United Paves The Way For Their Next Polaris Cut

Filed Under: United

The rollout of United Polaris has been rocky, to put it mildly. The airline started rolling out their new international premium cabin experience in December 2016, though the execution has left a lot to be desired:

  • In the 15 months since United has introduced Polaris, they’ve opened a single Polaris Lounge, and it will be several more months until the next Polaris Lounge opens; as a point of comparison, American has opened four Flagship Lounges in less than six months
  • So far United has reconfigured a grand total of five planes with Polaris seats, in addition to the 14 Boeing 777-300ERs that were delivered with these seats; not a single 777-200 or 787 has been reconfigured with Polaris seats, and many passengers are still finding themselves in a configuration with eight seats per row in business class
  • As if that’s not bad enough, United has been slowly chipping away at the Polaris soft product

United 777-300ER Polaris cabin

It sure looks to me like United is paving the way for the next Polaris devaluation.

United’s “on request” Polaris items

Since Polaris was introduced, they’ve had several items available on request, which were listed in the menu.

Specifically, they’ve offered mattress pads, gel pillows, and slippers on request. They don’t load enough of these for all passengers, presumably to save money. A vast majority of passengers aren’t going to read the entire menu, and as a result, most people have no clue that all of these amenities are available in Polaris.

You’d think that they’d want to showcase their best product proactively, but I see where they’re coming from.

United no longer lists Polaris amenities on their menu

If I were a betting man, I’d say the above amenities are on the way out. As of this month, United has revised their Polaris menus, which each passenger gets upon boarding. These used to be booklets and contain all kinds of information about the service flow, while now they’re just presenting simple menus (thanks to reader Christopher for letting me know).

The new menus don’t list the gel pillows, mattress pads, and slippers, so only people who are “in the know” would even ask. I reached out to United to ask if they would be cutting these amenities, and if not, if they have any insight as to why they’re no longer listed on the menu. A spokesperson responded by saying that United hasn’t cut any of the optional United Polaris amenities, and that they continue to invest in the onboard service. Fair enough, as I wasn’t expecting a direct answer to my question about why they no longer list them.

If you ask me, the writing is on the wall here. Even when Polaris was introduced you had to specifically know to ask for these things. Now even fewer people will know, since they’re not even listed on the menu anymore. They’ll load fewer of these, and then eventually they’ll no doubt cut these “due to customer feedback and lack of demand.”

I’m curious if anyone has a different take on this than I do?

  1. We need to see more reports on success and failure on receiving them upon request to make any conclusions. From the beginning of the program, results have been spotty.

  2. I’ve come to expect this level of half-hearted efforts by an airline run by an org culture of not following through and not caring about the details except those designed once, molded in plastic, and bolted to the floor. It’s hard to get a company to care about details when you’re at the whim of shareholders.

  3. “they continue to invest in the onboard service. ”

    I’d like them to invest in edible salads and properly portioned entrees.

  4. Stop advertising them…..people stop asking for them…..cut them due to “changing Customer demand for these items”….. badge it as an enhancement!

  5. Americans deserve this. You elected people that side with corporations. Corporations are bending you over and having their way. Now just try to enjoy it.

  6. Fantastic. I’m a shareholder and I need that stock to top $80 a share. Lower costs = higher profits…generally speaking. Who cares about slippers anyway.

  7. Stock of gel pillows (those that were not stolen by pax) and the mattress cushion were reduced by about half many months ago due to low volume of pax request.

    The remaining ones are largely utilized by crew members (which are entitled to Polaris bedding items) when they head off to their required rest breaks.

  8. It is remarkable how poorly run United is, from end to end. Sure, they’ve scored on time improvements and better operational reliability, but the culture at United appears to be one of being perpetually at war with its employees and one of remarkable disdain for customers.

  9. Yes I saw these scaled back menus 2weeks ago coming back to SFO from FRA. Also missing were salt and pepper shakers (Death Star) from the meal trays. Only sachets on the trays. However I did notice new desert bowls instead of the cardboard cups for the sundaes.

  10. This is why I suggest to seat mates that they request the amenities. If UA won’t tell them I will (after I get mine, of course).

