10 things you'll love about United's new Polaris airport lounges

10 things you'll love about United's new Polaris airport lounges

United Airlines has opened the first of its new Polaris business class lounges at the airlines' Chicago hub, providing travellers with a taste of what's to come as the Polaris lounge network spreads around the world.

The lounges represent the ground component of the airline's ambitious Polaris international business class (below)...

Fly Polaris in the air, enjoy Polaris on the ground

... with the flagship lounge at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to be followed by new-build Polaris lounges at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark, Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong and London Heathrow throughout 2017.

Here are ten aspects of the Polaris lounge which business travellers will love.

1. United goes upscale

Put aside all thoughts of the old United lounges, those dowdy crowded 'holding pens' for passengers. Polaris is a decidedly premium lounge, and United wants to make sure everybody knows it.

If you've been in any of the airline's newest lounges based on the United Club concept – those at London's Heathrow Terminal 2 are a great example, especially the first class lounge – then you'll be a little closer to the Polaris experience.

High-end touches at the new Polaris lounges include marble floors and wall paneling, concierge services, spacious shower suites and vastly improved food and drink offerings.

2. Business class only

Access to Polaris lounges is restricted to business class and first class travellers on United's international fleet and its Star Alliance siblings.

(United is actually drawing down the shades on first class, with its 'Global First' offering being retired in favour of the new Polaris business class design which sports many of the creature comforts once reserved for the airline's highest-paying passengers.

Top-tier MileagePlus frequent flyers – including Premier Gold, Platinum and 1K card-holders – and Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers travelling in economy will be shunted into United Club lounges (although it's suspected that members of the invitation-only Global Services tier will be exempt from the 'premium cabin only' access rules).

That's bad news if you're a status passenger flying in economy, but good news for business travellers who are tired of over-crowded lounges and rubbing shoulders with economy passengers who happen to have a shiny frequent flyer card.

3. Airport lounge food that actually tastes great

Each Polaris lounge will feature a dining area which United promises as more like "a boutique restaurant", with a la carte meals prepared and cooked in the lounge kitchen, alongside a self-serve buffet and salad bar.

4. Cheers!

If Chicago's Polaris lounge is anything to go by, passengers won't mind too much if their flight is delayed.

The tended bar has eight beers on tap, two of those being local craft crews from Two Brothers and Revolution, with over a dozen specialty cocktails and top-shelf spirits such as Whistle Pig and Auchentoshan whisky, Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka and Aviation American Gin.

Oh, and there's barista-pulled Illy coffee. 

5. Freshen up before your flight

Each international Polaris lounge will have spacious shower suites (there are six in the Chicago lounge) with to-shelf fittings plus Saks Fifth Avenue-branded towels and slippers.

While you're in the shower your suit, shirt or dress can be pressed in under 10 minutes.

There's ample room to wheel your cabin bag into the suite and still move around, a design consideration that's also replicated in the extra-large restrooms. 

6. Catch up on some work

These bespoke 'Quad' seats are designed for the busy business traveller looking to tidy up some work before taking to the skies.

The high walls offer a little privacy; there's storage for your coat and bag, personal lighting, a pull-out table with integrated tablet holder, and AC/USB charging points. 

7. Or just relax...

Also part of the Polaris formula: a cluster of 'relaxation suites' for weary travellers.

These semi-private rooms sport a leather chaise lounge, blankets and pillows, with soothing white washing through the overhead speakers.

Also read: Inside Cathay Pacific's The Pier First Class Lounge Day Suites

8. Considered design

The Polaris lounges have been designed by UK-based PriestmanGoode and will each will follow a common design plan which puts the most active areas at the entrance, followed by the bar and buffet, with the 'calmer' zones – including the shower and relaxation suites – further inside the lounge. 

9. There's just one TV in the lounge

Tired of airport lounges with big-screen TVs blaring away on every wall? That's especially common in US lounges but this is another way in which United is bucking the trend, with only a single telly to be seen.

"That's very intentional," explains Michael Landers, United's Managing Director of Airport Lounges. "Our Polaris customers found the TVs in our other lounges to be an annoyance. They want to be in here to relax or be productive."

10. There's a hotel-style concierge...

The Chicago lounge employs a  'full-service concierge' who can arrange ground transportation, book hotel rooms and even purchase theatre tickets for your destination. If United pulls this off at all of its other Polaris lounges the airline will definitely have raised the bar for other airlines.

