United Airlines: The creation of United Polaris business class, redesigned from Ahh to Zzz

How United Airlines leveraged market research in the development, optimization, and launch of United Polaris, its new International Business Class offering

By United Airlines and Kantar TNS


Reinvent and elevate Business Class experience

To maintain competitiveness and build long-term loyalty and market share with business class travelers, along with an effective internal rollout, United Airlines needed a deeper understanding of both customer and employee perceptions and needs across the International business class journey.


Qualitative and quantitative techniques

United partnered with Kantar TNS to conduct “overnight flight simulations” at the Boeing Dreamliner gallery, focus groups were conducted with business class travelers (post-simulation) and flight attendants. Stakeholder interviews (including the CEO, CFO, CMO) and a Discover workshop informed a multi-method qualitative project (online mobile deep dives + in-person focus groups) to explore all other aspects of the business class journey (completed in the US, China, and UK). After quantitative testing with 650 business travelers, United selected four bundles for further development. Kantar TNS facilitated a Strategy workshop with United, where bundles were brought to life from lounge to landing. Flight simulations on the ground and a second phase of in-air research via a chartered flight, evaluated and optimized the bundles. Kantar TNS observed and interviewed travelers throughout (including pre-/post-flight surveys), and travel diaries and GoPro “confessional booths” gave participants opportunity to share their feedback. Finally, United and Kantar TNS organized focus groups to explore naming options for the new business class experience.

So what?

Optimization and execution of a new business class

This research provided critical direction for the strategic generation, optimization and execution of a new business class, United Polaris, that will launch on 1st December 2016. United used key customer and employee insights to create a custom-designed business class seat. Then, United leveraged the emotive opportunity areas to develop 12 positioning bundles to enhance business class ‘from lounge to landing.’ Furthermore, United took prioritized ideas and created detailed flight plans and product specifications for each bundle. Based on customer and employee feedback, United moved forward with the sleep offering. They addressed all critical optimization opportunities prior to launch.