  11. @lucky

    is there any way to request this stuff in advance with the check in agents or by calling ahead?

    my grandparent will be flying on united polaris from San Francisco to Taipei in a couple week and they don’t speak any english.

    from my past experience with United though, even requests for wheelchairs sometimes go unheeded. its a real shame their service can be so terrible.

  12. You know what? Screw United. I have been their #1 supporter. I thought they were headed in the right direction. I actually have flown and loved the Polaris seat, better then AA for sure. But it’s insane that 15 months later we have no real progress and and endless series of cutbacks. Frankly the “big three” all suck and I’m tired of it.

  13. @ Ted and everyone else

    The moral of the story is screw the big 3 and fly Asian and Pacific island carriers (including Hawaiian)

  14. @Mike-

    This is why I just booked ANA first for my family of three to Tokyo. It’s a world of difference.

  15. United is the epitome of Walmart airlines. If you were thinking Frontier or Spirit, they are the dollar store. Pay a little extra and fly someone else.

  16. I agree with everyone’s comment on the terrible job United is rolling out Polaris. It is such an embarrassment for United except United management does not care about if. It is run by Wall Streer bankers via a CEO who was discarded by its bigger rival. I am sure the AA management must be congratulating themselves every day.

    On comment about disclosing the amenity in the printed material: I just flew LH International first class yesterday (great flight and love the seats) and I noticed LH does not provide bedding, slipper information in its menu. I can also point to other international airlines who provide optional onboard amentities, but don’t mention them in their printed menu.

    My question is: why are we expecting United to include these optional items when other established airlines don’t (independent of the terrible job UA is doing on the roll out of Polaris)?

  17. @Ted


    It’s not just the cost cutting, but rather the American culture as well. Compare the Asian and Pacific Islander culture (Hawaii included) to the American culture. Americans are pissed off at every little thing. You rarely find Asians or PI’s that yell.

  18. This is really disappointing.
    I had high hopes for UA when they first launched Polaris, but now I lost all my faith in them and I do not fly with UA anymore.

  19. Currently up in the clouds from HKG to SFO in 15A. The crew are amazing (email to 1K in the works) and the hard product is solid. I’m flying SFO to CTU in 2 weeks on the old 787-8 Polaris and not super stoked about it. The roll out is a bummer, the new product is great and makes for a really nice trip, I just really wish they’d speed it all up a bit!

  20. “Currently up in the clouds from HKG to SFO in 15A. The crew are amazing (email to 1K in the works) and the hard product is solid. I’m flying SFO to CTU in 2 weeks on the old 787-8 Polaris and not super stoked about it. The roll out is a bummer, the new product is great and makes for a really nice trip, I just really wish they’d speed it all up a bit!”

    Munoz, is that you man?

  21. BA was wise to not go with the custom design and instead roll out a more generic model to update their seating – UA should bite the bullet and do this as well, especially given Zodiac’s myriad problems.

  22. @ADP
    Let’s wait and see what BA’s new seat is like before we decide they’re wise!

    They designed their revolutionary (at that time) ying-yang J seat when pretty much no-one else offered lay-flat beds, and they introduced it across their whole long-haul fleet – many long-haul carriers are *still* offering angles seats on some long-haul routes (KLM? American?). Developing that seat in-house was a smart decision to leap-frog their competition.

    Now they’re playing catch-up it probably does make sense to use someone else’s innovation. Though it speaks to a loss of confidence and a loss of a desire to be world-leading – but I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll do to it on the A350.

    Meanwhile, anyone flying United and expecting a consistent premium experience is being either incredibly optimistic or foolish. Any airline that can blunder into a Dr Dao situation is in completely the wrong place to be a customer service-centred operation.

  23. United’s whole purpose for me now is to be a mileage store, and even that is losing appeal. I used to religiously convert Chase UR points to UA as soon as they posted. Now I save them in their more valuable form.

    (Just converted 220k of them to VA for ANA LAX->NRT first for 2.)

  24. End if last year flew ORD to HKG and had great experience, wine flights and all. then last month flew EWR to TLV on United Polaris and requested PJ’s and was told only available on flights over 12 hrs. I think the flight time was about 11+ hours.I am sure next to go will be the pajamas.

