United cutting Polaris service citing customer feedback

The Polaris business class service on United Airlines flights is changing on May 1, 2018. The company will be removing a few of the unique service offerings it launched some 16 months ago, suggesting that the changes are as a result of customer feedback. An internal company memo outlines the details of the changes, calling attention to the improved lounge experience as part of the reason for the on board cuts.

Customers have positively received our United Polaris lounge, and this year we are opening more United Polaris lounges beginning this summer in San Francisco, Houston and New York/Newark and in the fall, Los Angeles. As we continue to add more lounges, we want to take into account the feedback that customers have given us — they’ve emphasized their desire to rest and relax during their journey, especially onboard.

The updates to the service flow will allow us to continue providing a premium product with high-quality food, wine, amenities and more, but it’ll be delivered in a more efficient way.

Among the changes:

  • Pre-flight beverages will be served as pre-poured sparkling wine, orange juice and water offered from a silver tray, with other beverages available upon request
  • Mid-flight snacks will no longer be proactively offered; passengers can request them when desired
  • The special wine-tasting and Bloody Mary service is disappearing
  • Polaris First no longer gets the soup course

Challenging the “premium” Polaris moniker

For the mid-flight snack the company says that catering levels are not being cut. At least not yet. By not proactively offering the catering it is likely that demand will shrink. Eventually this could be used to justify cutting the number of meals catered to reduce waste and cut costs. The company chose from the very beginning of the Polaris product launch to not fully stock for some on-board amenities. This creates a situation where passengers risk disappointment in not getting the advertised service. That’s a great way to kill the premium-ness of Polaris. Extending it to meals won’t help.

Similarly, killing off the wine tasting and Bloody Mary services removes the main unique offering United had.

Wines and Bloody Marys will continue to be available upon request, but the dedicated cart service will change. This was a common flight attendant suggestion for improvement. A new branded cart cover is being sourced to improve presentation in the aisle and will be available shortly after launch.

No doubt that removing that service makes things easier for the cabin crew. And it makes for a smoother service overall to all passengers; setting up the wine tasting before meals were served added extra time that could derail the service to other passengers. At the same time, it is hard to see replacing a product offering with branded cart covers as a meaningful swap to passengers.

Similar to some of our competitors, branded cart covers for both the half and full carts will be boarded for use in the aisle on both the beverage and meal tray carts. Cart covers will be available shortly after launch.

The part where the cart covers will not be available at the launch of the revised service is, bluntly, completely what one comes to expect from United at this point. The company struggles to get out of its own way more often than it should have to. Citing the success of the Polaris Lounge product – only one is open and the others are woefully late – is a specious claim. Especially when the benefits that are supposedly driving this customer choice remain unavailable to the vast majority of Polaris passengers as the new service standard launches.

The inability to execute smoothly on product changes does not help the company’s reputation. And it could use some help these days.

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .