This year I split my loyalty somewhat between United and American Airlines along with a handful of discount carriers for direct flights. As a result, I needed to make a status run and chose Hong Kong as my destination. To start that trip, I began at United’s new Polaris Lounge at San Francisco International Airport.
Matthew reviewed this lounge before I had a chance to go. In fact, he reviewed it twice. Why write a third review on the lounge? We are different people, different travelers and what’s more, we come from very different points of view. He is a lifelong United flyer, a fanboy (though not an apologist). I, on the other hand, am a new United 1K after my status match last year. My lens is different as are my expectations. After reading both of his reviews, I decided mine was still worthwhile, especially for those who are considering United as an outsider.
This post is part of a trip report series:
- Mileage Running May Be Dead, Status Running Still Alive
- United’s Polaris Lounge San Francisco
- Polaris Business Class Service San Francisco to Hong Kong
- Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui – Suite
- Hyatt Regency Sha Tin – Suite
- Shenzhen Day Trip
- Too Much Traveling
- Singapore’s Bad Hong Kong lounge
- ANA Business Class Hong Kong Tokyo
- ANA Haneda Lounge Review
- ANA Business Class Tokyo-Haneda to Chicago O’Hare
At the beginning of the International Terminal, the lounge is just past the entrance to the 90-100-level gates in Terminal G. It’s tucked back in a corner opposite of the Gucci store.
The Polaris service is worthy of a branded name. It starts with the lounge and in San Francisco, the Polaris lounge exceeds expectations. Sure, there are nicer lounges. If you want to connect in Istanbul, the Turkish lounge is fantastic – just don’t leave the airport if you get stuck due to cancelations. If you want to connect in the middle east, Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad have ridiculous options that put most others to shame. Cathay Pacific so perfectly executes The Wing that they too are in an exalted class. But from there, the drop off is dramatic. American Express Centurion lounges have really excelled in the places where US carriers have abandoned innovation. The Polaris lounge is better than the American Express lounge, less crowded and remarkably well-executed.
Beginning your trip in the Polaris lounge gives the sense of a premium experience to United’s customers. Check-in was a breeze, but busy. I stood in a brief line while many more lined up behind me. Up the escalator to the main dining area (downstairs is home to quiet spaces with large chairs and wrap around wood panels for privacy) the level is split. To the right side of the lounge are more chairs intended for those who are snacking and waiting for their flight as opposed to focused on working, phone calls or dining. Progressing back to a second segment of the lounge, the area opens to a bar, a dining area, and a buffet.
Looking at the buffet, I was surprised and impressed. The food looked on par with what you would find in the American Express Centurion lounge, the gold standard for US-based lounges. The spread included a few desserts, cold and hot buffet items and was frequently attended by staff. I have included some, but feel free to check out Matthew’s posts which have more detailed photos from his experience.
Continue back past the buffet, however, and you’ll find the restaurant. Seating for about 30 awaits with large family style tables as well as two and four top tables in both booth and standalone.
Outlets are everywhere and feature a pair of USB plugs as well as two standard power outlets. One odd note, the outlets featured an odd arrangement for the standard plugs that really reduced the plugs from two to one. I think there was probably a clever reason for offsetting them as they did, and maybe for simple plugs that make sense. But for larger chargers, even something as small as an iPad 5W charger, there would be no way to use them both and while I think they aimed to make the outlets more useful, in fact, they have done the opposite. What’s particularly odd is that there was side-by-side USB chargers instead of stacked vertically. They had a chance for a better practical solution but went in another direction.
When I said “restaurant”, I meant it. It featured a host, menu, server and the food was restaurant quality. I should have gone with something a bit more adventurous. The Asian dishes looked really well done but I was heading to Hong Kong and it was presumably my last excusable burger for a week and like a sucker, I took the bait.
The food came out quickly (about 10 minutes), my drink took almost as long to arrive. My one complaint about the meal was that I was asked for a temperature, I requested Medium. The burger was well done (as in fully cooked). I am not going to whine about this too long, but I would say that if you’re going to bother to ask customers the temperature, you should deliver on that task – or just not ask. I would have been okay with that too.
The food was really very good and while starters and dessert were on offer, I just didn’t have the time and wasn’t that hungry having just come off a trans-con flight. I may or may not have swiped a cannoli from the buffet.
Had I known that the lounge was going to be as well executed as it was, I would have arrived earlier and stayed later (my flight boarded late because Asia flights always do). If SFO was my home airport, I could see myself leaving work early to get to the airport well ahead of my flight because the lounge was just that good. There are shower suites if you are flying overnight to Europe, quiet areas if you need to work in peace, communal areas if you need to be on the phone or talk to colleagues. I would love to have tried everything on the menu and been able to report back but there didn’t appear to be an unhappy customer in the lounge.
Most importantly, it’s an about-face from the United Clubs throughout the rest of the country. It shows where the brand is headed and why they felt so strongly about branding it specifically. Roll out does need to increase because (to its detriment) it really shows the disparity between what United is capable of, and what they expect customers to settle for, and that disappoints me some.
Have you tried a true Polaris lounge? What was your experience?