned” their place on the airline’s most premium routes and should be rewarded for their years of domestic flying by having to work as little as possible.

    There might have been an initial uplift as some of them took momentary pride in the new service, but it’ll be back to business as usual soon enough. Rush through service (“the wine flight is too much work, so let’s just tell them catering didn’t load it”), cut corners (“no need to pick up the plastic wrap from all that bedding, the pax will find somewhere to put it”) and flee back to the galleys to gossip loudly and bang things around while their passengers are trying to sleep in a curtainless cabin. These are people who frequently can’t be bothered to iron their uniforms or comb their hair properly. Can they really be relied upon to help make up beds for passengers, pick up trash or greet travelers by name?

    United can hype the hell out of its product, but until they find a way to motivate the people delivering it, it’ll just be a disappointment with a new and different twist.

  23. Just another misstep in the seemingly never-ending missteps of United. It’s clear United really doesn’t want to provide customer service to its customers.

    United really should just turn itself into a cargo carrier. After all, their flight crews often treat the passengers as SLF (self-loading freight). They might as well acknowledge it and only carry true freight. Boxes won’t create a media frenzy if they get “reaccomodated” and roughed up

  24. Wow. United barely has a plane in the sky with the new Polaris seats — recall that most United planes feature the old seats (and, per United, a majority of the fleet won’t have the ‘new’ seats until 2021) — and they’re already cutting back in at least two areas from what was launched and touted.

    And the idea that taking a pillow with you is theft is absurd. I flew Delta from Detroit-Tokyo-Guam last week. The business-class airfare was $7,000. For $7,000, they can surely build in $5 or $10 to cover the cheap pillow that I take with me because one pillow is never enough on a flight over 10 hours.

  25. It’s not absurd… Theft is theft, whether you feel you have the right to steal from a company because you pay them a lot or not…

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