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United reopens Polaris lounges in San Francisco and Houston

Singapore Airlines' Business Class passengers departing from San Francisco and Houston once again have access to United's best global lounges.

If you’re flying SIA in Business Class to Singapore or Hong Kong from San Francisco, or to either Singapore or Manchester from Houston for that matter, there’s good news for the pre-flight experience with United Airlines reopening its flagship Polaris lounges in both U.S. locations.

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These top-notch facilities replace the more lacklustre United Club lounges, but you’ll have to be ticketed in Business Class to benefit, with Star Alliance Gold members including PPS Club and KrisFlyer Gold status holders travelling in Economy or Premium Economy still relegated to these poorer options.

United Polaris lounges

United revealed its first Polaris lounge at Chicago O’Hare Airport back in December 2016, but it took a while before others popped up on the network, with new lounges eventually opened at the airline’s five other major U.S. hubs.

Bar at the United Polaris San Francisco lounge. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The shutters were sadly pulled down on these lounges in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, decimating international travel, however in the last few months we’ve happily seen some Polaris lounge re-openings.

  • Washington: 21st October 2021 (brand new opening)
  • Newark: 15th November 2021
  • Houston: 30th November 2021
  • Chicago: 7th December 2021
  • San Francisco: 4th January 2022

This leaves only the Los Angeles Polaris lounge still to reopen, which is expected “in the coming weeks” according to TPG.

The United Polaris lounge in Los Angeles will be the last to reopen, “in the coming weeks”. (Photo: United Airlines)

Once it reopens, Singapore Airlines First and Business Class passengers departing from Los Angeles (TBIT terminal) can use the United Polaris lounge (Terminal 7), but the airside connector between the two terminals takes around 20 minutes each way to walk, so it may not be worth it.

SIA instead directs its lounge-worthy Los Angeles passengers to the Star Alliance lounge in the TBIT itself.



 


 

San Francisco and Houston

The good news for Singapore Airlines passengers is that those departing in Business Class will now be able to enjoy these great lounges prior to departure from both San Francisco and Houston.

Operating hours fall comfortably around SIA departure times:

  • Houston Polaris: 5.30am – 9pm (SQ51 6.50pm)
  • San Francisco Polaris: 6.30am – 10.30pm (SQ31 9.30am; SQ7 12.10pm; SQ33 8.50pm)

Note that SQ7 is a non-VTL flight, which ends on 29th January 2022.

Polaris Lounge Access

Polaris lounges are available to passengers departing on a long-haul United Airlines or Star Alliance member operated flight:

  • in First Class (+1 guest)
  • in Business Class (no guests)

Note that Polaris lounges are not Star Alliance lounges, which makes the access criteria quite a short list.

Basically, you 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.

Passengers holding Star Alliance Gold status but flying in Economy or Premium Economy class aren’t without a lounge in San Francisco or Houston of course, they will be directed to the United Club.

PPS Club and KrisFlyer Elite Gold members travelling in Business Class who wish to invite a guest travelling on the same flight will have to visit the United Club Lounge.

Singapore Airlines is not currently offering a First Class cabin on its flights from San Francisco or Houston.

The United Club in San Francisco permits access to Star Alliance Gold passengers. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

We were lucky to be able to visit the United Polaris lounge in San Francisco in 2018, three months after it opened.

It’s a fantastic facility, boasting:

  • 8 shower suites
  • 5 quiet suites
  • Tended cocktail bar with a wide variety of beverages, including Champagne
  • Restaurant-style à la carte dining

United is the only U.S. airline offering a full restaurant-style dining option for its Business Class passengers, and the airline promotes this as an ideal way to maximise your sleep time on board.

Here’s just a few of the items we sampled during our visit to the San Francisco Polaris lounge.

It’s a great experience, beating the food in any Singapore Airlines Business Class lounge hands down.

The menus are also designed around a local theme – Californian in the case of the San Francisco lounge, while you’ll see items like quesadillas and Texas hash skillet over in the Houston Dining Room.

You can read a full review of the United Polaris lounge in Houston here.

United is back in Singapore (VTL)

As if United’s best lounges weren’t enough, the airline itself has become the first non-SIA carrier to launch VTL flights from the USA to Singapore this month, with four times weekly Boeing 787-9 service on the San Francisco – Singapore – San Francisco route.

The good news this time round, compared to pre-COVID, is that the airline has been busy refitting its 787-9s with the latest cabins, including ‘new Polaris’ Business Class seats with direct aisle access.

United Polaris Business Class. (Photo: PreistmanGoode)

At the time of writing, 25 of the 38 aircraft have the new product, and this sub-fleet with the new seats is being dedicated to the Singapore route, the longest flight on the airline’s network.

All of United’s San Francisco – Singapore flights are designated VTL services, with the schedule ramping up to daily from 6th March 2022.

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Here’s a summary of all your VTL options from San Francisco to Singapore through to late March 2022.

5th January 2022 – 31st January 2022

  Days
M T W T F S S
 bgcolor= SQ33
A350-900 ULR
SFO
20:50
SIN

06:25**
UA1
787-9
     
SFO
22:30
SIN

07:40**

** Two days later

1st February 2022 – 5th March 2022

  Days
M T W T F S S
 bgcolor= SQ31
A350-900
       
SFO
09:30
SIN

19:05*
 bgcolor= SQ33
A350-900 ULR
SFO
20:50
SIN

06:25**
UA1
787-9
     
SFO
22:30
SIN

07:40**

* One day later
** Two days later

6th March 2022 – 26th March 2022

  Days
M T W T F S S
 bgcolor= SQ31
A350-900
SFO
09:30
SIN

19:05*
 bgcolor= SQ33
A350-900 ULR
SFO
20:50
SIN

06:25**
UA1
787-9
SFO
22:30
SIN

07:40**

* One day later
** Two days later

United Polaris Business Class. (Photo: United Airlines)

For SIA’s Houston – Manchester – Singapore route, you can see the full schedule below. All flights are designated VTL services from 19th January 2022 onwards (click to expand).

Note that this service operates via Manchester, with a 1 hour 35 minute transit stop en-route to Singapore.

27th March 2022 - 31st March 2022

  Days
M T W T F S S
 bgcolor= SQ51
A350 Long Haul
IAH
19:10
SIN

07:40*

* Two days later

Important

From 1st April 2022, there will be no more designated VTL flights to Singapore.
All fully vaccinated travellers can enter quarantine-free on any flight operated by any airline on any route.

The United Club in London is back

While it doesn’t get the ‘Polaris’ stamp, United’s lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 2 is widely regarded as the best Star Alliance option at the airport, and the good news is it has also recently reopened.

Our advice is definitely to skip the (relatively ordinary) SilverKris lounge at Heathrow and make a beeline for this one when departing on Singapore Airlines.



 


 

Summary

United’s Polaris lounges in the USA are among the best Business Class lounges worldwide, but the pandemic meant the shutters closed on all of them for 18 months, with the airline only reopening the first such facility in October 2021.

Now we’re into 2022 there’s good news for Singapore Airlines’ Business Class passengers, with both the San Francisco and Houston Polaris lounges back in action.

Shower suite at the United Polaris San Francisco lounge. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

These feature showers, quiet rooms and a manned bar, but perhaps most importantly an à la carte restaurant with great food options.

Unfortunately PPS Club and KrisFlyer Elite Gold passengers travelling in Economy and Premium Economy Class will still have to use the nearby United Club at both airports, but this is a great step up for those making the journey in Business Class, either with SIA or on the new United VTL flights.

(Cover Photo: United Airlines)

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