It is hard to believe that United Airlines Polaris Lounge at San Francisco (SFO) has now been open for five years. Here’s an updated review of United’s flagship SFO lounge. In short, this business class lounge has held up quite well and remains a treat…though you will need to give yourself a lot of time should you wish to enjoy a meal at the restaurant.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Review
This review encompasses three recent visits to the lounge as recently as earlier this month.
Access + Hours + Location
You’ll find the lounge in International Terminal G. If coming from Terminal 3, proceed down the hallway (past the American Express Centurion Lounge) and then up the escalator. The lounge is on your left. It is open daily from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm.
To access this lounge, you will need to a same-day longhaul business class ticket on a Star Alliance carrier departing from SFO. The exception to the rule is for United Polaris Business Class passengers, who can enjoy this lounge if connecting or upon arrival as part of their same-day United-operated Polaris itinerary.
Perhaps an example will best illustrate this. If you are traveling from Frankfurt to San Francisco to Los Angeles on United Airlines with the Frankfurt – San Francisco flight in Polaris, you will have Polaris Lounge access in both San Francisco and upon arrival in Los Angeles. If you are traveling in Lufthansa Business Class (or First Class) from Frankfurt to San Francisco then connecting in United First to Los Angeles, you will not have access in either city.
If you are traveling the opposite direction, you would have access at both LAX and SFO if traveling on United but only SFO if traveling on Lufthansa.
Have I confused you?! 😉
The layout of the lounge has not changed. Your credentials are scanned at the entrance and you can head upstairs to the main lounge or remain downstairs which always tends to be quiet. In fact, during my last visit it was empty downstairs:
Upstairs (accessible via escalator and elevator) you can turn left toward seating or right toward the bar, buffet, and restaurant.
Turning left you will pass some phone rooms intended for phone calls, a flight help desk, and then a long booth wtih tables and chairs on one side and more chairs on the other side.
Beyond that is another large room with a Polaris-shaped couch and more seating. In this space is also another food and drink area with self-stable snacks and whole fruit (this used to be a sushi bar, so this represents a cutback).
On the other side there is seating around the bar and the buffet with the restaurant on the far side of the lounge.
Restrooms + Showers
All restrooms are gender neutral private stalls. You will find restrooms downstairs and on both sides of the lounge upstairs.
Shower suites are available upon request.
Food + Drink
Food and drink options in the SFO Polaris Lounge include a bar, buffet, and sit-down restaurant with an a la carte menu.
The bar includes a collection of cocktails, beer, wine, and spirts. All drinks are complimentary and tipping is not compulsory, but based upon the large tip jar on the counter, I suppose is expected (sadly).
I enjoyed a Paper Plane cocktail (and tipped $1).
Compared to the LAX Polaris Lounge, the buffet is much larger at SFO, at least in the afternoon and evenings, with hot foods including:
- salad bar
- charticeterure board
- ginger lemongrass ramen bowl
- brown basmati rice
- Dakjjim Korean braised chicken
- roasted broccoli and cauliflower
- whole fruit
Restaurant (The Dining Room)
My favorite part of the lounge (at least in theory) is The Dining Room, which offers restaurant-style a la carte dining. The dining room is small and there is often a wait for a table. When busy, you’ll need to put your name down wtih the hostess, who will send a text message when your table is available.
Here is the current menu:
This was last quarter’s menu (menus rotate quarterly):
I had a feast during one recent visit. It began with a Mediterranean salad (baby gem lettuce, garbanzo beans, cucumber, olives, and red onion dressed in a lemon-herb vinaigrette).
Next I had cauliflower soup with sunflower seeds, raisins, and turmeric:
Then pan-seared Pacific rock cod, served with Swiss chard and fingerling potatoes:
Then a cheese board (blue cheese with blackberry jam):
Finally, a warm fig-tart almond and a chocolate chip cookie skillet wtih vanilla ice cream for dessert.
I’m thankful my metabolism is fast or else I’d blimp out quickly.
