As it tends to happen, Delta snatches award at United’s expense – what to make of it

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For the past year or so it feels like one can’t hear the word United, without hearing the word Polaris attached to it.  United has heavily marketed the Polaris experience and ‘rolled out’ the product even though the full product is only available in one route at the moment.  We all got over that, have read reviews of the Polaris seat and experience, and so far it’s been generally liked by customers.  One indication is what Brian Summers reported yesterday regarding United facing wine shortages.  Either Polaris is so terrible that folks have to drink more, or it’s so good that people have to drink more.  Take your pick.

In short, United is heavily banking on Polaris to seriously compete with the major business players, its main US rival being Delta.  The Chicago Business Journal reported the following this week:

Delta Air Lines just got another feather in its cap — but at the expense of Chicago-based United Airlines.

When the Crystal Cabin Awards winners were announced Tuesday in Hamburg, Germany, Delta learned it was the winner in the Cabin Concepts competition — one of the most hotly-contested categories in the annual competition that recognizes innovation in aircraft interiors.

The Crystal Cabin Awards focus on international award for excellence in aircraft interior innovation.  Again, aircraft interior innovation; in other words, the seat.  Why is it important to remember this detail?  Polaris is not a seat.  According to United, Polaris is an experience, a concept.  Thus when rating Polaris, one rates yes, the seat, but also the food, the service, the bedding, the airport experience, the lounge, etc.  It would be interesting when both Delta’s product and Polaris are running in parallel, to see which of them comes out on top.  It may still be Delta’s.  Interestingly, Delta’s product won’t be on the market until later this fall.

Lost Crystal Cabin Award and all, United still has two things going for itself:

  • Given that the United Polaris hard product launched on its first route already, United should have an advantage in terms of launching, adjusting, and firmly establishing Polaris as a desired international business product.  Unfortunately, manufacturer delays were announced, which sets back United’s timeline.  Hopefully, for United, there’s no further delays.  Perhaps United should have paid more attention to American’s issues with Zodiac before selecting them.
  • Since United Polaris is not just a seat, even international aircraft that won’t be retrofitted with Polaris seats, will still have everything else that Polaris has to offer.  This is an advantage over Delta’s new product, which is just a seat.  Still, United is currently having the issue with Polaris hard-product scarcity that we need to watch closely.

In conclusion, while the award is of real, tangible importance, it does highlight the fact that United keeps playing catch up to Delta even with the unveiling of its best proposition yet.  Still, the experience should be more than enough to solidly compete with Delta’s new seat.  The manufacturer delays, however, can be a game changer and a disaster in a moment when United is as close as it’s been in a very long time to its long time rival.

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