United Is Making More Cuts To Their Polaris Service

Filed Under: United

It’s really hard to do justice to what a disaster the rollout of United’s Polaris product has been since it has introduced over 14 months ago. Don’t get me wrong, the concept and marketing is brilliant, but I think this may just be the most poorly executed airline experience that I’ve ever witnessed.

When it comes to Polaris, I’m not sure whether United is doing a worse job with the rollout of their lounges or planes. In over 14 months, United hasn’t opened a single Polaris Lounge. Not one. The Chicago Polaris Lounge opened on December 1, 2016 (and it’s a great lounge), but it’s going to be many more months until the next lounge is opened. United doesn’t even plan on beginning to “design” three of their Polaris Lounges until 2019.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

When it comes to planes, United has taken delivery of 14 Boeing 777-300ERs, and all of those feature the new Polaris seats. Of their existing longhaul fleet, United has only reconfigured four planes in 14 months. Four planes. In 14 months. That’s an average of one plane every 3.5 months. They haven’t even started reconfiguring their 777-200s, which are the backbone of their international fleet, and don’t even mention a timeline for when they’ll start to reconfigure 787s.

On top of that, United has made a few cuts to their Polaris soft product since it was first introduced. They’ve removed one of the pillows from each seat, they’re provisioning fewer mattress pads, and more. The airline claims that wine consumption in Polaris has been 300% higher than they were expecting, which is probably due to the wine flights they’ve been offering. Even people who might not think to otherwise drink wine may consider it when it’s in front of them.

United Polaris wine flight

So to cut costs, View from the Wing reports that United will be cutting the bloody mary and mimosa cart (on morning departures), as well as the wine cart (on afternoon and evening departures) as of May 1, 2018. These items will still be available. United claims that these changes are being made to speed up the service flow, though it seems to me like the underlying motivation here is probably to cut costs (which United denies).

If you don’t proactively offer people mimosas, bloody marys, or wine flights, they’re less likely to request them. So instead United will be using the standard beverage cart, and you’ll have to know what to ask for.

Ultimately I don’t view this as a huge deal, since they’ll still be offering all the same stuff as before. However, they’re certainly eliminating a nicely presented gimmick that they advertised as part of the Polaris experience.

My bigger issue here is just the combination of United’s cutbacks and their horrible rollout schedule. A vast majority of business class passengers will never experience the Polaris product as it was first advertised (with the proper seat, the full service, etc.). Apparently there are more Polaris cuts on the way, though we’ll have to wait to see the full details of that.

It’s my understanding that United has had some, ahem, “restructuring” in the group that oversees Polaris, and basically no one is in charge. That’s why things are moving at such a slow pace.

  1. The wine flight thing is ridiculous anyways. Who wants to drink three different wines at once? This just messes up your taste buds and prevents you from enjoying any of them properly. They should rather invest into offering one really good white and one really good red (classic Bordeaux)

  2. I was on IAD-MAD a few months ago and the purser asked me what I’d like to drink and i asked for the wine flight. I had to explain it 3 times as she didn’t seem to understand what I was asking for. Couldn’t be a language thing – both Americans. Is it not even on the menu?

    Oh and they couldn’t manage my request for executive meal service (all brought at once) even though it’s clearly stated on the menu.

  3. This is just United’s typical MO. Sure, this one cut by itself is nothing too substantial, but the issue is that it will never just be this “one” cut. Rest assured that United will continue to cut a little here and there until the product no longer represents any significant differentiation from what came previously. That, along with the inexcusably slow rollout of the hard product, is why United will always be offering an outdated, non premium product, propped up by vaporware marketing BS.

    As Kirby is clearly adopting Sizmek’s approach to bean counting, get ready for further cuts that will be spun as “enhancements”, “changes you’ll like”, and “things our customers actually asked for” – as if the cuts weren’t insulting enough, they’re insulting your intelligence as well.