The Polaris Burger is also recommended:
On my last visit I tried the lamb kebab, which was very small, but delicious:
A sour note on service. During my last visit I ordered the lamb (above) and a burger. But 30 minutes later and the burger did not show up (despite others who ordered after me receiving their food before me). Turns out the waiter had forgot to put my order in…and then admonished me for not leaving enough time to eat when I had to go. It amazes me how that happens when the staff uses iPads to place orders.
Overall, though, I appreciate the quality and presentation of the food and for even the ability to sit down in a restaurant in a business class lounge.
One other note: the barista-made illy coffee is recommended. It’s a great way this lounge distinguishes itself from AA’s Flagship Lounges, which are great overall, but offer horrible La Colombe machine-dispensed coffee.
Daybeds are available on a first-come, first-served basis if you want to snooze between flights.
United’s SFO Polaris Lounge has held up well and I quite enjoy visiting it. This lounge (and United’s whole network of Polaris Lounges) is a true value-add to choosing United or Star Alliance for your longhaul business class flight. Do allow plenty of time if visiting the restaurant because there is often a wait for a table and the service is slow.
My original comprehensive review, published on April 27, 2018, is below (and still largely on-point).
The beautiful new United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco offers immense space and superb amenities that places it in contention for the best airline lounge in the United States.
This 28K square foot lounge can accommodate 442 guests at a time, offering sufficient capacity for even the busiest times of day. Join me on my photo tour, highlighting every square inch of United’s largest and most luxurious lounge.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Access
Access is reserved for longhaul business class passengers on United or a Star Alliance partner. Access is not permitted to Global Services or Star Alliance Gold members traveling in economy class.
As you enter the lounge, your boarding pass will be verified by lounge agents.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Seating
Spread over two floors, the new Polaris Lounge has 440 seats seats, including 19 different seating types.
On the first floor, you’ll find a large seating area that has a library-like feel.
Outlets at each seat:
Take the escalator upstairs and you can turn left or right for ample more seating.
On the left in the picture above is a help desk if rebooking or other travel arrangements are needed.
My favorite seating area is upstairs on the far left side called “The Studio”: I love the telescope and vintage plane model. I also love the couch and lighting. It’s just my style.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Work Rooms
Four work rooms are available on the second floor. Ideal for phone calls, the small offices have closing glass doors and plugs for your USB and larger devices.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Shower Suites
Downstairs past the seating are eight shower suites. An attendant will escort you to a shower suite or quite suite based upon preference. Should there be a wait, you can add yourself to a waitlist. The goal of this lounge, however, is for minimal wait times.
The hallway to the showers is lit like a constellation of stars, befitting of the Polaris name. Each suite is spacious, offering not just a toilet, sink, and shower, but some space to move around or re-pack bags.
Cowshed Spa products from Soho House & Co are available.
The towels and even the floor mat are Saks Fifth Avenue branded with United tags…look for those to disappear. The towels are plush…I hope they hold up well over time.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Restrooms
The first floor features one bank of restrooms while the second floor features two. All restrooms are private and gender neutral.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Quiet Suites (Sleeping Rooms)
Adjacent to the showers is a rest area with four relaxation rooms. Each has a pre-reclined chair that is nearly flat along with amenities like a cooling gel memory pillow, blanket, and eyeshade. Also on the nightstand: an alarm clock so you don’t miss your flight that will also charge your mobile phone. The suites do not have doors.
Blackout curtains will soon be added in order to darken this space.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Buffet + Noodle Bar
With the exception of a small beverage station with light snacks, all of the food and drink is found upstairs.
Downstairs snack/drink station:
Upstairs, a large buffet will offer both hot and cold items from around the world. A noodle bar will also be available.
United Polaris Lounge SFO A La Carte Dining
The dining room is beautiful and resembles a fine restaurant (arguably, I suppose, it is a fine restaurant). The 16 tables will accommodate up to 40 people at a time.
The a la carte menu offers traditional favorites like the Polaris Burger but also menu options specific to San Francisco like cioppino.
I love the place settings and menu cover.
There’s even power and USB ports at each table so you can charge your devices while eating.
