Yesterday in New York City, United Airlines did a splashy unveil of its new Polaris business class service, which begins its rollout on Dec. 1 on all long-haul intercontinental flights. The verdict? Two gigantic thumbs up.
The legacy carrier has invested some serious time (more than 12,000 hours of research), thought (actual United travelers were involved in the development) and undoubtedly big dollars into what they’re calling their “biggest product transformation in more than a decade.” With drinks in hand, we got to test it out in New York’s classic Gotham Hall. Here are the five reasons we can’t wait to try it in the sky.
1. Because sleep is the new black.
When we're flying long distances, we're not opposed to having a chef serve us a life-changing meal or taking a hot shower in the sky. What we really need? A good night’s sleep so we can arrive at our destination ready to get the most out of our trip. And that’s why Polaris’s intense focus on shuteye is so appealing. United President and CEO Oscar Munoz says “sleep is the new black,” and we couldn’t agree more. There’s custom-made bedding with cooling pillows, noise-canceling headphones, and, if you want to go all out on flights longer than 12 hours, hip gray cotton pajamas to slip into before your slumber. Turn on your Do Not Disturb sign, and your flight attendants will declare your pod a no-go zone.
2. The seat takes United Business to a new level.
Instead of choosing an existing seat product, United went all out and redesigned a new one based on this sleep principle. Created in the U.K. and designed by Acumen Design Associates and PriestmanGoode, each of the pod-like seats is forward-facing, morphs into a fully flat, six-foot six-inch bed and, most importantly, has direct aisle access (no more being trapped or stepped over by your neighbor!). Speaking of not being trapped, your meal tray even slides partially out of the way so you can get up mid-meal. Brilliant.
3. Saks Fifth Avenue and Soho House are pitching in.
As part of its mission to enhance comfort and maximize rest, United is bringing some legitimately sexy brands onboard. Saks Fifth Avenue worked with the airline to create custom-made bedding with mattress cushions and gel memory foam pillows. Amenity kits and restrooms have Cowshed Spa products, a line created by the chic U.K.-based Soho House private members' club (we like the sound of lavender-scented pillow mist to keep that airplane smell at bay).
4. Not sleeping in Polaris isn't bad, either.
The structured multicourse meals will be designed by chefs of Chicago’s Trotter Project, but the new twist that we love is the on-demand a-la-carte menu that allows you to eat when you want to (with crave-worthy items such as lobster mac and cheese). Then there are the bells and whistles such as 16-inch, high-definition personal screens, electronic privacy dividers, and storage areas that let you keep your in-flight personal items within arm’s reach. If you're feeling peckish midflight, there’s a serve-yourself counter with nibbles and drinks. How's that for a late-night snack?
5. And it starts before the flight.
Let’s be honest: Most U.S. airline lounges simply don’t feel exclusive anymore. More often than not, they’re overcrowded and underwhelming. United is keeping its United Clubs for people with status, affiliated credit cards and the like, but it’s adding nine entirely new international business class-only Polaris lounges, the first of which opens at Chicago O’Hare on December 1. Soon to come in 2017: L.A., San Francisco, Houston, Newark. Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong, and London Heathrow. What to expect: a buffet and an a-la-carte menu by noted Chicago chef Art Smith, shower facilities with Cowshed products, and—back to that whole sleeping thing again—secluded pods for napping. Now that’s something we can get onboard with.