United tries out Polaris soft product on “test flights”

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United Airlines is conducting test runs for its new Polaris business class, unveiled in June and set to debut in December.

These mock flights are using existing equipment — which looks to be a mixture of aircraft — yet much of the soft product seems to be in place.

In a decision matching their ever-increasingly mobile, vocal and social passengers, the airline is encouraging the crew and staff on these flights to share their experiences. Let’s take a look.

To start off with, there’s an impressive amount of new cutlery, crockery and servingware that the airline’s Newark food service team is getting to grips with.

Station Tokyo Narita, too, is getting into the flow with attractive new dishes that really pop off the plates. The “doggy dish dinner” seems to have met its end on United.

There’s a great looking noodle soup dish — a laksa, perhaps? — that really looks like it hits the spot.

Even the beef dish, which always has a tendency to look messy and grey on planes, looks tasty and inviting.

Airplane chicken that I might actually want to eat? Surely not!

Fresh garnish and in-galley dish assembly is top-notch business class presentation.

I’m less convinced by the doggy dish breakfast, however.

This duck starter with interesting grains, together with a salad featuring pomegranate seeds, gives Polaris a premium feel. And just look at those little round salt and pepper shakers. I have a feeling those will be the must-pinch souvenir for frequent flyers.

Smart new trolleys are used for a new signature Bloody Mary service (yum — the umami of tomato juice makes these an ideal airborne drink), wine and dessert.

Little shakers of hot sauce in your plane? Swag.

Fear not, flyers: the famous ice cream sundae doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although little pots of delicious extra options give the down-home American favorite an elegant fine dining twist.

I’m afraid I can’t say the Saks Fifth Avenue branded bedding is growing on me. The brand hasn’t felt any less fusty in the months since the announcement of United’s partnership.

I’m loving the bubbles flute, though, and all the glassware feels upmarket — the kind of product that international business class passengers might actually have in their own homes.

I also like the look of the silver tray used to present passengers’ drinks. This has always been an Emirates signature, and seeing United moving towards that kind of market positioning is a real plus for the airline and its passengers.

The flights seem to be rounded off with “arrival chocolate” from Belgian KC Chocolatier — a lovely way to round off a flight.

It seems from the cameras mounted to trolleys that United is filming these initial attempts, likely for product refinement and training. Smart.

“Be predictable. Be gracious. Be the solution. Be the brand” says a training display. All smart advice to up the airline’s service game.

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Overall, this soft product looks great. I might not be convinced by all of it, but the branding is on the dot and really feels up to an international standard.

Indeed, it strikes me that the proposed Polaris soft product actually exceeds the standard of the Zodiac Aerospace Skylounge hard product that United is debuting this December on its first 777-300ER. It certainly knocks the existing United Global First product, let alone the BusinessFirst service, out of the park.

Clearly, the airline is prepared to invest in order to make itself the carrier of choice for the core business class market as it transitions away from offering a first class product. United and its clearly enthusiastic, excited crewmembers are to be congratulated.