Here’s the a la carte menu:
I highly recommend the Tiramisu espresso cup!
United Polaris Lounge SFO Sushi Bar
On the other side of the second floor, the Polaris Lounge will offer fresh sushi.
Adjacent to the sushi is a wine bar (same wine as in the bar and dining room):
Behind it, soft drinks, light snacks, and cookies.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Bar
A well-stocked bar offers a wide selection of alcoholic drinks including wine, beer, and cocktails. 50% of the wines are from California.
Some of you may remember Mike from the American Express Centurion Lounge and more recently the American Airlines’ lounge at SFO. He has now been recruited by United and you can find him at the Polaris Bar. I enjoyed speaking to him.
But a friendly young man named Elmer made me both a Mai Tai (which originated in California, not Hawaii) and cappuccino. He’s a pro too. Indeed, the Mai Tai was delicious.
Here’s the full beverage menu:
United Polaris Lounge SFO Coffee + Barista Bar
More important to me than the alcohol was the coffee and the lounge has a great new Italian coffee machine with barista-made illy coffee. My cappuccino was excellent.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Tarmac/Apron Views
Finally, it merits mentioning that the lounge also has excellent views of the tarmac from both floors:
The lounge is open daily from 6:30am to
1:00am 10:30pm and is located across from the Gucci store in the international terminal (G). It’s an excellent lounge that represents a substantial investment in United’s premium product and commitment to San Francisco. I look forward to returning as a passenger, hopefully in the near future. Lastly, I must give credit to United for not skimping: this lounge did not cut corners.
This really isn’t an honest review as the lounge is not open yet. One of the most important factors when I visit a lounge how busy it is. Obviously you had an amazing experience with the staff to guest ratio, but would you opinions still be the same if the lounge is at capacity?
Hi Mo, This review is primarily about the facilities. I did not even talk about the service beyond the bartender. I’m sure the service dynamic will be different when the lounge has a couple hundred people in it, but the facilities and amenities will be unchanged.
I respectfully disagree. The showers and other amenities will be changed if you have to wait for them. I will not be visiting this lounge until later this year and I like to search for lounge reviews prior to visiting (as I would any lounge for the first time). If I stumbled upon this review when searching I would have assumed there are plenty of seating, bar looks stocked, and the sushi looks fresh and I would adjust my schedule accordingly. Sorry, but this article is a preview, not a review.
What makes you think there will not be plenty of seating, a fully-stocked bar, and fresh sushi when you are there? This is what United is promising and this is why they made the lounge so huge–to avoid the overcrowding issues that have plagued Chicago.
“This is what United is promising…” Sorry, I stopped reading after that.
To your detriment.
You are one of those pathetic people that will never be satisfied with anything no matter how hard people try. Why don’t you just go sit on the tarmac and wait for your flight?
Mo: try this one:
I am a 1K and found this lounge severely lacking. It was crowded and the service less than memorable. I tried to get my wife and I a drink at the bar and was ignored by the venerable “Elmer” who waited on a gentleman behind me for a beer and a woman next to me. I protested that I was waiting in line and “Elmer” stated that “Ladies are first”. That is not an ideology with which I disagree, but to be fair, I was waiting in line and “Elmer” ignored me. To me, the SFO and other lounges are not all that great — they are crowded. Forget about having a seated dinner — you will have to have at least 2 hours of layover to make it work.
@Matthew: thanks for the pics. It looks awesome.
Since this lounge is open only to those actually traveling in business class and economy, in theory this should be less crowded than the mad houses of the current Untied Lounges?
It absolutely should be. I will be very disappointed if this lounge gets so crowded people cannot find a seat. I don’t expect that to happen.
It always amazes me how stretched 757-300s look (in your third to last picture)!
Matthew, great post. Thanks very much. Have a wonderful weekend.
The photos this time are much better than your last post. I can see why you now say it is stunning. It does look very nice in brand new condition.
