United Airlines is revving up its business class to provide every passenger with aisle access, improved food and beverage offerings, and more comfortable seats.
The improvements are part of an ongoing project that United began four years ago to revolutionize its business class—rebranded Polaris, after the North Star. United has used focus groups to better establish what changes its clients are seeking.
United’s old business class areas were densely packed, but British design company Acumen Design Associates has provided aisle access by “slightly staggering and aligning the seats, one in line and one slightly angled on the aisle,” Acumen CEO Ian Dryburgh told CNN.
Seat manufacturers Zodiac Aerospace created sets that maximize comfort and luxury. A focus group emphasized the importance of comfort and ample storage.
To determine what food changes are needed, United organized menu workshops in 16 cities and on five continents. Then, accompaniments for the dishes were selected.
“The flight attendants will serve three red or three white wines for each customer to taste,” Susan Carter, senior manager of gallery planning and beverage provisions, told CNN. On early morning flights, passengers have their choice of a bloody mary or a mimosa.
The airline recently had a dress rehearsal—a pretend flight to Paris—to assess the new Polaris services. It was the first time that all of the new features that United has been developing were tested together. The new amenities were popular, and the “passengers” had a comfortable flight, although they didn’t have anywhere to put extra pillows, and an ice cream bowl cracked.
United also is experimenting with offering a new lounge experience for business-class travelers. It is hoping that all its efforts to boost its business-class offerings will help to re-establish a more positive image of the company after suffering widespread criticism when a video showed a passenger being dragged off one of its planes in April.
Meanwhile, other major airlines are also revolutionizing their business-class cabins. Delta Air Lines is focusing on boosting privacy and Qatar Airways now offers double beds.
As they continue to experiment, all of the airlines are relying heavily on customer feedback, particularly from frequent business travelers.