Here in 2018, we know two things about United’s new premium Polaris product. First, from what we’ve seen of it, it’s pretty awesome. Second, we haven’t actually seen that much of it. Seriously, the rollout has taken its sweet time! In the friendly skies, most of United’s long-haul fleet is still flying the pre-Polaris product. And on the ground, the Chicago Polaris lounge — which is amazing, by the way — has been the lone lounge of its kind for over a year.
That is, until now! At long last, United opened its second Polaris lounge at its San Francisco International Airport hub. We got the chance to swing by shortly after it opened, and it turns out the place was well worth the wait. Read on for an in-depth photo tour of United’s second-ever Polaris lounge, from dining and drinks to shower rooms and aircraft views.
SFO’s Polaris lounge is located just after security in the G concourse of the international terminal, which hosts United and most of its international Star Alliance partners. For those familiar with SFO, the Polaris lounge occupies the space formerly held by the United Club, PLUS the old Singapore Airlines and EVA Air lounges, PLUS some extra space that wasn’t being utilized before. The end result is a 28,000 square foot behemoth that United hopes will be able to handle swarms of travelers with ease. That’s good news, since the Polaris lounge in Chicago has been struggling with severe crowding issues.
A banner at the entrance outlines the basics of Polaris lounge access.
Polaris lounges are pretty exclusive. Specifically, they’re limited to:
- Polaris business class and first class passengers (first classers get to bring a guest).
- Star Alliance long-haul international passengers in first or business class (again, first classers get to bring a guest).
If you have Star Alliance status or any of the criteria for United lounge access other than the ones above, you’ll be directed to the regular United Club farther down the G concourse, which was formerly the Global First lounge.
The entry desk and corridor are decked out in marble.
The lounge spans two levels, with passengers entering on the lower of the two. Most of the seating is on the upper floor. Each section has a catchy title, and the lower floor features the “library.”
Note the Polaris star-shaped design of the drinks counter. Cool touch!
Beyond the library, flyers can find the “valet,” guardian and protector of the shower rooms and nap spaces.
Just like in the Chicago Polaris lounge, the shower hallway here sports a starry-sky ceiling.
The eight shower rooms are large, tastefully decorated, and well stocked with Cowshed amenities. The shampoo and soap in the shower is from a dispenser rather than individual bottles.
Adjoining the shower section is a hallway with five bookable daybeds. They’re comfortable for a moment’s rest, but the shape of the furniture isn’t particularly conducive to sleeping. The fact that the beds face a bright window doesn’t help either.
The majority of the lounge’s 440 seats, along with all the food, is up on the second level.
The lounge’s enormous scale is clear once you hit the top of the escalators.
At one end, close to where the bar used to be in the old United Club, there’s a space called the studio. The tentative plan is to use it as an event space, for wine tastings and the like.
The entire length of the lounge fronts windows with an amazing view high over the ramp. While you don’t get a great view of the runways themselves, you can see departing heavies ascend over Terminal 3. As an added bonus, I found a spotting scope by one of the windows.
Near the center of the second floor there are a few workrooms if you need privacy to make a phone call.
Across from those rooms is the traveler assistance desk.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the lounge’s excellent decor. A number of the art pieces here are apparently on loan from SF MOMA‘s collection.
The style factor goes turbo at the lounge’s centerpiece bar, which looks all sorts of cool. And with a countertop lit from below, I’m guessing it looks even better at night.
The SF drink list features cocktails that were invented in California: pisco punch and the mai tai. The rest of the list ain’t bad, either. Personally I’d probably go for the Paper Plane. Mostly because of the name.
Last but not least, all things food-related can be found at the furthest corner of the lounge. There’s a huge range of self-serve items…
… from a DIY noodle bar …
… to more hefty items like chicken scallopini.
On the snackier side, there are cute mini-cups of Cobb salad:
A sushi bar:
And a mouth-watering lineup of desserts, including matcha green tea cannoli.
But the Polaris lounge’s real crowning jewel — probably the single feature that does most to set it apart from the pack — is the full service restaurant. It’s called “the dining room.”
The menu looked impressive, though unfortunately I didn’t have time to try anything for myself.
The Final Verdict
I’ll be honest: coming into 2018, I was feeling pretty frustrated at how long United was taking to open the Polaris lounge in San Francisco. But having finally seen the result, I’d say that the wait was worth it. As U.S. legacy airline lounges go, United’s Polaris lounges are a complete game changer. I’d actually go out of my way to get to the airport early just to hang out at the San Francisco Polaris lounge for a while.
Here’s my rundown of the biggest positive factors:
- The place is ENORMOUS. I can’t imagine that overcrowding will be a major problem.
- I absolutely love the design touches, from the furniture and lighting down to the design of the printed menus.
- Showers and places to nap go a long way in making long layovers more relaxing and refreshing.
- The food scene is best-in-class, especially with full service restaurant-style dining available.
My gripes about the place are few and far in between. The food is in the farthest corner of the lounge, so the lounge isn’t great for grabbing a snack to go. Also, the nap rooms face a bright window, which may not make for the best sleep experience.
More Polaris Lounges To Come
Luckily for us, Polaris lounges will start opening at a faster pace. This week, Newark Liberty (EWR) gets a Polaris lounge of its own — one just as large as the SFO lounge. Houston opens on July 29th, and LAX in the fall. Polaris lounges are also in progress at Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, London Heathrow, and Hong Kong, though there’s no official word on when they’ll open.
Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Is this a lounge you’d make time to visit? Have you been to any of United’s Polaris lounges, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.