  25. “You rarely find Asians or PI’s that yell.” LOL

    I’m thinking “Korean nut rage”, Chinese riots at the ticket counter during irg ops, and the like.

    I was on the horse drawn wagon going down the hill from Neuschwanstein castle, and a Korean mother yelled blood murder for several minutes when her family didn’t get the seats she wanted ( which she was in no way entitled to, having arrived after the people who were sitting in them). But I’m sure it’s my ‘White Privileged” mindset that makes my think this way. 😉

  26. Recently flew round trip business first on 777-200 and 787-8 between US east coast and Beijing. Trip 12 + hours each way. Was provided mattress pad and pair of pajamas (my size) both ways, on my request. PJ’s, by the way, are combed cotton, and very comfortable (only wore top on plane). I saw nobody else in our cabin requesting the mattress pads or pajamas, which were stored in overhead bins or side bins near the galleries in adequate quantity.

    Basically, you have to do the research to know what is available on what flights. In our case, got what was requested without any problem.

  27. I always ask for gel pillow and slippers (mattress pad for the Pacific flights but not Atlantic cross over). I also ask for PJs for the Pacific flight as they do not have that for Atlantic flight. I will be pretty upset if they take away these soft products as their hard products rollout is soooo slow. So far, all of my flights so far are flown in old hard-products.

  28. I just arrived in Tokyo two days ago from LAX. When I made my reservation a few months ago, I chuckled at the flight options offered by United, Delta and American. Instead I splurged and booked premier economy on Japan Airlines. What an outstanding airline! Friendly staff at the check in, I enjoyed lounge access, was given a kind bow after my boarding pass was scanned and and was provided impeccable service on the immaculate 777W.

  29. @UA_Flyer
    “I am sure the AA management must be congratulating themselves every day.”

    I bet USdbaAA management is planning to implement similar cutbacks.

  30. I am a UA very frequent flier GS and Million Miler. I really liked my United experiences especially given the level of attention GS receives. However, I truly hated the 2-4-2 business class and avoided it at all costs. Usually flew global first, 787, or former Continental 777s with 2-2-2 if needed. I was excited for Polaris. But, I must say united tooted it’s own horn too early and keeps failing to deliver. Have not yet been in new seat and my routes bypass Chicago so have not been in new lounge. IAD and EWR lounges so underwhelming. The enhanced soft product nicer. Always ask as I board for gel pillow, pajamas, bed material, etc. but others seem unaware. I am sure that they are missing out from lack of knowledge. Given the slow rollout of the hard product, in my humble opinion United should be pushing the soft product as much as possible to make amends. Even better, they should be working three times as fast to get new seats deployed.

  31. Hoping United will to turn into a decent airline is like hoping Trump will turn into a decent president. It ain’t gonna happen.

    United was a routinely-disappointing airline when I began traveling for business back in the early 70’s and they have remained a sub-standard carrier through the ensuing decades. I never even consider flying them.

  32. @Andy

    Write or type a note (a couple just in case) and have your parents present the note to the flight attendant(s).

  33. For the first time in a long time, I agree with Debit’s somewhat in-ya-face, pithy comment!

  34. On the plus side maybe fewer people will request the GEL pillow. To me this is the single most important comfort item (as the new seats are mostly not rolled out) next to the soft light Saks blanket. It annoys me that I have to request this early as the FAs clearly don’t want to deal with it when they are served pre-flight drinks. But if I don’t they often run out. So much for a $6k experience. Could care less about how the type of salt shakers or sundae cups.

    Any decent airline would stock enough food and pillows to keep high rev customers happy. But I guess this is the tradeoff for having miles that I can usually spend as desired and not skypesos or AA miles.

  35. Passengers were complaining that the menus were too much information, too confusing, too long, etc. So, United streamlined the menus to just present the food. That’s why they don’t list them. Not because they’re cutting them.

  36. I hate United as much as the next guy but seems logical to actually stremline the menus. Like posted above, most airline do this. Usually the information can be found on the web site, but even then there are plenty of things that are not. Heck it’s common on LX First to have many off menu items available.

    I think for most people it’s just to confusing and they have plenty on their minds in the first place (lots of people gets super stressed when flying)

  37. Few realize these amenities are available. Your local WALMART removes any SKU that doesn’t sell enough.

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