Not to be cynical, but if it gets used as much as it most likely will, and United maintains it the way they usually maintain things, then sadly it won’t be so nice in a few years. The combination of mediocre maintenance and the many inconsiderate travelers out there will wear down this beautiful lounge in no time.
Is there any way to reserve a table in the dining room?
Athe quiet suites for a limited amount of time? Seems if there is no attendent monitoring these that people would be coming into your suite constantly to see if it’s available since there are only 4 for the 400 people that could be in the lounge.
No way to reserve a table, but there is an attendant desk for the suites and showers.
Is there any official word yet on whether AC J pax will be allowed into this lounge?
“Access is reserved for longhaul business class passengers on United or a Star Alliance partner. Access is not permitted to Global Services or Star Alliance Gold members traveling in economy class.”
Survey says ‘yes’
FYI, no menu covers at today’s soft opening.
They are aware that they’re going to have to do something to manage people wanting to eat in the a la carte dining area, and they’re working on it.
Tons of management there today taking lots of notes based on comments people were giving them.
I thought this looked a whole lot like a CX lounge in HKG, and that was even before I read about the noodle bar. That’s’ not a bad thing at all as HKG is always pleasant. Nice work, UA. I’m eager to check this place out.
Matthew, thank you for the thorough description of the new lounge. I still appreciate that at least one of the major bloggers is a UA fan!
One thing, though. Re the showers, you wrote “The goal of this lounge, however, is for minimal wait times.” How? How is UA going to minimize wait times for the showers? Timers like Emirates on-board showers? Properly staffed so rooms get refreshed immediately?
I tend to agree with @Jay, once this lounge actually starts being used it will turn into a cesspool unless UA has the right staff and right maintenance routines in place. History isn’t on their side.
I don’t know. I never wait too long at AMEX lounge when they have one lounge for 200+ people. This lounge will have eight showers. It shouldn’t be too bad.
Matthew, thank you for the comprehensive review and bounty of pictures. I am keeping my fingers crossed that United will be be able to maintain the experience with what is guaranteed to be heavy use on a daily basis. I am a big fan of the GFL in LHR, but traffic is comparatively light, the atmosphere calming and attention to individual patrons very high–potentially a very different situation from SFO. I am pulling for this to be a success for UAL since it will be high profile and should incorporate lessons learned from ORD (and I hope to use it as well!)
Outstanding look at the new lounge, thank you. The hard product looks great, but, as others have suggested, United will probably fail in the service area. In the United States today, service is never king, because it requires hiring additional people, and companies just don’t want to do that. In the United Clubs an important measure of service is how long it takes attendants to remove used food items from tables, and it generally takes a long time. Unfortunately, many of us suspect the same thing will happen in the Polaris Lounge. I hope we are wrong.
Are the drinks and ala carte options complimentary, or will it be like other domestic United clubs where they have limited complimentary options and you pay for the good stuff?
Will you be able to visit as an arriving passenger from a long haul business class, or only as a departing pax? I was denied entry to the temp First Class lounge in SFO as an arriving business class pax back in March.
If you are arriving from a longhaul business or first class flight, you will have access.
Great photos! All I can say is Wow – looks even better than the Chicago lounge. I will definitely be getting to the airport a bit earlier for my TATL and TPAC flights.
I don’t see how you will get access on arrival because all arrivals go straight to immigration without passing Go (or this lounge). And then you would have to get a gate pass and re-clear security. Not that it couldn’t be done, but makes no sense when there is a perfectly decent arrivals lounge. So even if possible the only arrivals that would use it are transit passengers, and even then most would have flights departing from T-3. So the shower traffic will be minimal.
I predict that it will not be as crowded as the old lounge, because NO access for the *G and UA Explorer types. Also much larger being spread over 2 floors.
I guess some people are never happy………This lounge looks fabulous very similar to the United Club at London’s Heathrow Term 2 (incredible food/drinks selection) …… With the addition of a sit down restaurant it’s on the same level as Lufthansa First Class lounges at JFK and FRA. I can attest to this since I’ve been in both. Bravo United you have set the bar for all the other american airlines now where almost nothing is offered!!
