United Polaris: The story behind the service
When you travel, the service you receive on your flight can have a huge impact on your overall experience. Whether it's a purser who personally greets you and takes the time to explain the amenities, or a flight attendant who goes above and beyond to make sure you're comfortable, personalized attention can lead to an easy, restful journey. That's why — beyond the redesigned menus, luxury bedding and sleep-themed amenities — exceptional service is the foundation of the United PolarisSM business class experience.
Looking to the experts
From the very beginning of the concept phase for United Polaris service, the product development and brand management teams looked to the experts — the inflight employees themselves — to make sure that the ideas they came up with would actually translate into a great experience in the air. United flight attendants, pursers and international service managers all played a crucial role in product research and designing an onboard service that everyone could enjoy.
"I'm impressed with the fact that we didn't just change the menu or the cabin," said Nancy Rickert, senior manager of inflight policies and procedures. "This is an upgrade to the whole package. Of all the projects I've worked on in my career, this has been my favorite."
It's hard to fully understand how an idea will work on a plane until it's tested in the air, so the product development team held test flights in fall 2015 to try out a variety of service options and amenities before deciding what to include in the new service.
The test flights, which traveled roundtrip from Chicago to Honolulu, allowed inflight service members to offer the different prospective service concepts to real customers and provide feedback on what worked and what should be removed. They observed how customers reacted to the products — like luxurious bedding, pajamas and comfort items — and asked customers to note their thoughts and opinions in real time in a provided notebook.
Many of the team members were also invited to act as a customer on one leg of the journey and have the unique opportunity to experience both sides of the prospective service.
"For the flight from Honolulu to Chicago, some of us posed as customers, and no one knew that we worked for United," Marcel Kimbrel, an international service manager, explained. "We got to see things firsthand from the customer's perspective and hear what they really thought of the product and the service with which it was offered."
Experiencing the flight in this way also gave inflight crew members the opportunity to find new ways to engage with customers and offer better, more personalized service in flight.
In addition to the test flights, the United marketing team conducted focus groups with flight attendants around the United States and encouraged them to give their input on the new features, such as specialty beverage offerings, turndown service, new china and tableware, and more. After providing feedback on the service items, flight attendants also helped plan how to pack the galleys to ensure that everything was placed in a way that would make it easy to serve customers. If the service items are not all packed intuitively, they explained, it can lead to delays while they scramble to find what they need.
"I'm proud that there has been so much flight attendant input," Nancy said. "United has gone to such lengths to ensure our involvement. We had our employees on hand for every one of the tests and they were part of the decision-making from the start."
Using the input from the focus groups, Edd Martin and Steven Petritis, inflight policies and procedures supervisors, developed a United Polaris Inflight Specialist training program and created educational tools to help train flight attendants, pursers and international service members on all of the elements of the new United Polaris service.
Putting the customer first
All of the decisions for United Polaris were intended to allow inflight service members to put the customer first and offer the best possible experience. By involving them in the process, the team was able to ensure that United Polaris is customer-friendly and flight attendant-friendly, which will ultimately result in a better inflight experience for everyone.
In the first few weeks of United Polaris service, our flight attendants received a lot of promising feedback from our customers. The top three changes that customers say they appreciate are the quality of the food, the comfort and softness of the blankets and pillows, and the new dining service flow, which allows for more time to rest on board. One flight attendant noted that a customer was very pleased with the choice of the full menu in the United Polaris lounge in Chicago, which allowed them to skip the full meal onboard and get a good rest on the flight with the very comfortable Saks Fifth Avenue bedding.