United Airlines continues to cut their “new” Polaris business class product even before there are that many planes flying the new seat. The installation of new seats takes much more time than rolling out other amenities like foodservice and bedding improvements.
It’s been almost 2 years since we saw the announcement of Polaris. At the time, it was touted as being pretty awesome. And, on its face, it seemed so. I was able to get a good look at one of the test seats not long after the announcement. The seat itself is nice, though not groundbreaking. So, it’s those soft product enhancements that will make the difference (and I don’t mean the teddy bears). Because, if it’s just a new seat that takes many years to roll out, how is that different/better than their competitors?
It appears that United is in full retreat mode on Polaris. According to the latest report from Paxex.aero, a bunch of features are hitting the cutting room floor:
- 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
Businesses make bad decisions all the time and need to adjust. With these sort of advancements, there are bound to be setbacks. It just seems like United is constantly thrashing around with such changes.
Flight attendants have been balking about the wine flights and Bloody Mary carts. Anyone who’s surprised by this fact really hasn’t been following along. It would be unfair to say that all flight attendants are lazy. I’ve met some individuals that truly love their job, truly enjoy service customers. They are not the majority (far from it, in my opinion). When faced with more work for the same pay, did United’s management really expect them to welcome the change with open arms?
United announced a very pleasing combination of bedding and sleep products when Polaris was rolled out. Almost immediately they began backtracking. They didn’t load enough of each product for every customer to have one. If it’s to be believed that these improvements will help increase customer satisfaction, it can’t be productive to plan for some percentage of customers to forego those improvements.
The next step was to remove the mention of these bedding products from the menu. If you know about the secret menu of pillows and mattress pads, good for you! If not, you can have the same old seat you’ve always had. Without wine flights. Or Bloody Mary’s. Or a reminder that they actually have mid-flight snacks.
The remnants of Polaris are a nice eye mask, a singular lounge in Chicago (while American has managed to open multiple beautiful Flagship lounges) and marginally better catering than a few years ago. There’s also a handful of planes with new seats and a promise of more to come over the next 5 years. More Polaris lounges are promised as well.
This just isn’t a way to run a business. At the time, it seemed like the Polaris announcement was a step forward. United was challenging themselves to be better than their competitors. Scott Kirby arrived from American and the buzz about cuts started. Scott is known for being a penny pincher. There are reports that say he doesn’t believe United can command a fare premium with the Polaris enhancements.
It would be easy to point at that as the excuse for why Polaris needs to go. The “numbers” say customers aren’t buying up. But, that would be a cop-out. It hides the path that got us here. Announcing an ambitious change in direction without the hard product to support it. Flight crews resistant to the concept of an “express meal” now being asked to do more work during meal service. Removing benefits and hoping a fare premium would materialize.
It’s easy to make a spreadsheet tell the story you want. It’s easy to say that customers don’t want new product enhancements, that you’ve tried to offer them something better to no avail. What’s harder is to challenge a team, to push for culture change.
View From The Wing suggested a week or so ago that this was death by 1,000 cuts. It won’t take nearly that many.
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