David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

16 comments

  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    1 Dec, 2016 11:14 am

    "That's bad news if you're a status passenger flying in economy, but good news for business travellers who are tired of over-crowded lounges and rubbing shoulders with economy passengers who happen to have a shiny frequent flyer card."

    Given the need by companies to lower cost and enforce economy class travel on short/medium-haul sectors, this move by UA to be more like SQ makes it easier for passengers to choose which airline and alliance to do business with.

    It is clearer than ever, to make the math of flying work, aircraft needs to be heavy at both the pointy and back end. If you cannot sustain loyalty for passengers at the back end, by treating them like second-class citizens on the ground, to what extent will you fill the back of the aircraft on a decent yield?

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    Naidoov

  • FLX

    FLX1

    1 Dec, 2016 02:03 pm

    @TheRealBabushka:
    "Given the need by companies to...enforce economy class travel on short/medium-haul sectors"
    1st of all, Polaris lounges are planned to be @ least 99% exclusive to longhaul pax traveling in Polaris cabin(or in equivalent J cabin of Star partners).  Even fm these photos, it's pretty obvious Polaris lounge is specifically designed for premium pax spending @ least 0.5day traveling nonstop between only 2 cities(otherwise, why need the luxurious spa-like bathroom to shower or relaxation suite to lie down?).  2ndly, Polaris cabin is planned to be available/installed ONLY onboard UA longhaul fleet deployed 99% of the time on longhaul sectors anyway.  Finally, I'm pretty sure per UA's definition, longhaul means crossing either the Atlantic or Pacific(or via N.Pole) nonstop.

    As a result, J pax on "short/medium-haul sectors" are irrelevant to UA's plan re Polaris, let alone Y pax.

    "this move by UA to be more like SQ makes its easier for passengers to choose which airline and alliance to do business with."
    Agree it does make it easier...but probably not fm your implied pax perspective.  J pax working for rich employer that can still afford staff biz travel in J will choose UA much more easily @ least partly due to the exclusivity of Polaris.  It's econ-logical really...if my company travel policy means consistently pay J fare level to UA, why should I, as a Polaris pax, suffer fm a crowded UA lounge due to non-Polaris pax?  If I hv to rely on my FFP status to enter a Polaris lounge, it means my company prohibit travel in J(And therefore hv never paid Polaris or J fare) in the 1st place.

    "..to make the math of flying work, aircraft needs to be heavy at both the pointy and back end."
    I would say the math equation is tilted towards the pointy end.

    Heavy @ both ends is the best case scenario but it's financially much more important for airlines to hv pointy end heavIER than back end rather than back end heavier than pointy end if those are the only realistic outcomes given today's mkt competition in filling any cabin class.  On a typical longhaul/intercon flight, fare differential today between J and Y is about 5:1.  But the production cost differential is much lower than that....more like 3:1.  Therefore, losing 1 J pax(e.g. due to a crowded lounge) is much worse than losing 4 Y pax(e.g. due to lounge entry prohibition).
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  • sgb

    sgb

    1 Dec, 2016 11:18 am

    Let's make United great again.
    No member give thanks

  • Ryan Stephen

    RaptorNation158

    1 Dec, 2016 06:05 pm

    It will be YUGE!!
    No member give thanks

  • drgmarshall

    drgmarshall

    1 Dec, 2016 01:36 pm

    SGB - was it ever great?
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  • sgb

    sgb

    1 Dec, 2016 03:56 pm

    I remember when it was.
    No member give thanks

  • FLX

    FLX1

    3 Dec, 2016 02:10 am

    @sgb:
    I remember I read about it(along with photos of cabin and ground services) on numerous aviation history book.  Although obviously 2nd hand knowledge and refer only to domestic op(UA was largely restricted to ops within U.S. thx to PA and their powerful best friends in Washington...), UA pax service in that era was amazing/cutting-edge.
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  • Agfox

    Agfox

    1 Dec, 2016 05:38 pm

    sgb  If you remember when United was great then you're probably too old to fly now  '-)
    No member give thanks

  • FLX

    FLX1

    3 Dec, 2016 02:25 am

    @Agfox:
    "sgb  If you remember when United was great then you're probably too old to fly now"
    Assuming U didn't mean to be condescending to sgb and harbor no age discrimination, we can learn about what UA was like in a diff era not only by living thru that age but also by reading about it(I admit that may be an alien concept/activity for the LCD screen-only generation) decades later.  This is how I realized that in an earlier era, e.g., airlines served inflight meals(Yes, some went as far as cooking steak in the galley) on linen even in coach/Y.  I figured that's much more educational /wholistic than relying on generic negative/cliche comments re UA pax services(Most originated fm the UA of 10-20yrs ago) which are out-of- date anyway.
    No member give thanks

  • Alex_upgrade

    alex_upgrade77

    1 Dec, 2016 07:02 pm

    Obtaining Star Gold is relatively easy on some airlines and very possible for people doing only 2-3 long haul trips on a flexi Y fare a year. Take me as an example.

