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.