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What was the high point of my Mumbai–Newark flight on United’s newly launched Polaris business class? Was it running into Nick Jonas and congratulating him on his wedding? Was it the custom Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding? Was it the lie-flat bed? Did I fall for the smooth, ergonomic controls? Or was it the dessert trolley that they wheeled around after that...burp...sumptuous meal?
Look at it any which way, it’s difficult not to get hooked. Gone are the days when traditional business class was good enough—the bells and whistles are here.
United first launched its Polaris offering in December 2016 and continues to add it across its aircrafts at a steady pace (but not before spending 12,000 hours researching it through focus groups and in-flight product simulations, including overnight sleep tests). More recently, Polaris came to Mumbai. Dilliwalas will probably have to wait a bit longer for it to be deployed on their sector. They are, however, getting a seasonal direct flight to San Francisco, commencing December 7, 2019, Harvinder Singh, United’s Country Manager for India, who was accompanying us on the flight, informed us.
What United really hopes to achieve with Polaris is a seamless flying experience, keeping one primary focus in mind: better sleep in the sky. It’s what all air travellers crave, and you can’t put a price on that. The experience starts with exclusive Polaris lounges at its hubs, with rest spaces and high-end pre-flight dining options, segveing into the onboard experience, where the new seats have been custom designed for added privacy and comfort. There are sleep-focussed amenities, like the aforementioned Saks Fifth Avenue blanket I became rather attached to, and spa-quality Cowshed products from Soho House & Co. Pajamas are available on request on flights longer than 12 hours (so that’s any flight from India). All seats have aisle access and are 6.5 feet long when fully flat. There’s great entertainment on board but they should really get better headphones.
Named after the North Star, which travellers have long used as a navigational guide, according to United, Polaris represents “the reimagined travel experience that flyers can rely on for true comfort and real sleep as they travel the world.”
In New York, we ran into Jill Kaplan, United’s President for the New York/New Jersey region, who provided a behind-the-scenes perspective on how United, infused with fresh new talent, is doing everything to improve its offerings, from focussing on food to easing the check-in process. By 2050, United hopes to reduce its emissions by 50 per cent, and is spending $2 billion a year towards that goal. In 2018, the company onboarded a Core4 philosophy, which it hopes will make it the most customer-centric airline in the skies, training employees to be more flexible and caring.
I sampled some of that TLC while flying out of their Newark hub, where United offers a variety of lounges depending on class of travel, including, of course, a stunning Polaris lounge, whose facilities include sleep rooms, showers, and even a restaurant where you can order à la carte (at no extra charge). The return flight was full, which just goes to show that customers are willing to pay for quality. The person who said “aim for the stars and the sky will be yours” probably had United’s Polaris class in mind.
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