Business Irish

Friday 27 April 2018

Board a business bargain as United rolls out its Polaris

Polaris, the big and bold statement of intent by American giant United Airlines
Polaris, the big and bold statement of intent by American giant United Airlines
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

If you ever needed evidence that Dublin Airport is the fifth-busiest European gateway to North America, you'd need look no further than the American check-in areas of an otherwise quiet Sunday morning Terminal 2.

It's a hive of hustle and bustle as competing airlines check in passengers for the east coast and Chicago.

Transatlantic is big business, with Aer Lingus recently announcing that it will increase capacity by 13pc across the pond this winter - 350 flights extra in all.

Corporate is also massive, and I checked out the progress of United Airlines' business class makeover on a rare trip to the Big Apple.

Its new business class product is certainly a gamble ­­- changing the name from the recognisable BusinessFirst to Polaris late last year, as has been reported in this column.

The makeover is aimed at transforming the business-class experience, from showers and sleep pods in dedicated airport lounges, to individual pods on board in the cabin, with direct aisle access for every seat.

It's being rolled out across the fleet, and Ireland, which is considered a short hop, won't see the full effects till possibly the end of next year.

But if you're lucky, you'll get a glimpse of what's on offer when the aircraft rotations put the odd full Polaris flight on an Irish route.

In the meantime, the changes being made are already recognisable as the service is rolled out.

Customer research (over 12,000 hours of it) has shown that sleep is a priority for the corporate traveller. Even I, a reluctant sleeper, managed to get four hours-plus across the Atlantic on board the 777-200. The secret is in the seat and bedding. Fully flat, it gave me ample legroom (it goes up to 6 foot 6) and the duvet, pillow and blanket are supplied by the upmarket Saks Fifth Avenue - I was sorely tempted to nick the pillow.

Mattresses are also available on request, while the amenity pack with the obligatory face creams, socks, ear plugs and eye masks are supplied by trendy Cowshed. The airline's executive chef is Gerry McLoughlin (formerly of The Shelbourne in Dublin), and there's a noticeable push into lighter, healthier fare, with more fresh fruit, veg and salads to accompany the chicken, beef, shepherd's pie or fish mains. It fills, but doesn't bulk you up, and certainly aids sleeps.

The only big change I'd look forward to is direct aisle access. I was sitting next to a tall girl who snoozed from before take-off, so stepping over her needed a bit of dexterity.

That said, it's a great quality product, and the service is smart and friendly - and on the shorter return journey (just five-and-a-half hours), you can ask to have your three courses and drinks in one go, to give you more sleeping time.

All good, but the big plus I see is price: off-peak times, like August, are a good time to set up meetings if you're in a small company and need to do some facetime in Manhattan.

Business, sorry Polaris, can be booked from around €1,769.88 return - which is a steal in the world of turning left.

n Okay, it's not much of a shocker but New Yorkers aren't that keen on Mr Trump.

Returning to the States for the first time since the change of administration, I was expecting gruelling security and immigration questions ("Yes, officer, I have been to Mexico recently...".)

But pre-clearance - something this column has fought to maintain - was a cinch, with a question about the nature of my business in the States, and the usual finger-and-thumb scans.

All done and dusted within five minutes.

Stateside was even easier - a whole floor in Newark dedicated to premium passengers, with an empty line. I was also a guinea pig for the Transport Security Administration (TSA) and its new fast-track security-screening programme known as TSA Pre. It's a system whereby applicants are screened, and if passed get to bypass a lot of the rigours of airport security. No more taking off your belt. Or your shoes. And your laptop stays firmly in your bag. The queues are shorter, and the stress levels are way down.

TSA Pre works on internal flights around the States, while the Custom and Border Protection sister programme Global Entry allows for similar privileges when flying abroad from American airports. Global Entry costs just $100 for five years, and also gives you the internal TSA Pre privileges.

There's just one downside: global entry is not available to Irish citizens, but is worth considering if you have a UK passport.

Sunday Indo Business

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