    So Star Gold lounges are becoming fuller and there is no distinction like on oneworld between First and Business lounges for different levels of FF status.

    UA is trying to reward premium customers with a bespoke ground product that incentivises customers to fly J/Polaris and rewards those that do with greater exclusivity. 

    I wonder though whether the short term pain of United Elites being shunted into a crappy United Club will tempt those people to try AA and oneworld - which does reward it's top tier frequent flyers with an exclusive lounge proposition. 


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  • Alex_upgrade

    alex_upgrade77

    1 Dec, 2016 07:05 pm

    ...and whether AA will be doing UA status matches to assist this.
    No member give thanks

  • BrisbanePE

    BrisbanePE

    2 Dec, 2016 04:06 pm

    I've never really understood having such luxurious lounges when departing on long haul. Yes sometimes you're on a connection with a few hours to spare and may need something to eat and even a shower. But most passengers will be in the lounge a relatively short time and I don't see the need to have premium food, drink and relaxing facilities when you are about to board a premium class flight, with premium food, drink and relaxing facilities.
    No member give thanks

  • FLX

    FLX1

    3 Dec, 2016 02:48 am

    @BrisbanePE:
    "most passengers will be in the lounge a relatively short time".
    Domestic lounge probably yes.  Int' lounge?  Probably not.  Target pax for Polaris lounges?  Not just int'l pax but 100% intercon pax.

    "I don't see the need to have premium food, drink and relaxing facilities when you are about to board a premium class flight, with premium food..."
    Probably because U also don't see J pax:
    1) Hanging around lounges longer due to long layovers/connections or delays.
    2) Have to be @ the lounges longer due to early arrival for checkin to hedge against a series of unknowns re the length of immigration /security queues(TSA queue in the U.S. is a world renowned classic and all UA Polaris flights originate fm that nation....) or ground traffic to get to the airport in the 1st place.  Unlike shorthaul flights which are more frequent and can be rebooked easily, if an intercon J pax misses his/her longhaul flight, he/she often has to wait a day to catch the nex 1.....not an ideal scenario when your nex board meeting on another continent also commence tomorrow.
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  • BrisbanePE

    BrisbanePE

    7 Dec, 2016 05:15 pm

    My US transcons have always had short connection times - sometimes so short I've deliberately changed them just so I can have time to visit the lounge and have a quiet drink. But never so long as to need meals and showers etc. Not saying sometimes people won't have long layovers - and having the lounge during irrops is a god send! - but I just don't see it as the common case. YMMV.
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    7 Dec, 2016 09:26 pm

    @BrisbanePE:
    Think of a typical journey in J fm NYC to SYD.  Currently, the quickest way by UA is EWR-SFO-SYD in about 22h30m(QF's JFK-LAX-SYD is similar).  Layover @ SFO last about 1.5hrs minimum.

    1.  That's nearly a day from boarding @ EWR to exiting  custom @ SYD.  Realistically, most J pax(or anyone with a habit of daily shower) would like to take a shower sometime in between or @ least 1 decent meal @ a real table.

    2.  After priority disembarking @ SFO, no need to clear TSA again and proceed directly either to int'l gate or Polaris lounge. No more than 10mins elapsed by the time U completed checkin @ the Polaris lounge front desk(No more queue due to J pax entry only).  A typical quick shower @ Polaris lounge takes maximum 20mins?  A fancy meal by yourself(Most J pax travel alone) there takes max 30-45mins?  Even if U take both a shower+a meal @ the lounge, about 15-30mins remain until push back for your SFO-SYD flight. 
    No member give thanks

  • Looking

    Looking

    3 Dec, 2016 07:36 pm

    All the skinny models in the PR shots ... hmm well yes it would be something aspirational for the yanks. Overall a great idea to have a dedicated lounge for the premium cabins, far too easy to obtain status in some parts of the world.  Wonderful news that there will be just one TV (although still one too many).
    Member who gave thanks

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21 May, 2019 05:02 am

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