The very latest iteration of United Airlines Business Class lounges is their ‘Polaris’ collection, now open at four locations in the USA with rollout to other US and international cities ongoing.
We spent over 2 hours at the San Francisco Polaris lounge, which opened in April 2018, for a full review prior to our flight to Singapore.
Opened: 30th April 2018
Opening Times: 6.30am to 01.00am
Multi-standard Power Sockets: No (USA 2-pin)
USB Charging Sockets: Yes
The Polaris lounge at San Francisco is located in the G concourse close to gate G92. After passing through the security checkpoint leading to the international G gates, take an immediate right turn and the lounge is there.
Don’t make the mistake of taking a slight left turn and walking down the G concourse towards the gates themselves – the Polaris lounge is immediately at the start of the concourse on the right side.
This lounge is available to passengers departing on a long-haul* United Airlines or Star Alliance member operated flight:
- in First Class (+1 guest permitted)
- in Business Class (no guests permitted)
* ‘Long-haul’ excludes flights to Guam, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, and Lima. The southernmost South American destinations like Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro do qualify as long-haul however.
Note that Polaris lounges are not Star Alliance lounges, which makes the access criteria quite a short list. You basically must be travelling in First Class or Business Class to be eligible for entry.
The additional guest for First Class passengers must also be departing on a long-haul United or Star Alliance flight in accordance with the ‘long-haul’ definition above in Economy or Premium Economy class. The guest can be an adult or a child.
Passengers holding Star Alliance Gold status but flying in Economy or Premium Economy class aren’t without a lounge in San Francisco of course, they will be directed to the United Club near gate 98, which is the old United First Class lounge.
One of the first things that strikes you as you make your way into the Polaris lounge is that this is a two-level facility. A staircase and escalator rise under a stunning light fixture to take you up to the second floor.
The lights themselves are designed to mimic a meteor shower, remembering that ‘Polaris’ means ‘pole star’ (a bright star located within one degree of the celestial north pole, in the constellation Ursa Minor).
There are similar nods to this theme in the corridors to the restrooms and shower suites.
There are ornaments and decorative items along several walls and in the room dividers, which separate several of the lounge sections on each level.
The library section on the first floor also features many books (and yes, they’re real!).
On the first floor of the lounge there are 8 shower suites available for you to freshen up prior to your flight. These are very spacious rooms with a sink and mirror, changing bench and toilet, as well as the large shower itself featuring rain head and conventional options.
There is plenty of space for your carry-on luggage and you could easily use the bench to unpack and repack certain items as required, without resorting to some form of contortionism demanded in some smaller lounge showers!
Cowshed toiletries are provided, alongside Saks Fifth Avenue towels.
As this is a large lounge with a high capacity it’s likely you may need to put your name down for a shower booking during busier periods.
If like us you are flying out from San Francisco on SQ1 to Hong Kong and Singapore you will no doubt welcome these fantastic shower rooms as you will likely have spent most of the day in the city without use of your hotel room.
At the back of this lounge on the first floor close to the showers there are 5 ‘Quiet Suites’, semi-private rooms with a daybed.
These are ideal if you need to take a nap or take some quiet rest away from the lounge. Each ‘suite’ daybed is equipped with a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow and a Saks blanket is also provided on request.
The lounge was quiet during our visit and only 1 of the 5 suites was occupied, so the attendants were kind enough to let us look at one of the others and take a few photos.
You are provided with a pair of slippers, eye shades, ear buds, a bottle of water, cowshed essential oils and a piece of chocolate in case you get peckish.
In case you’re wondering, the device that looks like a speaker is indeed just that. Slightly counter-intuitive in a ‘Quiet Suite’, these are designed to provide ‘tranquil noise’.
It’s worth mentioning here that at the reception area for the shower suites and quiet rooms you can also arrange for your clothes to be laundered. This service is complimentary.
The manned bar is the centrepiece of the second floor of the Polaris lounge in San Francisco. It’s impressive, well stocked and has ample seating.
A really inviting feature encouraging you to order a drink on your way to one of the seating areas, or prior to checking out the buffet or restaurant selection.
The bar has an impressive 8 beers on tap, ranging from the more generic choices like Stella and Heineken through to seasonal craft and IPA options. There’s also a custom cocktail and wine list incorporating local flavours, see the Beverages section below for full details.
