So far, United has opened four of its flagship Polaris lounges: Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), New York / Newark (EWR), and Houston (IAH). We visited the Chicago lounge last year before it opened, and more recently we dropped by the one at SFO. Both were seriously impressive, with amenities like restaurant-style high-quality dining, showers, and nap rooms, with a dash of local inspiration. In short, everything we’ve seen from the Polaris lounges goes above and beyond. And we’re out to review the whole set.
Our next stop was the Newark lounge, which opened earlier this summer. Newark is United’s primary east coast hub and handles huge amounts of traffic, so a Polaris lounge here was a long time coming. We swung by on a Sunday morning and put the place through its paces. And between a delicious eggs Benedict and some relaxation with views of the ramp, we had a great time. Read on for tons of photos and an in-depth review — plus our analysis of how the place fits into United’s broader lounge landscape.
The Polaris lounge occupies what used to be Newark Terminal C’s largest United Club, just after security and between the C2 and C3 concourses. It’s open from 4:30AM to 10:30PM. The entrance is marked by a large sign that is hard to miss.
The lounge is new, and there’s still some passenger confusion about who has access to the Polaris lounge. The gist is that it’s only for travelers in United or its partners’ long-haul business or first class cabins. You can’t buy access if you don’t automatically qualify. The full fine print is:
“Customers in United Polaris first or business class may visit the lounge at departure, connecting or on arrival throughout their eligible same-day trip. Customers in first or business class on Star Alliance member airlines may access the United Polaris lounge at the departure airport for their long-haul international first or business class flight. Travelers booked in a first-class cabin may invite one guest to join them in the lounge.”
The ladies up front were all smiles, though they had their work cut out for them in turning away passengers who instead only had access to a standard United Club. More on this lounge’s effect on those passengers below.
The entrance featured a constellation-themed lighting fixture.
Just past the front desk was the first of many seating areas. This one was less secluded and probably only worth it for those planning on the quickest of stays.
The Newark Polaris lounge is a massive 27,000 square feet, with 455 seats and at least as many power outlets.
It also features a curated collection of art from local artists.
Near the front of the lounge, there are also a couple of spaces for phone calls or secluded work.
There’s a customer service desk within the lounge, separate from the front desk at the entrance.
Further inside the lounge, closer to the windows, there are a few rows of the signature Polaris lounge seats — individually enclosed seats with a small table, light, and power outlet.
It’s a simple but well designed seat for the individual traveler trying to get work done.
This part of the lounge has a great view of the ramp, which was buzzing with more widebody aircraft than I was expecting this early in the morning, and this far from the rush of PM transatlantic departures.
The lounge is big enough that the navigation aids on the walls were helpful — arguably necessary.
Showers & Nap Rooms
A “valet” sitting at the entrance to the shower section can help you find an open shower room, and can also arrange to have your clothes pressed while you freshen up.
I poked my head into one of the suites and found it stylish, clean, and well equipped with the basic amenities.
Restrooms are gender neutral and single occupancy.
In the same section of the lounge, there are ten “quiet suites.”
Each features an inclined sleeping surface, Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, a white noise machine, and some sleep amenities.
The concept is thoughtful, but the execution could use a touch more work. The daybeds are firm and curved in a way that may not be comfortable for everyone, and definitely isn’t the best for getting real sleep. Also there’s no curtain to block the light, so you end up feeling exposed and quite dependent on a sleep mask if you’re light-sensitive.
Personally I love the look of the Polaris lounge bars — especially the lit-from-below counter surfaces. The team working it didn’t have much to do at 8am, but were plenty friendly.
Here’s the full bar menu:
Boozehounds will note some unique items on the menu, like oolong-steeped spirits.
We’ve found food to be one of the other Polaris lounges’ strong suits. The Newark lounge is no exception.
If you’re in a hurry, there’s a wide selection of self-serve food that is enough to fill you up before a long-haul flight — something you can’t say about most U.S. airline lounges.
