TravelZork Takes You Inside Classified United’s New Invitation-Only Restaurant at Newark Liberty Airport
On the List
A few days before my trip to visit family in Arizona, I got an email from United inviting me to its new dining concept at Newark Airport: Classified. The restaurant boasts a first-of-its-kind upscale environment and respite for a select few travelers. You may only make a reservation if invited by the carrier. Like the Global Services program, there are no specific requirements and the selection algorithm is somewhat of a mystery. Passengers who have not received an invitation may put in a request. While I do not know specifically why I was chosen, a few factors work in my favor. I am a Presidential Plus (grandfathered from Continental) credit card holder, I have been a member of Mileage Plus for longer than I care to admit, hold gold status and, while my outbound was in economy, my return flight is in paid first class.
My reservation was made online through a platform for OTG, which is the management company. The booking process asks for a Mileage Plus number to verify eligibility, some dietary preferences and whether a special occasion is being celebrated. Check your eligibility for Classified here. This is the launch of a birthday trip, so I ticked the birthday box. The one criticism is lack of ability to modify the reservation. After reserving, I decided that I should get to the airport earlier. I had to cancel and rebook.
The Classified Experience
I arrived first thing in the morning for the breakfast service. I was warmly greeted at the stand in front of Saison near gate C120 and received a kind birthday wish. The hostess had a shockingly friendly demeanor for such an early hour and asked me if I had dined with them before as she showed me to Classified. Guests walk through all of Saison to the back, through a door and then into the private space. Classified is located in a separate room as sort of a restaurant-within-a-restaurant.
Like nearly all the other F&B outlets in the terminal, ordering was by tablet. While there is a speed benefit to the tablets, I feel a little mixed about them. It seems to remove a human component in an upmarket environment. The hostess made sure I was familiar with the ordering system. Shortly after, the server greeted me to take the water order. A hot towel was placed beside me. Nice and classy touch.
The server asked me about tea or coffee. I asked whether he had green tea. While it was not on the menu, he told me about a green tea and herb blend that was fantastic. But here is where the tablets become a hindrance. After talking to him about the tea, I had to go back into the tablet myself and then add an order of breakfast tea to my check. The servers are unable to alter tickets themselves. One positive: the tablet pointed out that some Chase credit card holders may get 20% off and I was eligible. Score!
The menu is distinct from Saison. Prices are on par with a nicer restaurant in Manhattan. Breakfast has some great choices. I was surprised, and somewhat disappointed, that more baked goods were not a part of it. Recent updates to EWR boast fresh-baked goods. Of the breakfast sides, a croissant and house-made bagel were the carbs on offer. I really would have enjoyed a pastry.
I entered in the order for a custom omelet. Shortly after, an amuse-bouche of a baby kale-strawberry shooter was brought to the table. It was really good and added to the upmarket atmosphere. After a few minutes, the meal arrived. The plate was picture perfect. While the omelet’s taste was pretty good, it could have used a little salt and pepper, which is not put out on the tables. The eggs also seemed to have a slight industrial quality to them. They seemed to be molded perfectly, but the technique made them seem a little sterile. The potatoes were tasty. The slightly caramelized red onions are a great touch, but the dish was a little mushy. That surprised me being one of the first customers in the morning.
Toward the end of breakfast, another server brought over a complimentary coffee topped with frothy milk and a “happy birthday” message on it. It was a very detail-oriented and appreciated gesture. After the meal, the hostess brought a little bag of dark chocolates as a “thank you” gift. They are extraordinary. I think that along with baked goods, sweets are a missed opportunity on the menu.
The space feels comfortable. It is sleek with high ceilings including a dramatic swoop around a light. Fixtures are modern. Fresh flowers on the table were a nice touch. The view of the tarmac is perfect for an avgeeek. From a practical standpoint, the tablet stations have power outlets. From a less-than-practical standpoint, I am not sure where luggage will go when the room is full. The aisle is wide, but I still think the room may be tight when there are a lot of bags.
Full-service airlines in the U.S. seem to be in a simultaneous race to the top and bottom. As they create new bargain-basement fare structures, they are enhancing experiences for premium customers. The “Big 3” have put significant investment into their lounge spaces and offerings. However, I have noticed that club passes are increasingly becoming a bribe for getting an airline credit card. More and more, I have found myself held up at United Club check-in as someone deals with a problem relating to a pass or discussing eligibility with the agent. Once inside, lounges at peak times are particularly crowded and I have had difficulty finding a seat.
United recently introduced its international Polaris business class and simultaneously, United introduced exclusive Polaris lounges. I can’t help but wonder if Classified offers a consolation prize for its high-end domestic passengers. Perhaps the carrier will use food and beverage credits to lure and retain its most loyal and highest-spending customers.
sEWeR to nEWeR
Newark Liberty Airport, with an airport code of EWR, is not-so-affectionately known as sEWeR in some aviation circles. Some parts of the airport still live up to that name. However, Terminal C, used by United, has undergone and is still undergoing a major transformation. There are now restaurants and food outlets from celebrity chefs. According to a news release by OTG, The Alain Ducasse Group consulted on the concept and original menu creation for Saison. Classified seems to be an extension to the idea of making EWR a food destination within itself.
United has launched a campaign over the past few months to push the merits of Newark Airport. And it lives up to that promise with offerings including Jacques Torres chocolates made on premises. However, United is also aggressively touting proximity and travel time to Newark as a benefit. As a New Yorker, I find the campaign silly. Frequent travelers in and out of the city know the best ways in and out of all three airports. The ad exec who came up with the idea of trashing traffic to JFK has clearly never had to wait in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel at a peak time.
Classified seems to be capitalizing on the exclusivity buzz. But it raises a question of whether United customers, especially United Club members, will want to take advantage of a restaurant that is even a little pricey for an airport. Since the outlet is based on a reservation system, it has the ability to control more of the environment and capacity. The airline business tends to be a copycat business. The response by other carriers at hub airports will be interesting to see.