June 4, 2017
Review: United Polaris Lounge Chicago
United opened its first Polaris lounge at Chicago (ORD) airport back in December 2016. So far, they’ve announced that nine such lounges will open around the world, with two more set to open by the end of 2017. These Polaris lounges are nothing like United’s existing Club lounges, which basically offer some light snacks and a quiet place to relax before your flight. The Polaris lounges are part of United’s effort to revamp its international business class product by upgrading its business class flight seats, in-flight service, and ground experience. I finally got to try the flagship lounge at Chicago this week when I was flying ANA First Class to Tokyo, a flight which I booked for free using miles.
Only customers traveling on same-day international business or first class flights have access to the Polaris lounge. However, there are some minor differences depending on which airline and class you’re flying.
- United International First Class-Access at same-day departure, connecting, and arrival airports. May bring one guest.
- United International Business Class-Access at same-day departure, connecting, and arrival airports. Can’t bring guests.
- Star Alliance International First Class-Access at same-day departure airport. May bring one guest.
- Star Alliance International Business Class-Access at same-day departure airport. Can’t bring guests.
The lounge offers several seating spaces. First, there’s rows of these small tables, which seat two people and are great for working and eating when you’re traveling with someone.
There’s also these large individual booths? Not sure what you would call these. These couches are very comfortable and come with power outlets, a reading lamp, a side counter to hold your food and beverages, and a pullout table top which extends in front of you-great when working from your laptop.
Finally, there’s sleeping rooms available if you want to nap before your flight. The mattress was comfortable for a short rest, though the shape was a bit disorienting at first. The rooms come with a pillow, blanket, slippers, eye mask, and a ‘pillow mist’ spray. You’re supposed to spray the mist onto the pillow and let the aroma carry you off to sleep-nice touch but not exactly needed.
There’s a concierge at the entrance of the daybed rooms. She’s available to check you in to your room. She also offered to wake me up if I needed.
Food & Beverage
At the heart of every good lounge is a bar, and United’s Polaris bar sure is swanky. The lit-up marble countertop along with the blue ceiling lights looked terrific! All food and beverage in the lounge is free, so enjoy to your heart’s content. The bartenders were eager to offer me drinks 😉
One distinguishing feature of this lounge is that it offers an a la cart menu. There’s two rows of small tables running parallel to the bar which are designated for flyers who want to order off the menu. There are separate offerings for breakfast and lunch/dinner.
Since I was there during lunch hours, I ordered the ‘Blue Door Kitchen Burger’, a glass of champagne, and the ice cream for dessert. The burger tasted great (as burgers usually do). The sauce and spice combination they used made it taste like a high-end Burger King Whopper. The ice cream was good as well, though nothing particularly special-just standard ice cream.
Finally, you have the buffet. The design of the buffet area was gorgeous and all the food was available in small, pre-apportioned sizes (of course you can take as much as you want).
While I liked the concept of the buffet, I wasn’t all that pleased with the food selection. It’s designed as a lighter fare, so if you want substantially filling food you’ll have to order off the a la cart menu. It’s quite different from the Singapore SilverKris lounge, which offers a buffet with several rows of food you can just scoop into your plate.
Overall, the food selection at the Polaris lounge is a massive step up from the United Club lounges, to the point where you can’t even compare the two. My main complaint with the food is that there was almost nothing remotely healthy available to eat. Having the traditional high-fat American cuisine is fine for a lounge in Chicago, I just wish there was one or two healthier entrees available as well.
Bathrooms & Showers
The bathrooms are located directly across from the lounge entrance You walk down a hallway with individual bathrooms on each side. What’s really cool here is that the ceiling in this hallway is full of twinkling lights meant to represent the night sky.
The bathrooms all appeared very clean, as there were two attendants constantly cleaning them after they were used.
The showers are available in the same area as the nap rooms. You ask the same concierge to use one of the showers and she’ll walk you there. Though the shower rooms lacked some of the high-end amenities you find at other first class lounges, the shower itself was huge!
Overall I really enjoyed United’s new Polaris lounge. It’s great that United finally has a lounge that’s on par with its Star Alliance partners. I’d say it’s about on par with Lufthansa’s Senator Lounge. The beautiful and modern design was the most striking element of the lounge for me. And it looks like it’s a hit with customers, as United is in the process of expanding the size of the facility so it can lessen the overcrowding during peak departure hours.
A couple final observations about the customer service experience. I have VERY low customer service expectations of United. I fly them fairly often and my experience is overall pretty bland at best. Let’s not forget how they treated David Dao after involuntarily bumping him from his flight. That being said, the service level here was significantly above average for United. The employees were overall cheerful and helpful.
The manager in particular was very engaging and clearly very excited about Polaris when speaking with passengers. I had one very good interaction with a bar tender-who appeared happy to be there and couldn’t wait to get me drinks, and one poor interaction with a waiter-who clearly (and he said this to another customer) did not want to be here. The check-in staff at the front desk were also very, very helpful and told me a bit about the history of the Polaris design, while the desk agents whose job it is to help customers with flight issues weren’t the friendliest. So overall, customer service was a mixed bag but my overall impression was positive. United clearly still has work to do in this department, but the Polaris experience is a step in the right direction.