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United Chases Big Spenders with New Business Class

In the airline’s first major initiative since replacing CEO Jeff Smisek with Oscar Munoz, United today announced details of a major upgrade to its international business-class product.

Dubbed Polaris, “the north star, the brilliant point in the nighttime sky that travelers have looked to as their certain and constant guise,” the reimagined business-class offerings run the gamut, from onboard seating to airport-lounge services.

The new amenities will be available beginning on December 1, 2016.

Marketing hyperbole aside, there is a lot to like about Polaris.

Polaris Lounges

On December 1, the first of nine new Polaris business-class lounges will open at Chicago O’Hare airport. Eight more will come online the following year, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark, Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong, and London Heathrow airports.

The lounges feature private daybeds, showers, and hot meals served in a restaurant-like setting. (American in February announced the addition of restaurant-quality meal service in its Flagship lounges, beginning in 2017.)

Polaris Seats

The core of the business-class flight experience is the seat, and United’s Polaris seats will be individual “suite-like pods,” with full lie-flat recline and direct aisle access. Each pod is fitted with a 16-inch high-definition entertainment monitor. And the cabin itself has been redesigned to include mood lighting.

Cabin Amenities

“Designed to provide the best sleep in the sky,” the Polaris bedding was designed in conjunction with Saks Fifth Avenue.

Other perks include slippers, on-request pajamas for longer flights, and amenity kits from Soho House & Co.’s Cowshed Spa.

Inflight Dining

Naturally, onboard dining gets an upgrade, too, with seasonal fare developed with the Trotter Project, premium beverages, made-to-order ice-cream sundaes, and mid-flight snacks on longer routes.

Hope for the Other 99%

Polaris is a serious effort on United’s part to re-curry lost favor with international business travelers. That’s all well and good for the 1 percent.

If Munoz and his management team now shift their focus to upgrading United’s coach class service, there might be hope for the other 99 percent as well.

Reader Reality Check

Is Polaris a game-changer for you?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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