  4. hey get your facts straight before publishing them. 2017 is about getting 777-300er online and ready. it is a huge amount of seat of course it should slow down and make sure it is right. 767-300 has been in retrofit in a furious pace since late last year, doing three planes at a time in Hong Kong. First 777-200 is already in Xiamen doing conversion, first one out in April. 3 lounges will open in the next few months. it is not a slow roll out at all. To convert all planes will take 3 to 4 years, which is about right compared right to all other airlines. what else do you expect?

    taking away the pillow and the wine cart is just optimizing the service. Stop demonizing UA, if you don’t want to fly, don’t.

  5. Wow. I have not had the wine flight, but I do enjoy the bloody mary cart for sure. That’s not a positive change at all. Amazing there is this much lack of vision in this product rollout.

  6. @ Xing — LOL! I thought you were reasonable until you started suggesting United’s lounge roll out is “not a slow roll out at all.” American opened four Flagship Lounges in less than six months. United opened one Polaris lounge in 15 months.

  7. I’ve always thought that wine flight looked really tacky. There’s no tasting notes and I believe you mentioned before that you’re not even told which one is which. Rather than that awful metal holder they should place a sheet of white paper on the tray table with an outline for each glass to sit on and tasting notes below it. And it should be just a very small glass in order for you to decide which one you like the most and then you order a full glass of that.

    I just don’t understand UAs interperation of ‘premium’ and ‘class’. A chocolate with champagne when boarding? Ever wondered why no other airline offers chocolates on boarding?

  8. CALL THEM OUT LUCKY! I think it’s terrible the amount of false advertising the Polaris brand has generated, and it seems like they are reverting so quickly that Polaris will really only be something in name and not in substance. Sticking with AA J and Flagship Lounges at this point.

  9. Qantas refurbed 28 A330’s or so at a rate of one per month. I think it’s also important to note that this was done in Australia, not outsourced to Asia. Compared to UA that is proper light speed.

  10. So I don’t see this as bad, as generally there was only wine and water on the cart, so people would choose wine over spirits. I actually think this is an upgrade

  11. This whole Polaris thing is nothing but a fancy ad campaign. Who does a roll out before the hard product is substantially in place? The reason their wine “consumption” is up 300 percent is more likely due to waste. Once a wine bottle is opened, it has a very short life. They are probably dumping out lots of wine with this type of service. Nothing about this was well conceived or executed.

  12. Scott Kirby’s vision of “service enhancements” for sure. His minion @XING (Mr. “optimizing service”) obviously also does not understand marketing, customer service, credibility with the customer/market, and how “false starts” (even the perception of them) can be disastrous to a brand. This long-time 1k’r (who routinely avoids UA Int’l where possible) views the coming of Polaris as a chinese water torture sort of process.

  13. Meh, no big loss there. They still have the worst long haul hard product of the US3. The 2+4+2 J configuration of their 772 comes to mind as a particularly bad layout. Few of their planes even have a J cabin with aisle access for every seat. They should be investing in a better hard product.

  14. Such a shame. Was able to experience the full soft product on an old seat, but by the time I flew a new 777 they had already taken away a pillow. In all fairness, I don’t think that extra pillow made much of a difference, but it’s sad to see so many cuts already.

    I wonder what’s next… seating in a 2-4-2 configuration?

  15. Wow. United must be hurting pretty badly financially to be making these changes to a program that’s not even close to fully implemented.

  16. Weren’t there multiple reports out when the Polaris seat was first introduced that the manufacturer had a delivery problem….resulting in delays for the fleet conversion? I remember reading that United would use this as an excuse to “delay” rollout across the fleet.

    I have discovered that there continue to be service issues but it appears to be more problems with CO crews than with UA crews. The UA crews understand the service enhancements whereas the CO crews look at it as a task and bothersome. On a recent transcon PS flight I was in E+ and asked for a glass of wine. The lead FA spent five minutes looking me up then asking if I was GS because only they get comp alcohol on domestic coach flights. I had to SHOW him that he was wrong!!

    Regarding Pplaris lounges… the SFO lounge has delays because the initial plan was changed and enlarged when they took over two other Asian carrier lounges. Apparently there were approval delays and that caused a delayed opening. I understand that the lounge will open in early summer. I have also heard from UA higher ups at SFO that when the Polaris lounge opens, they will buildout a new UA Club by gates 91/93 where a large transit lounge currently is located but shuttered since 9/11. And the existing First Class lounge will also be reconfigured.

