United Airlines' Polaris lounge at Los Angeles (LAX) is the latest addition to the upscale and exclusively business class-only Polaris portfolio.
This fifth member of the Polaris lounge network sports the same familiar design, furnishings and features as its Polaris siblings in Chicago, San Francisco, Newark and Houston, but with some noticeably local influences in food and drink.
Australian Business Traveller scoped out the new United Polaris LAX lounge at an invitation-only media preview ahead of its public opening on Saturday January 12, 2019.
Location & Impressions
United's Polaris Los Angeles lounge plants its flag at LAX Terminal 7, which serves as the Star Alliance member's flagship west coast hub.
The Polaris lounge itself sits on the terminal's upper floor where the airline's former Global First Lounge used to be (just past gates 72 and 73) but has also expanded into several adjacent airport offices to effectively double its size to some 1,110m² (12,000ft²) with seating for 140 travellers.
This has given the Polaris lounge something of a 'bow-tie' shape spanning either side of the terminal’s central rotunda, above the food court.
The larger portion of the lounge is off to the left when you enter and includes most seating, the bar and the working zone – which perhaps oddly isn't in the quietest part of the lounge.
This area includes west-facing windows, which will make the bar a suitable place for enjoying an LA sunset.
The middle of the lounge is defined by a circular wall which defines the rotunda, and beyond here is where you'll find the buffet, dining room, restrooms, showers and daybeds.
As a result, despite the lounge's expansive footprint, its design manages to impart a boutique feel, compared to a single sprawling space which could feel less like a lounge and more like a barn.
As with all other Polaris lounges, access is granted only to business class passengers on United and its Star Alliance partners – although as all other Star Alliance airlines leave from the more distant Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) which has its own Star Alliance lounge, we expect the Polaris lounge will rarely see a non-United traveller.
That said, outbound business class passengers on a Star Alliance airline can sample the Polaris lounge by using the series of airside connector between TBIT and T7. They'll just need time – allow around 25-30 minutes – and a sense of adventure, as the trek tales you from above-ground walkways to snaking terminal corridors and underground tunnels.
United MileagePlus members and other Star Alliance Gold-grade frequent flyers who are booked into United premium economy or economy are barred from entry into Polaris lounges and should head straight to the United Club.
Note also that United passengers on flights to Canada, Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, the Caribbean and Guam and aren't allowed into the Polaris lounge, as those are not considered as 'long-haul' routes – they'll also need to make tracks to the United Club.
Dining has become a stand-out part of the Polaris offering, and at LAX this means a dedicated dining room with an à la carte menu.
The dining room itself has eight tables and 16 seats...
... with nine tables and 18 more seats flanking the rotunda just outside.
There are seperate menus for breakfast and all-day dining, from favourites such as the Polaris burger to an expanded set of Asian, vegetarian and vegan options plus wellness meals.
Here's the breakfast menu...
... and the menu for lunch through to dinner.
This platter shows a selection including the popular Polaris burger, 'LA fish and chips' (whitefish crusted with baked almond and servd with hand-cut fries). a 'street taco trio' and some churros.
For the media preview, United also showcased a number of items from across the menu and the buffet selection.
There's also a servery which doubles as a smoothie bar in the morning, then from noon will dish up a different plate each month.
If you'd rather graze, the nearby buffet has no shortage of options.
This does beyond the obligatory sandwhiches and rolls...
... to tempting tapenades...
... small deli bowls...
... plus sweet treats such as these chia seed coconut mango trifles...
... to brownie puddings, vanilla bean shortcake and a unique Graham cracker s'mores pie in a glass.
A second hallmark of each Polaris lounge is the tended bar with a series of cocktails and also spotlighting Californian wineries, but you can opt for a simple barista-pulled coffee if you're so inclined.
Some of the wines served are stored in this eye-catching display cabinet.
In all, we defy any visitor to leave the Polaris LAX lounge hungry.
Business travellers won't need to look hard to find an AC or USB outlet to top up their tech.
The Polaris LAX lounge has sockets to spare: quite literally so, as each fitting has a pair of two AC and two USB ports, so you'll never have to negotiate a spot of 'socket sharing' with a neighbour.
The USB ports are rated at 2A of power to suit the higher draw of tablets and larger smartphones.
And these AC/USB outlets are almost everywhere to be found, from the sidetables between individual chairs to the bench seating in the dining room.
Something else that travelllers need is fast Internet, and the Polaris LAX lounge has you sorted: during our tests the WiFi clocked a meaty 120Mbps for both downloads and uploads.
With plenty of seating, AC sockets and fast WiFi floating throughout the lounge, you could tackle that bothersome load of preflight work almost anywhere.
But United has sensibly made provision for people needing to really focus and get down to work with a cluster of 12 signature Polaris workspace chairs.
Each combines an oversized and incredibly comfortable chair with a sidetable for working, a gentle LED personal light plus AC and USB sockets.
There's even space between the chair and the partition wall to stow your carry-on bag out of the way.
For maximum privacy – especially when there's a sensitive phone call involved – slip into one of the two private 'phone booth' rooms directly opposite the workstations.
Each has its own desk, chair and AC/USB ports.
If your flight comes at the end of a long day and especially a warm one, make a reservation for one of the six showers.
These extremely spacious and well-appointed suites features a rainfall shower, luggage rack, hair dryer, Cowshed shower products and Saks Fifth Avenue towelling.
Something I really appreciate about a well-designed airport lounge is when – as in this case – there's enough room to open your carry-on bag and dig around for a fresh change of clothes, as well as each shower being well ventilated so it doesn't turn into an uncomfortable sauna after you shower.
United also has a complimentary valet service to quickly steam-press your clothes. However, passengers need to request this – it's not pro-actively offered – and there's no two-way 'wardrobe' in the shower suite where you can hang your shirt, pants, top or dress so that it's accessible to the valet from the outside.
As a result, you either need to be comfortable personally handing your clothes to the valet while the door is partly open, or restricting his services to a quick press of your jacket or some piece of clothing you're not in fact wearing.
If you want to freshen up and change your clothes but can skip a shower, the seven unisex bathroom suites are almost as large as the showers and have a full-length mirror plus Cowshed amenities.
If you've got a really long wait for your flight, just beyond the showers are two 'Quiet Suite' nap rooms.
Although not completely private, each contains a day bed with blankets and pillows from Saks Fifth Avenue (which also provides the bedding kit on United's Polaris business class flights).
A small table holds a set of earplugs and an eyemask, a sleep spray, some water to rehydrate, a square of Ghirardelli chocolate and a speaker which can be set to generate white noise or sleep-inducing sounds such as gentle rainfall.
Every Polaris lounge we've seen to date never fails to impress, and this newest member of the family continues that trend. There's easily no better way to start your United Airlines flight, especially if you're looking to freshen up with a shower, enjoy a restaurant-grade meal and finish up with a cocktail before taking to the skies.
David Flynn travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of United Airlines.