Of course it wouldn’t be a New York lounge without a wide selection of bagels and spreads.
Hot items included oatmeal, eggs, sausage, hash browns, and breakfast burritos.
The Dining Room
Where the Polaris lounge food scene really stands apart is the restaurant-style “Dining Room.” The 24 tables here have some of the best views of the ramp too.
Though the format is fancier than self-serve food, the price is still the same: free! A guy sitting near us asked the server for the check. Needless to say he was pleasantly surprised when his server told him the meal was on the house.
The menu features some locally inspired items that you won’t find at the other Polaris lounges, though much of the menu is consistent across Polaris lounges. The menus strike a good balance between not offering too many dishes (to help the kitchen keep moving quickly at peak times) while still covering the spectrum from light to heavy fare.
For breakfast, I gave the eggs Benedict a try. It came on top of a slice of grilled rye bread and a piece of smoked duck. It looked great and tasted even better.
I followed it up with a creme brûlée french toast, which came with berries, syrup, and an apple compote. It was a bit firm for french toast, but tasted amazing.
Any espresso drinks you order at the restaurant get the Polaris logo treatment.
A Word About the WiFi
Out of all the Polaris lounges, the one at Newark was an especially important one for United to get right. New York is a fiercely competitive market. And although United has invested a lot in terminal C, the airport in general doesn’t get a lot of love from New York flyers.
So given the expectations, how does the Newark Polaris lounge fare? Compared to the otherwise lackluster lounge scene from the U.S. carriers, I’d say it’s truly awesome. It may not be surprising that Skytrax recently rated the Chicago Polaris lounge as the best lounge in the U.S.
The biggest wins:
- The food scene is seriously to die for. It’s amazing for lounge food to make the jump from mixed nuts and snacks to restaurant-quality food. As a bonus, the food isn’t just tasty and well made, but it’s genuinely interesting and locally / seasonally inspired.
- Shower suites are a welcome sight after a long flight
- The place is ENORMOUS
- The design touches are beautiful
Areas for improvement are few and far in between. The quiet rooms would be more worthwhile if they were more secluded and conducive overall to getting real sleep. Maybe the biggest issue is that United must work to educate its customers on who has access to the Polaris lounges and who doesn’t. When we were checking in, a majority of people who walked in were turned away and told to go to a United Club because they weren’t flying long-haul business class. Some clear signage up front would go a long way in addressing that issue.
The place was nearly empty on the weekend morning we came by, but we hear it gets much busier before the evening bank of long-haul departures.
What about the rest of United’s lounges at Newark?
This is an important question for United’s customers in New York, because the Polaris lounge ate up what used to be the largest United Club in the terminal. As a reminder, the non-Polaris United Clubs are for passengers who have a UA Club membership, have one-time passes (like those from the Explorer card), are Star Alliance gold and flying internationally, on shorter international routes, and certain transcon flights. As of now, the only United Clubs in terminal C are the permanent one in concourse C1 and a “pop-up” in C3. From what we hear, both are bursting at the seams due to capacity issues, and may not be accepting one-time passes. Someone in the Polaris lounge mentioned to us that there’s a new pop-up Club in the works, which may help a bit, but probably won’t solve the crowding situation overnight.
United has its work cut out to make sure its regular Club customers don’t come away from Newark disappointed. It would be a nice touch if they offered meal vouchers for use at concourse restaurants as a voluntary alternative to the Clubs. Who knows, people might gladly accept a modest meal voucher instead of a crowded lounge. Or, since the Polaris lounge goes empty a lot of the time, we wonder if the airline could offer its highest-tier elites on domestic itineraries one-time access to the Polaris lounge. Besides relieving the crowds at the standard Clubs, it would help market the Polaris experience to non-Polaris travelers.
Bonus photos for the foodies: lunchtime!
We ended up sticking around the lounge for a while. Here’s some extra photos of the lunch spread.
Share your thoughts about the Polaris lounge at Newark in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!
Author disclosure: The airline facilitated our entry to the lounge for the purpose of this story.