APEX Insight: United’s Polaris concept takes a confident stride toward a streamlined business-class experience. The introduction of the service marks the airline’s official shift away from first class, and involves the largest US business-class seat order of all time.
“I don’t know if my heart can take this,” kidded United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz, alluding to his heart attack recovery as he took the stage at a press event in Gotham Hall, New York City today. Munoz began his presentation by admitting that the Chicago-based carrier was in need of an upgrade. “Since I joined United, I’ve made a personal commitment and a challenge to our team to rethink how we do business,” he explained. “What you’re about to see is the most significant transformation of our product in over a decade, and that’s why we’re so excited.”
Polaris, named after the North Star, is a bold reimagining of United’s premium product offering. The transformation of the business-class cabin marks the airline’s official shift away from three classes, leaving American Airlines as the only major US carrier still flying international first class. The roll-out of Polaris business class – which begins service December 1, 2016 – will involve sweeping upgrades across all premium touchpoints, including new business-class-only lounges, Soho House & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue amenities and a bespoke seat designed by Acumen Design Associates and PriestmanGoode, which will be manufactured by Zodiac Aerospace.
Scheduled for delivery mid-October, the Polaris business-class seats will first be installed on United’s Boeing 777-300ER fleet for December launch, and through 2017 on the airline’s Boeing 787-10 and A350-1000 aircraft, in addition to 767-300 and 777-200 retrofits. The program, which involves the production of more than 6,000 seats, is the largest North American business-class seat order in history.
“Part of the reason this is such a big order is because we’re updating our entire wide-body fleet,” says Maria Walter, managing director of Product Development and Brand Strategy for United. “We’re flying a common seat product because we think it’s important for our customers to understand what to expect with United, and for us to deliver that consistently. We are really proud of this product,” she adds.
Zodiac Aerospace has opened a new warehouse near its main factory in South Wales for manufacture of United’s Polaris seats. “This is going to be quite a big production run,” Paul Strothers, CEO, Zodiac Seats UK, tells APEX Media. “It’s a separate building, separate production line, separate inventory management system.” In addition to the 6,000 seats already committed, Strothers says that there “may be more.”
Reportedly beating out Recaro’s CL6710 business-class seat, Acumen’s staggered, forward-facing seat configuration, which provides direct-aisle access for all passengers, will fly on United under a seven-year North American exclusivity license. “The holy grail is to deliver the longest and biggest bed that you can have, but these days you need individual aisle access as well,” says Ian Dryburgh, Acumen’s CEO, who came up with the concept in a “eureka moment” on the train over a gin and tonic. Sleep experience was central to the design of the seats, which lie flat at 180 degrees and provide 6’6” bed space. Gate-to-gate entertainment on 16-inch screens from Panasonic is also available for nighthawks, who can enjoy access to exclusive content from Vevo, the Tribeca Film Festival and more.
More snacks are available for non-sleepers, too. “Crave a midnight snack?” Munoz asked. “We’ll be serving epic, and I mean epic, meal options. Lobster mac and cheese sound good to you? Sounds good to me,” he added. Customized cocktails, seasonally updated menus from The Trotter Project, a walk-up bar on B777s and sweetened desserts are the cherry on top of the Polaris concept. The airline will also be introducing an illy coffee service across all cabins this July.