Skift Take

United Airlines overpromised with its Polaris business class. Instead of rethinking business class, it should have focused on providing a simple and consistent product.

What was United Airlines thinking with its Polaris business class?

It’s a question I asked in a story, United CEO Munoz’s Polaris Promise Never Matched Reality. This summer, you may notice United is making tweaks to its onboard product, including retiring its Bloody Mary cart, and ending the special wine tasting program. This comes after United made other reductions last year, like removing one pillow from each seat.

It’s easy to criticize United for altering what made Polaris special, and perhaps call it out for cost-cutting. But with its Polaris promise, United misjudged what its employees could  handle. Flight attendants could never deliver what the marketing team promised.

This was a big error. The best European and U.S. airline companies in business class — Delta Air Lines, Air Canada, and Lufthansa Group — seek to not deliver the world’s best premium experience, but the world’s most consistent experience. They know what’s possible, and they try to deliver it.

Read my story and tell me via Twitter or email if you agree.

— Brian Sumers, Airline Business Reporter, email [email protected] or tweet @briansumers

Stories of the Week

United CEO Munoz’s Polaris Promise Never Matched Reality: Oscar Munoz was new to the job in June 2016 when he announced a rethinking of business class. It sounded impressive, and it looked good in TV commercials. But what he promised was impossible for United to deliver. There’s no shame in that — few airlines could pull it off — so now United is slowly removing some of the elements that made the product unique. Let’s hope this helps United provide a more consistent experience.

JFK’s Terminal 4 Owner Wants to Invest in More U.S. Airports: The Royal Schiphol Group controls Terminal 4 at New York JFK, one of the only privately managed terminals in the United States, and now it wants to expand its U.S. presence. It has not been a good couple of months at Terminal 4 — you may remember January’s pipe-bursting incident, which came after a snowstorm snarled ground operations — but Schiphol Group is probably as skilled as any airport operator.

Norwegian Air Plans to Move On From a Terrible 2017 With Fleet Expansion: Skift Europe Editor Patrick Whyte has an update on Norwegian Air, an airline “not at all satisfied with [its] 2017 results,” according to CEO Bjorn Kjos. While Kjos argues Norwegian has turned the corner, Whyte notes, “Norwegian is still acting like a startup: burning lots of cash on an aggressive expansion plan with the hope of achieving sufficient scale later.” Will that strategy work? Hard to say, but in the meantime, passengers get low fares.

Labor Unions Are Gaining Ground at Airports Across the U.S.: This article focuses on airports, but this is part of a broader trend. Labor unions tend to be strong in big cities and at public employers. While airport workers generally don’t work for entities — they’re probably employed by contractors or airlines — lawmakers can still help them, because in some U.S. cities, they control the airport. “If we have to go directly to the politicians to put pressure on the companies we work for, that is one of the things that we can actually do,” one worker told Bloomberg.

Richard Branson Believes Supersonic Air Travel Is the Next Big Thing: Why do people take Virgin founder Richard Branson seriously? He had his moment in the 1980s, but times change. Yes, it’s possible supersonic might be poised for a comeback. But there are many more people who know more about future market dynamics than Sir Richard. Related: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, another person you can’t always take seriously, is also interested in supersonic, Flight Global reports.

See What LAX’s New People Mover Will Look Like: Los Angeles is finally getting with the times and building an automated people mover to shuttle passengers among its terminals. The Points Guy grabbed some photos, so we can see what it will look like. Of note: “Trains will reach top speeds of 47mph and end-to-end travel won’t take longer than 10 minutes.” Perhaps this will mean foreign tourists will be slightly less annoyed when transferring at LAX.

Why Lufthansa Decided to Give Its Planes a New Paint Job: Aviation geeks probably think an airline’s livery is all about how the planes look. But AdWeek notes that Lufthansa updated its paint job in part for a different reason: This is a better branding for digital channels that didn’t exist in 1989 when the airline last updated its appearance.

Pilots See Rising Airline Profits as Chance to Reclaim Retirement Benefits: Pilots may never have more leverage, so they might as well ask for everything while airlines are flush with profits. But not too many companies are launching new pension plans anymore. Bloomberg takes a look at what some pilot unions want.

Up Next

I’m in New York visiting the Skift headquarters and attending on Thursday Aviation Day USA, which is sponsored by IATA and The Wings Club. If you’re there, come by and say hello.


Skift Airline Business Reporter Brian Sumers [[email protected]] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send me an email or tweet me.

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Tags: airline innovation report, norwegian air, polaris, united airlines

Photo credit: United Airlines has opened only two Polaris lounges. Shown here is the Chicago lounge. The company has not managed customer expectations well. United Airlines

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