Tried & Tested

Lounge review: United Polaris Lounge, San Francisco International

6 Sep 2018 by Craig Bright
United Polaris lounge at SFO

Background

United Airlines opened its second new Polaris Lounge on April 30 this year at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – part of the airline’s comprehensive Polaris business class rollout that began in December 2016 and encompasses new lounges and business class seat products.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

Where is it?

The lounge is located immediately after the security checkpoint at G Terminal near Gate G93, tucked away behind the large Gucci store just to the right, meaning it can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Fortunately, United’s check-in staff is good at providing directions unprompted, so it should be on your mind.

Who can access?

United Polaris business class passengers as well as passengers flying long-haul international on a Star Alliance member airline flight in business class can access the lounge, but can’t bring any guests. United Polaris first class passengers and travellers flying first class on an international long-haul flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier can each bring one guest.

United does have a different United Club lounge at SFO further towards gates 98 and 100 that is available to all business class passengers.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

What’s it like?

Huge. At just over 28,120 sqft (2,612sqm), the lounge covers two floors comprising a quieter, more work-orientated space on the first floor and a larger social and dining space on the upper floor.

The overall décor of the lounge is immediately a noticeable improvement over the regular United Club lounges, and the space’s more design-centric focus is plain to see with creative lighting fixtures, a soft grey and navy blue colour scheme and the occasional white and grey marble walls. Combined with the great variety of furniture on offer and the phenomenal amount of natural light that comes through during the day and this is a genuinely pleasant lounge to spend time in.

When it comes to seating, first a few quick figures. The lounge has space to seat some 440 people in total and has been outfitted with 19 different types of seats. This may not sound that interesting on paper, however the actual variety of seating that is available to you when you enter the lounge is truly impressive.

And when United says there are 19 different types of seating across the 440 total, it should actually add that there is a quite an even distribution of these varieties. On two separate occasions I was allowed access to the lounge on a recent trip through SFO – both at similar times but on different days of the week – and on both occasions I never found myself unable to find a particular seat of my choosing, even when the place felt as though it was heaving with guests.

Most are variances of a simple armchair or table and chairs set up with USB and power points liberally available at practically all seats. However if you’re looking to work, the small cubicles are by far your best shot. These offer shoulder-height walls, a small desk and a comfortable armchair from which to work, alongside a quaint wall light for added illumination (though during my daytime stays the abundance of natural light filtering in made this unnecessary).

As mentioned, the bottom floor is more work-focused and a good number of these cubicles can be found here, though at the end of the space on the bottom floor are a number of relaxation areas, including shower suites, quiet suites and a wellness room.

Up the escalators on the upper floor is where most of the action is. Take a left here past the elevators and flight information screen and you’ll get a similarly work-focused area…

United Polaris Lounge SFO

… though here there are desks with computers and a small room behind a glass door that offers private work cubicles.

Walk further in and you’ll pass more casual sofa seating, tables and chairs before hitting The Studio – a sort of lounge-within-a-lounge that has its own small food bar and plenty of seating (this was quiet and under-utilised during my visit, making it a good alternative for working or having informal business gatherings).

United Polaris Lounge SFO

At the other end of the top floor you’ll find more of the F&B offerings and the bulk of the seating. This includes a manned bar with up to three bar staff, all of whom were incredibly friendly and generous with their serving. This being the US, it’s worth remembering that tipping bar staff at a lounge is the custom, though the quality of service makes this feel warranted rather than mandatory. If you’re unsure of how much to offer, I find a reasonable metric is US$1 for simple alcoholic beverages and US$2 for more complicated cocktails.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

Further in is yet more casual seating followed the buffet area, by far the liveliest parts of the lounge and the only areas where guests may find seating to be an issue. While there are coffee and tea making facilities on hand here, I’d recommend getting a fresh cup brewed at the bar by a member of the bar staff.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

The buffet selection is decent – think a few cooked dishes, pastries and some Asian bites – though a better feed is to be had just beyond in The Dining Room.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

This is a proper table service experience with staff that seat you at a table and a menu that changes throughout the day and has both large and small bites.

Knowing that I’d be eating on the flight (and having raided the buffet already), I opted for a rather Spartan meal of just a spicy fish cake, though it was easily the best dish I had at the lounge. The menu also comes with a series of wine pairing suggestions and craft beer options.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

Food was delivered promptly within five minutes – admittedly the fish cake is only a small bite – so even if you’re pressed for time you should still consider heading inside, though seating is limited.

Verdict

United has created a thoroughly pleasant space with the new Polaris Lounge, with the F&B service, ample working spaces and sheer breadth of seating options all being definite highlights. While this space can get quite busy, guests likely will be hard pressed to find themselves without a decent place to take a seat in this vast lounge.

Fast facts

Opening hours 06:30-01:00 daily
Location San Francisco International Airport (SFO), International Terminal, across from G Terminal security checkpoint near Gate G93.

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