SAN FRANCISCO — To the eager anticipation of flyers everywhere, United Airlines unveiled its second Polaris lounge in San Francisco (SFO). It was a long time coming. After United opened its first Polaris lounge at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) in December 2016, the airline had planned to open Polaris lounges at all its domestic hubs by 2017.
A victim of its own success, the ORD Polaris lounge was wildly popular and became overcrowded. The airline had to go back to the drawing board and make design changes. At the lounge preview event in SFO, United CEO Oscar Munoz told Airways, “(the Polaris lounge) has been a long time a coming. We like to get this right. O’Hare has been incredibly successful, popular – too popular – we had to renovate and extend.”
Incorporating lessons learned, SFO is twice the size of ORD. According to Mark Krolick, United’s Vice President of Marketing, the SFO lounge is the largest Polaris lounge in the United network, at 440 seats, 28,120 square feet spanning two levels.
United calls Polaris a “reimagined international premium travel experience”. With the emphasis on sleep enhancement, the concept is to have a seamless, consistent travel experience from the lounge to landing.
According to the United Polaris tracking website, 87 aircraft (777-200, 777-300ER, and 767-300) are to feature Polaris seating. At the time of writing, only 22 aircraft have the new cabin. This led to customer complaints of inconsistency.
Mr. Munoz remarked, “we had to ask for a lot of patience from our customers from the last months…(because) we have a lot of aircraft and it takes a long time to do these things”. He reminded everyone that when lie-flat seats were first rolled out, it took 5 to 6 years. The good news – the pipeline is finally open. On average, United expects one new Polaris cabin aircraft to be delivered every 10 days over the next 3 years (to 2020).
The design of the SFO Polaris lounge incorporates elements from California throughout. This reflects the importance of SFO for United.
Janet Lamkin, United’s President for California proclaimed United as “California’s global airline”, having most destinations from the San Francisco Bay Area than any other airline with 40,000 seats available per day, four times more than its competitors.
Recognizing prominent Bay Area artists – SFO Polaris lounge features eight art pieces by artists who are all honorees of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Art Award.
The lounge offers multiple dining options: a bistro-like seasonal buffet featuring local and global favorites, a ramen noodle bar, a sushi station, and restaurant style sit-down dining –available to all Business Class passengers.
“The Dining Room”, a 16 table private dining area, allows passengers to enjoy a full meal before the flight in order to maximize sleep on board. In keeping with the local theme, the menu is designed by California native Chef Tritia Gestuvo. Of course, famous staples like the United Polaris Burger is still offered.
Finally, “The Studio” is a dedicated space that can be used for seasonal events such as cooking demonstrations or wine tasting.
One of the most popular areas in the lounge is the bar. 50% of the wine are California labels. The bar offers two local “signature drinks” – Mai Tai and Pisco Punch, both invented in the Bay Area.
For those of us that enjoy watching planes, designers took advantage of the lounge’s unique vantage point over the ramp, with strategically placed seating and binoculars.
The Polaris design theme and branded experience found throughout the lounge carries on board the aircraft. An example is the signature workspace seats created by the same industrial designer as the aircraft seat. Note food serving table in the shape of the Polaris logo.
There are eight large shower suites, stocked with Soho House & Co’s Cowshed Spa toiletries, just like those found on board. There is enough space in each shower suite to move around and store one’s belongings.
Located in a quiet area behind the shower suites are five private daybeds. They are stocked with Saks Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, like those found on board.
Both the shower and daybeds can be booked with the concierge upon entering the lounge.
Moving on board the aircraft, United showed off a recently-converted 777-200 (tail number N786UA – so far the only converted 777-200). As expected, the same Polaris Business Class seats (and 2-2-2 configuration) as its brand new 777-300ER stablemate was found throughout.
Starting in July, the popular cooling gel pillow will be provisioned as part of the standard amenity. Pajamas and mattress pads remain by-request on 12-hour or longer flights.
Beginning in May, on departures from the U.S., United will replace the pre-departure chocolate with a pre-arrival cookie. The white chocolate cranberry cookie is made by Christie Cookie Company based in Nashville, Tennessee. As this author can attest, this cookie tastes absolutely delicious! On flights originating overseas, passengers will receive chocolates pre-arrival.
Located in the International Terminal near gate G92, the United SFO Polaris lounge will open on April 30. The Polaris lounge in Newark (EWR) is expected to open by early June, Houston Intercontinental (IAH) this summer, and Los Angeles International (LAX) this fall. Future locations include Washington-Dulles (IAD), London-Heathrow (LHR), Hong Kong (HKG), and Tokyo-Narita (NRT).
This is the lounge access policy according to United Airlines: 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.