Inside United’s most premium cabin: Polaris business class

July 11, 2021, 12:00 PM UTC
As of June 10, 154 out of 198 wide-body aircraft feature the new Polaris seats. The airline is continuing its retrofit project and expects to be completed by 2022.
Courtesy of United Airlines

Business travel is expected to return in a big way this fall, and major airliners are refreshing their premium lounges and cabins to welcome them.

Ninety-six percent of global business travelers are now willing to travel for work over the next 12 months, according to a survey from SAP Concur in June. And new benefits that these travelers expect from their employers in the wake of the pandemic include the ability to choose direct flights (52%), stay in four- to five-star hotels (41%), and select premium seating, like first or business class (39%).

United’s top-tier cabin, Polaris, was developed to upgrade the entire flight experience from lounge to landing. (Yes, while it is described as “business class” in the name, it is actually a higher-tier of service above first class, with the idea of catering to international business travelers in mind.)

Inside the Polaris lounge at Newark International Airport.
Courtesy of United Airlines

For worker-bees looking to combine traveling for work and working remotely this summer, travelers can get a jumpstart both on the ground and in the air.

Many of the United Club terminal lounges are open to passengers, but when open, there is a private lounge just for Polaris customers.

So far, there are five Polaris lounges nationwide—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare, and Houston—with four more on the way: Washington-Dulles, Tokyo Narita, London Heathrow, and Hong Kong. However, these lounges are currently closed due to the pandemic. While there is no specific date as to when they might reopen, they are expected to reopen as soon as this fall.

Spa-like shower facilities feature products formulated exclusively for United by Sunday Riley and Soho House.
Courtesy of United Airlines

Customers in United Polaris first or business class may visit the lounge at departure, connecting or on arrival throughout their eligible same-day trip. Customers in first or business class on Star Alliance member airlines may access the United Polaris lounge at the departure airport for their long-haul international first or business class flights. Travelers booked in a first-class cabin may invite one guest to join them in the lounge.

Inside the Polaris lounge at Los Angeles International Airport.
Courtesy of United Airlines

Each lounge features a variety of seating areas with mobile charging stations and AC and USB outlets as well as complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi. The seating was designed with an oversized chair, integrated work or dining table, large privacy dividers, and a personal side lamp at each station. Wi-Fi is also available onboard the aircraft within the continental U.S. and select international routes.

For those in between flights or even just a lot of extra time, visitors also have the option to freshen up in the lounge’s shower suites, featuring Sunday Riley products. Customers have ample space to keep their luggage with them in the shower suite so they will have all their personal items at hand. A valet will even steam clothes upon request.

United worked with Saks Fifth Avenue to create custom, luxury bedding for Polaris passengers. Travelers have the choice of two different blankets: a quilted duvet and a lighter throw blanket. Mattress cushions are also available upon request.
Courtesy of United Airlines

And even though United promises this is the best sleep you’ll get in the sky, you might find yourself wanting to stay awake to enjoy it all.

Within the cabin, United has partnered with a number of high-end retailers to both elevate the experience and make it a bit cozier—especially for long-haul and red-eye voyages.

In what the airline touts as a first-of-its-kind partnership, United worked with Saks Fifth Avenue to develop custom, luxury bedding for Polaris customers. Passengers have the choice of two different blankets—a quilted duvet and a lighter throw blanket. Mattress cushions are also available upon request.

United offers amenity kits to customers traveling in premium cabins on long-haul international flights and premium transcontinental flights.
Courtesy of United Airlines

Polaris passengers are treated to a complimentary amenity kit, featuring the usual ear plugs and a sleep mask, but also premium skin care items from Sunday Riley. (Maintaining an in-flight skin care routine is one of the secrets to looking and feeling refreshed once you land. It’s all about hydration.)

Passengers also receive cozy slippers—perfect for quick trips out of your seat or for just standing and stretching during a long journey. On flights longer than 12 hours, pajamas are available upon request. And in case you forgot your headphones, it won’t matter (at least for the flight) as first and business class travelers are provided with premium noise-reducing headphones.

On flights longer than 12 hours, United now offers pajamas upon request.
Courtesy of United Airlines

Airplane food is usually nothing to write home about—and even legendary world traveler Anthony Bourdain has famously said that he never ate in-flight meals and waited until arriving at wherever his destination was.

But some carriers have made strides in recent years, and United has upgraded this experience as well—at least for first and business class. Polaris customers receive a chef-designed, multi-course inflight dining experience. In collaboration with chefs from The Trotter Project, a nonprofit organization offering mentoring and internship programs for youth interested in the culinary arts, United executive chefs created a menu around fresh, seasonal ingredients, with dishes rotating monthly. And for those mid-flight cravings, à la carte snacks are available throughout the flight.

In collaboration with chefs from The Trotter Project, a nonprofit organization committed to mentoring and internship programs for youth interested in the culinary arts, United executive chefs created a multi-course inflight dining experience.
Courtesy of United Airlines

But United’s biggest selling point on Polaris is the sleep experience. Anyone who has ever been on an airplane in any cabin knows how difficult it is to sleep on a plane. But those who have ever traveled in a cabin with a seat that reclines into a flat bed knows what a game-changer that is for combatting fatigue and jet lag.

Hundreds of customers and employees were involved in more than 12,000 hours of research leading to the development of United Polaris. Through many focus groups and hours of on-the-ground and inflight product simulations—including overnight sleep tests for the new United Polaris seats—the airline explored a wide variety of product and service offerings and received feedback on what worked and what didn’t.

More than hundreds of customers and employees participated in over 12,000 hours of research to achieve a top passenger demand: how to achieve better sleep in the sky.
Courtesy of United Airlines

The airline also recently launched the United Travel Ready Center. Passengers can use this portal through a web browser or the United app to identify and complete all travel requirements needed before check-in, whether it be relevant passport information or COVID-19 documentation. For example, passengers can upload results for a COVID test or a copy of their vaccination card. Passengers can also use the Travel Ready Center to to order testing kits from Abbott Laboratories in advance so that they can pack them for trips abroad to take prior to re-entry to United States.

Inside the Polaris lounge at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
Courtesy of United Airlines

While 2020 was a devastating year for the travel industry, 2021 is looking up for many airlines—and United has already had a very busy year. In June, the airline announced it would be refreshing its fleet with the purchase of 270 planes in an ambitious effort to attract premium flyers.

And amid reopening a number of routes halted during the pandemic, United is also launching several new domestic and international routes, including two new direct flights to Hawaii (from Chicago to Kona and from New York-Newark to Maui), and new direct flights from Newark to Dubrovnik, Croatia; from Washington Dulles to Athens, Greece; and from Chicago-O’Hare to Reykjavik, Iceland. United also just added new destinations in Africa: from Washington-Dulles to Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria; and daily service from Newark to Johannesburg, South Africa.

“As demand for travel continues to build, we are expecting the resurgence to continue for winter holiday travel and is planning ahead by increasing service to cities in the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America,” a United spokesperson tells Fortune. “We are adding 137 flights between November and March to destinations in the U.S. including California, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada. We are also increasing flying to Latin leisure and beach markets in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, and have increased service to these markets by 30%, including adding 12 new routes compared to 2019.”

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