United Airlines just unveiled a new business-class cabin with single-file sleeping pods instead of seats

Image: United Airlines
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In the battle for business-class passengers, United Airlines is going to the mattresses.

While it’s trying to lure millennial business travelers with frequently Instagrammed dishes like lobster mac-and-cheese, United says its main finding from 12,000 hours of market research is that business travelers want a decent night of sleep. So the third-largest US carrier is configuring a new business-class cabin with sleeping pods, containing beds that lie flat and sport duvets and pillows from Saks Fifth Avenue.

The pods, designed for long-haul international flights, will be configured single file so that there’s “no stepping over anybody,” United chief marketing officer Thomas O’Toole explains. In case passenger snores are too faint for flight attendants to hear, there’s a “Do Not Disturb Sign,”  just one of what United calls “sleep-enticing amenities.” (Others include a “calming lavender pillow mist” and “ergonomically designed eye shades.)

The service, which the airline is calling United Polaris, kicks off in December, starting with United’s wide-bodied Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

The company also is launching a line of United Polaris business lounges, starting with Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Dec. 1. The others—at airports in Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC (Dulles), London (Heathrow), Hong Kong, and Tokyo—will open in 2017.

It’s the latest step in United’s quest to revamp its image and drive young captains of industry to its seats, luring them to pay up even as they navigate increasingly unpleasant airport experiences like feature-length security lines.

“By the time you get to your seat, you’re going to be grumpy,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said from the sidelines of a flashy United Polaris launch event in Manhattan. “I’m already starting at a deficit.”

The airline is no doubt hoping that a set of United Polaris pajamas and a gel-cooled pillow, both available upon request for United Polaris customers on flights longer than 12 hours, will help set weary travelers at ease.