  17. Ozark Airlines “Wine Cellar in the Sky” service, late 1970s:

    * Three wines were featured, rotated regularly.
    * Wine lists were given out prior to departure, and descriptive cabin announcements accompanied each serve.
    * All three wines were offered to every passenger, served with a basket of crackers, bread, cheese and fruit, with the usual selection of cocktails, soft drinks and coffee.

    And somehow, we managed to make that service flow work on 100-seat DC-9-30s in markets like TPA-BNA and STL-DFW, sometimes with only two flight attendants. We were proud of the service, and the hard work that went into delivering it.

    Not like today.

  18. Why are they marketing Polaris when most customers don’t get the seats nor the service? United Pathetic™

  19. What’s really kicking their ass is relying on a single seat supplier Zodiac for their customized design. I think general reviews would have been more positive had they just gone with the tried but true reverse herringbone seat.

    What’s the latest on Zodiac’s financial woes and production issues?

  20. I do not think it’s a coincidence that all of this started when Scott Kirby moved from AA to UA as Preseident. At the same time, we have seen a marked improvement on AA premium offerings ever since, and continuing. Food for thoughts…

  21. I walked out of the Polaris lounge at ORD because the service was so horrible but as Lucky so aptly mentions “you have to know what to ask for”! They apparently have menu service & cheeseburgers but when I asked I was told at the bar they had run out of menus (but no offer of help) & when I asked another employee about cheeseburgers (I saw one go by on a plate) he told me there was a McDonalds down the hall.

    I’m approaching 2 Million lifetime miles on United but that’s a function of living in a United hub not their great product. My opinion is their greatest challenge is their employees! The great ones provide an excellent experience but far too many are just bad & they make it miserable. It’s a Service business, if they could put the Southwest Airlines attitude in United they’d disrupt the industry.

  22. @Xing —- Have you even flown the Polaris product?

    If so, then how do you explain flights running out of red wine after being in the air for two hours as recently as November? Or, some flights not having ANY gel pillows? Or, Flight Attendants who roll their eyes and complain if you request a mattress pad?

    That Polaris is some special product……if only one could actually experience it.

  23. Not to pile-on…but avoid United at all costs. The worst airline, period.
    Hard & Soft product important, but for me…it is the staff/ flight attendants that make the difference. United flight attendants are surly, entitled, lazy, apathetic, etc, etc…
    They ‘know it’ too…just don’t care.

  24. it was typical american drivel–lotsa marketing, hype, and fancy websites, etc….NO substance, little integrity. why was this surprising?

  25. 2 flights in ‘17 in Polaris First 744 SFO-ICN. Cart was set up for the wine tasting (the purpose of three glasses ) but never saw the morning cart of mimosa and bloody’s though anything ordered nor on the cart was brought immediately.

    2nd flight, FA did an excellent presentation of all six wines.

  26. Lots has to be done to reach AA and Delta now! May be some Exec Heads has to be « cut » too … what you think?

  27. Typical for UA… full of hot air… my ice has already melted in my Bloody Mary and I haven’t even been served yet!

  28. You really struck a nerve on this one Lucky!! I’ve traveled the New Polaris cabin half a dozen time so far. Love the suite experience but have noted the degradation of amenities since my first flight!! Really deplorable.

    On two of these “real” Polaris flights, I had to explain the meaning of “wine flight” to the cabin attendants serving me. They thought they were wine “samplers”. ????.

    United product has continued to pay the price for the acquisition by Continental. Anyone operating under the illusion that it was a merger has not done their homework. We are flying Continental airlines, renamed United. The Continental corporate culture was a joke. Remember the pre-acquisition transition from Starbucks to brown water? A payoff to a Continental board member. The joke now continues at “United”. BTW, Oscar was on the Continental board. So much for enlightened leadership.

  29. I loved trying their wine flight on EWR-GRU this past holiday season but tbh, I forgot in 0.5 seconds what wines they were after the flight attendant told me, and granted that knowledge of whats what made no difference to me. It’s just more wine for the passenger! hey, ill take it 😉

    I will however state the dessert wine was WAY too strong, couldnt finish it.

