August 29th, 2016
I hear the same thing over and over again from fellow bloggers, followers and the casual fans. Travel is difficult these days, and frankly, if you don’t know exactly what you are doing, it can be a hassle.
However, travel can be a lot easier if you take the right steps, but even if you do take the right steps, what do you choose? Do you take an international airlines flight, concede Wi-Fi, but potentially have better lounges? Do you pay extra for International First Class to ensure all-aisle access? Well, United Airlines is about to make that a lot easier with the introduction of their Polaris Business Class Cabin, which is launching near the holiday season.
But first a bit of backstory: A few weeks ago, I was invited through MileagePlus Exclusives (a division of United Airlines’ award winning MileagePlus program) to attend a Polaris Showcase, but because of some un-related issues, it didn’t work out. Luckily, a member of the Exclusives team worked very hard and I got invited to a similar, more family-friendly event, which was taking place during the Barclays Golf Tournament at the famous Bethpage Black Course near Farmingdale, New York.
The first thing I noticed is that the employees were very, and I mean very knowledgable. I tend to think I have a fairly good understanding of United’s fleet, how it’s utilized and how they tend to run operations from a passengers standpoint, but the employees went above and beyond in giving me the exact estimated timetable for aircraft delivery, and articulating very eloquently the advantages and drawbacks of the new Business class configuration.
I know what I’m about to say is no new information, but when a person tells you what their personal presence is and lists some cons in addition to the pros of a product, it makes me feel like I’m taking to a real person, not a robot.
Overall I liked the ergonomics of the new seat arrangement,even though I had some trouble getting the seat to lie flat, as the toggle although very intuitive wasn’t super responsive.There was however more space than I had imagined. As a tall person (6 feet 4 inches) seats that are an inch shorter than my height with narrowing foot rests are not comfortable for me, but this was. According to a representative, the seat length goes up to 6ft 6in, which means I should have decent legroom.
However, the seat itself was not the most impressive thing about the space, the mobility and attention to small details is what is important. Here are a few examples: One the current BusinessFirst seat, access to chargers or USB involves going behind your head, and it’s near the only storage space, which means cords are prone to being un-plugged, this isn’t the case in Polaris Business Class, as the charging ports are off to the side, where they are easily accessible. Another noticeable improvement was the tray table, which comes from under the entertainment screens, not the armrest, which conceivably makes it possible to slide out should you need to retrieve something from an overhead bin or use the restrooms during a meal service.
The seats weren’t the only thing on display during the United Polaris Showcase, there was a closest to the pin contest, in addition to a mock-up bar that would resemble a Polaris Lounge (more on that later) bar.
One of the most interesting features of the showcase was a virtual reality simulator. And, frankly, I can’t really describe it, but I did find a version of it on YouTube:
Obviously, the best way to actually review a product is, to, well, be there in person, but from what I can see, the Polaris Lounge will offer amenities light-years ahead of the United Global First Lounges, let alone the United Clubs. There appears to be at least seven to eight warm dishes on offer, and it’ll be interesting to see how this works in practice. If the video is reflective of what we might see at a lounge, the Polaris Lounges could rank at the top of the charts for the best lounges in the United States, however, execution is key, and there is a lot to be seen.
After the virtual reality simulator, I tried my hand at the Closest to the Put competition, which was purely for fun. Additionally, I got to try some Trotter Project inspired hors d’oeuvres.
After we left the Polaris Showcase, we were given a “goodie bag” of sorts, which included actual Polaris Saks Fifth Avenue Bedding, and an authentic Polaris Leather Notebook which is made in Italy. Also, there were complementary United branded golf towels, commemorative golf balls, and branded lanyards which were made available to any individual visiting the showcase.
Of course, this was a golf course, not an airport, so we were ushered to the United Fairway Club which was situated inside a tent of sorts adjacent to the 16th green, and it offered unparalleled views of the greater course.
There were plenty of snacks, and a full service bar. I chose Water, and enjoyed on of the Beef Brisket sandwiches. I don’t think this catering reflected anything United will showcase on board or in a lounge, but it was a highlight of the day as a whole.
As a Premier Silver member myself, I enjoy flying United for the perks and benefits that comes along with the Premier status, and I’m excited to see United trying to step one foot in front of everyone else, instead of playing catch-up. Obviously the are a lot of un-answered questions, but if Polaris is everything that they say it will be, it would be my top recommendation for flyers going abroad. For baseball fans, Polaris won’t be as accessible, as it will only be present during long-haul international flights, but transcontinental flights to Los Angeles and the Bay Area (which have four combined baseball teams) will have improved Premium Service amenities that could reflect some details of the soft product of Polaris.
As Praveen Sharma, the Vice-President of loyalty and business development, said during an announcement during the showcase, United is listening to feedback that the customers are giving, and have even launched a dedicated site, United Airtime, to try to make sure they can deliver on that promise.
So, as I takeoff on United Flight 30 tonight bound for Munich, I’ll be able to have confidence that I’m crediting my miles in the right airline, and that I’ll be able to redeem in the future to try Business Class reimagined.