We went straight for a celebratory glass of Champagne, with United offering the Piper Heidsieck in this lounge.
A tip about tips
It’s a slightly unusual concept for those of us residing outside the USA, however tipping bartenders is common practice here and if you’re wondering whether that extends to airport lounges, where complimentary drinks are included, it does.
Obviously you will not be chased out of the door here if you don’t leave a tip, however it is courteous to leave $1 per drink for the bartender, possibly $2 for a more complicated cocktail especially if they have gone ‘off-menu’ to cater for your request.
As you can probably tell from the bar above, the United Polaris San Francisco lounge has an extensive drinks selection. This is possibly the best drinks list we have ever seen in a Business Class lounge.
In addition to 10 cocktails there are 4 white wines, a rose, prosecco, Champagne and 7 red wines, plus a wide selection of spirits including Pimms and Aviation gin.
|Cocktails, white, rose and sparking wines
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|Red wines and spirits
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Here’s our usual check on the Vivino ranking of the wines offered.
|White, Rose, Sparkling & Champagne||Red|
|Swanson Pinot Grigio 2014||3.6 stars||Migration Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2014||4.2 stars|
|The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc 2015||3.9 stars||The Prisoner Napa Valley Blend||4.4 stars|
|Hahn SLH Estate Chardonnay 2014||3.8 stars||Norton Malbec D.O.C. 2013||3.6 stars|
|Schloss Johannisberg Riesling||3.8 stars||Noble Vines 181 Merlot 2013||3.7 stars|
|Château Roquefeuille In The Air Côtes de Provence Rosé||3.9 stars||Tenet Wines The Pundit||3.9 stars|
|Riondo Blu Prosecco Extra Dry||3.7 stars||Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2013||3.8 stars|
|Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée 1785 Brut Champagne||3.8 stars||Rabble Cabernet Sauvignon (Mossfire Ranch) 2016||3.7 stars|
All the wines rate really well here as you can see, especially a couple of the reds which get standout reviews. Top marks to United for curating a fantastic and extensive selection here, including a number of local Californian options in keeping with the theme of incorporating local flavours in the food and beverage selection.
This list would seriously not go amiss in the finest First Class lounges.
The Dining Room
A key feature of every United Polaris lounge is The Dining Room, the à la carte restaurant. San Francisco is no exception, with capacity for 40 guests.
United is the only US airline offering a full restaurant-style dining option for their Business Class passengers, and they promote this as an ideal way to maximise your sleep time on board.
The menu features a breakfast selection, served until 11am, followed by an all day menu. In both cases there are starter-sized dishes and main courses. Of course there’s always room for dessert too at any time of day, with a selection of 3 options.
(click to enlarge)
|All Day Menu
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(click to enlarge)
After a Champagne at the bar we walked across to the restaurant at around 10pm for some dinner, as we wouldn’t be eating on board our Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong until after 2am San Francisco time.
Having had a burger at The Private Room in Singapore and at Cathay Pacific’s ‘The Pier’ lounge in Hong Kong a couple of weeks earlier, I felt it was essential to compare the United offering and went for the United Polaris Burger.
Talk about saving the best for last, this was an incredible burger with all the trimmings including bacon, pickled vegetables and a fried egg. The only slight disappointment – no fries, but instead American ‘chips’.
The menu suggests drink pairings with each dish, as you’d expect a local craft or luxury beer was recommended with the burger however I opted for a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
This is a good time to speak about the lounge staff, who were excellent throughout our visit and very helpful. This carried through to the restaurant with the service well paced and friendly. The restaurant (and lounge in general) was quiet by the time we arrived, however there seemed to be ample staff on hand to maintain god service levels even during busier hours.
Back to the food, Eddie opted for one of the smaller plates – the crispy shrimp cake with sweet ‘n’ sour sauce.
This was well presented and very tasty, crispy and well seasoned.
Finally for dessert we just had enough room to share the Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream – excellent and again very good presentation.
We took our time chatting over dinner and by the time we had finished at 11pm the restaurant was closing. Worth noting especially if like us you are visiting this lounge for the Singapore Airlines SQ1 departure at 1.15am. We would recommend arriving at the lounge by 10pm then head straight for The Dining Room to experience the à la carte restaurant menu in this case.