  30. @archer Thanks for the Ozark memory. I enjoyed the “Wine Cellar in the Sky” service (ahem while still in high school)! Despite United’s fumbling of Polaris, I would prefer simplicity well done. Can Cru wine bar just cater flights instead of all of these celebrity chef driven “curated exclusively for” menus delivered by unhappy employees?

  31. The gatekeeper at the ORD Polaris lounge spoiled the entire setup for me. No good information whatsoever on the details for entry into the lounge. A few minutes of arguing with the gatekeeper and I left and visited the AA Admirals Club for a snack and a shower and peace and quiet. Certainly no incentive to fly United business or first in the immediate future based on the experience.

  32. Do you know anything about UA replacing the 777-300er Polaris w/o with 777-209’s later this year? I like to see watchdog time battleships flights cost & checked NRT-E to for November-December. NO 777-300er’s anymore – so no full Polaris flights.
    I reached out to YA but they only said they show the POLARIS FLIGHTS ending on this route in October.
    The fares certainly don’t reflect this reduction in service….they’ve gone up considerably.

    I’ve enjoyed the Polaris flights on this route, so this will be very disappointing if it really happens.

  33. The reason United can pull off stuff like this is they face little competition in many markets. I’m at IAD and I fly int’l J to Europe and Asia a few times a year. I’ll often suck it up with United just because they have a direct flight. Where I draw the line is their horrid 2-4-2 config in J on their 777-200’s. No way I’m flying 14 hours to Tokyo in a middle seat! For that, I’ll fly AC via YYZ instead, and it’s usually cheaper anyway.

    UA has changed IAD-PEK to a 787, but IAD-NRT is still 772. Many of the European flights where they don’t face direct competition are downsides to 767’s anyway, so that layout I can handle.

  34. The fact that you guys even bother to complain about United International flights perplexed me beyond words. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME – THEY WILL NEVER CHANGE. Their flight attendants will never stop complaining to your face about this or that gripe they have with their employer, or how they had to take over someone’s shift last minute.

    Let’s just stop complaining and start flying the good Asian and Middle Eastern Airlines. It will save everyone here stress.

    You know they’ll always be better.

  35. I completely agree with you. The service keeps dropping- I enjoy the wine flight and it helps pass the time. As for the lounges- it is a joke. I flew through Newark and they don’t have a lounge. But I was offered a reservation in the Unclassified restaurant- that I would have to pay for! Why should there be a charge when you keep touting the new lounge with free meals? They should use it as a temporary fix. And don’t even get me started on the increased cost of the United Presidential Plus card at the same time they are closing/ remodeling/ downgrading clubs. After red eye flights I used to be able to shower in Chicago and Newark- but no more!

  36. Anyone who flys the Pacific should avoid all North American and mainland Chinese carriers. They all offer such an inferior premium product. Flight attendants from North America are all over the hill as a result of the seniority system. Rarely anybody under 50. Mainland Chinese flight attendants are incompetent. They are poorly trained and most of them speak very poor English if at all.

  37. @Santastico

    Know your facts before you start to badmouth a highly performing company like Greyhound! In 1986 Greyhound introduced the stellar upgrade called “The Room”. The room was essentially the most prolific upgrade in busses since the seatbelt. The room featured a spacious toilet and tiny sink located in the back of the bus! They were able to roll out this upgrade to their entire fleet in 45 Days! Boom… you just got schooled !

  38. All this complaining of lesser service from those who don’t even pay, using miles and points. The majority of those flying upper class haven’t paid a nickel. Want service? Dump the miles programs and start paying your fair share. Quit relying on economy passengers to subsidize you just because you bought some expense item at a place that doesn’t even profit the airlines. You all want royal service and aren’t even willing to pay Walmart prices.

  39. Wow Gay Austin! I do, in fact, pay for my flights and I expect the service I pay for. You seem pretty bitter. Sorry you don’t get upgraded.

  40. What? Business Class passengers who enjoy wine?! What is next?? Caviar in F?? Expecting to be treated as a human being in Y??

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