Can you bring a guest if you are Polaris and your guest is not?
That’s not correct unless you are a first-class passenger. You can’t bring a guest to the Polaris lounge as a business class passenger. https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/airport/lounge/access.aspx
Wrong. Please check your resources, as below.
I’ve corrected my comment above.
I booked an award flight from LAX to LHR on a business class Star Alliance itinerary. I am planning on booking a separate (cash) ticket on United from SFO to LAX on the same-day. Would I receive access to the lounge?
Are you flying from LAX to LHR on Air New Zealand or United?
Air New Zealand. I don’t think I have access because it’s not a polaris flight, but just out of curiosity, if I had booked a polaris flight from LAX to LHR, and I booked a separate United ticket (economy) from SFO to LAX, would I have access?
We have a 14+ hr. wait before our NZ flight. Arrive at 8a and leave at 10:45p. Can you go in & out or once in that’s it? We’d like to grab a bite before going to the Japanese gardens then back to Polaris to chill before the long haul.
No problem! Enjoy both visits to the lounge.
Um, Elmer ignored my waiting for a drink to serve someone behind me with a beer. He then asked a woman next to me what she wanted who arrived after me. I protested and he said “Ladies first”. Okay so Elmer does not consider a line for a drink at his bar. Good job United. Elmer is not a mode you want to push.
we are riving on monday from Australia business class then transferring to go to medford OR business class. can we us the international lounge while we wait?
Yes you can. Enjoy your visit!
Great review as always! Although I haven’t yet visited this lounge (hopefully soon!), I was a bit surprised to hear that this lounge closes at 10:30 PM. If you are on NH107 (SFO-HND), you are pretty much out of luck for lounges, as the UC also closes at 10:30. Instead, they provide a food voucher. But, I assume if you are on UA96 (BNE) or 805 (ICN), you’re probably out of luck. There are also some other flights on BR (27 and 17), and OZ211.
Also, the service you received at the restaurant is a bit shocking. The fact that the waiter took it out on you yet you did nothing wrong is pretty terrible if you ask me.
Service was bad in the restaurant – I was so disappointed.
As a waiter in my teenage years and early 20s, there is certainly no worse feeling than forgetting to put an order in. Server nightmares are real and I still get them–that I have too many tables and everyone needs something and you can’t get to anyone–the worst. On the surface though the service didn’t seem that terrible as you didn’t include dialog which could have made it sound worse, depending.
Really nice. Now just need the onboard product to match.
This lounge (like the other Polaris lounges) is showing its age. In your own photos there are multiple seats with rips and tears. United will let it deteriorate like they have the in-flight catering and service. Polaris is a joke. I was GS for many years and have moved 90% of my flying away from UA because the definition of premium is akin to a bus.
@Anthony, glad someone else mentioned it. At first glance, it looks nice for a busy 5-year-old lounge. But they definitely need to spend money on maintenance. The rips and tears are just the tip of the iceberg. :-\ On my last visit, the elevators were out of service the entire time I was there. I think they have two, but both were being worked on.
It’s all an expense, not directly generating meaningful revenue, everything being billed to someones cost center..including maintenance. Hopefully will get the the budget right to get it right as it’s an ongoing investment but an important one.
I did notice the leather chair rip but still a very nice lounge
Totally fair point about the rips in the chairs. I did not even notice them!
I was there last month, and also noticed all the rips in the leather chairs. I was really surprised to see this. I get it is busy, but so are the other ones and I haven’t seen this at any of the other lounges.
Hope they fix these soon.
The buffet is also a lot worse than it was before the pandemic. The restaurant is the real star for food, but if you have bad service and a wait like you experienced that is a real bummer…
Does anyone know why US lounges including this one don’t have lockers? They expect us to drag them along everywhere I go, or?
I can see some people leave their suitcases, in precious spots like quiet suites, more than if they had lockers.
The restaurant experience last year was underwhelming: many of them weren’t hot and fresh anymore. My server didn’t come back to make sure everything was fine. Is that what happens in US when tipping isn’t expected? With service like that, of course I left no tips.