Of course even after the restaurant has closed, the extensive buffet section remains available until the lounge closes at 1am.
The buffet is the more casual self-serve food option for those who don’t wish to dine in the restaurant, though of course there’s no reason not to partake in both if you wish.
There’s a wide selection here from salads and sandwiches through to hot options and a dessert station.
Juices, soft drinks, water, tea and coffee are all readily available.
At the far end of the lounge on the second floor is ‘The Studio’. There’s ample additional seating in this area designed for events like wine and cheese tastings, or as a secondary bar and snacks area.
The United Polaris Lounge SFO features no fewer than 19 different seating options. I’ll be the first to admit we didn’t try to count them all, so we’ll take their word for it!
Among the many options United designed the ‘United Polaris signature seat’ for its latest lounges, with an integrated work or dining table, privacy dividers and an individual reading lamp.
For our regular Singapore Airlines readers this seat will probably remind you of two things – the super-wide SQ 2006 Business Class seat and their own ‘productivity pod’ style seats seen in the newest lounges such as in Bangkok and London.
Each seat is very wide and has in integrated desk area for working or dining, a lamp and charging sockets.
The booths have privacy screens at two or three sides depending on the layout with other adjacent seats to ensure good privacy.
At many of these seats there is a designated space at the side for your luggage too.
Power outlets and Wi-Fi
Sharing a power outlet, or fighting for one with a fellow passenger, was clearly something United wanted to completely avoid in this lounge and you’ll be glad to hear that should never happen with a total of 492 power outlets and 492 USB charging points installed, one for each of the 440 seats plus a few others for good measure.
There are even charging points directly under the counter if you’re sat at the barstools, so no need to worry about your laptop or phone battery depleting while you stay close to the champagne cocktails.
While this is a significant investment in device charging convenience, United stopped short of installing multi-standard power sockets, meaning those with different plug types to the USA 2-pin variety, such as UK 3-pin, European or Australian plugs, will still need to use an adapter.
That’s an unusual decision given the international nature of this lounge.
On the connectivity front, as you would expect from a brand new lounge which was mostly empty during our visit, the Wi-Fi was blisteringly fast with the following speeds recorded.
This is by a long way our new lounge Wi-Fi speed record holder. Remember in the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounges you’re looking at about 4-5 Mbps, perhaps 10 Mbps in their newer Bangkok lounge. Here we’re talking 260+ Mbps. That’s about double the speed we get from our fibre connection at home in Singapore.
Polaris lounge locations
United has a dedicated Polaris Tracker site where you can check their progress on both Polaris lounges and the latest ‘real’ Polaris Business Class seats.
United Polaris lounges are now open in Chicago, Houston and Newark as well as San Francisco. Later this year a Polaris lounge will also open in Los Angeles, with future locations slated as Washington DC, London Heathrow, Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita.
San Francisco, at 28,120ft2, will remain the largest of the planned Polaris facilities, with Houston the smallest – designed as a ’boutique’ Polaris facility occupying the former third floor of the 3-level United Club.
If you’re flying United, the Polaris Business Class ‘hard product’ is also now increasingly available on a variety of aircraft types in its fleet. Check the same tracker page above for the latest information.
This is the first United Polaris lounge we’ve visited, and it left us hoping to visit many more in future. We’re certainly eagerly anticipating the London Heathrow, Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita lounges, as we tend to pass through these airports in Star Alliance Business Class, usually flying Singapore Airlines, fairly regularly.
The Polaris lounge in San Francisco is enormous, but everything has been considered and there are still quiet corners to relax in the well-defined spaces. The food and beverage selection alone is second to none for a Business Class lounge.
Whether it’s the spacious shower suites or daybeds with complimentary laundry facilities, the tended bar with an extensive wine and cocktail list, or the restaurant turning out good quality à la carte dishes, pretty much all your needs are fulfilled in this lounge whether you are travelling for business or leisure.
The strict access policy will certainly frustrate many Star Alliance status members, as you will essentially need to be flying in Business Class or First Class on a long-haul flight to be able to use it.
Once inside though if you do have access, there’s little to fault here. Among Business Class lounges we’ve visited, and we’ve visited many, this is the best so far.
Visited July 2018
(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)