First Look at United's Polaris Business-Class Lounge (Chicago O'Hare)
It's no secret that United's new Polaris business class launches tomorrow morning, with improved catering, new bedding and airport amenities, such as the airline's new Polaris Lounges. The first such lounge opens at 7:15am at Chicago O'Hare, located next to gate C18 in Terminal 1. We were invited to take a sneak peek earlier today.
The Polaris Lounge is a big step up from the United Club, and that's by design. Polaris Lounges are only accessible to business and first-class passengers booked on United or Star Alliance long-haul flights — even Global Services members flying another UA route won't be able to get in. The lounges are meant to be very exclusive, and I certainly got that impression during my tour today.
Let's take a look...
Polaris is the North Star, and there's a stellar theme throughout the lounge, starting with the fiber-optic light fixture in the lobby.
Artist Wolfgang Buttress, the installation's designer, was on hand to explain his work. Each Polaris Lounge will have a unique (yet similar) fixture at the entrance — the one at O'Hare is designed to replicate the night sky as seen from downtown Chicago (the area Buttress is pointing to in the image below).
Below the light fixture is a long check-in desk, staffed by agents specifically assigned to the Polaris Lounge.
There's also a seated customer service area, where guests can get assistance with both same-day and future flights — if you're in the lounge and there isn't a queue (which is handled using a pager system, by the way, so you're not stuck standing in line), the agents should be able to assist with any United-related request.
Lounge and Seating
The lounge occupies the same space as a former United Club — if you've been to O'Hare, you might recognize these phenomenal tarmac views.
There's a variety of seating — both paired chairs and private "pods."
If traveling alone, my preference would definitely be the pods.
There's a fair amount of space, and the layout is quite thoughtful — I especially like the slide-out marble work table.
There's also some hybrid booth seating along the sides.
And more casual seats next to the buffet area.
Food and Beverage
There are several food and beverage stations as well, including this self-service beverage bar near the entrance.
And a small buffet area around the corner. There will be a selection of hot items available in the center island as of tomorrow (there were just empty dishes there today).
All of the glass, plates and silverware are brand new — nothing is borrowed from the United Club.
There's a bread station at the buffet.
Fruits, ham and salads during breakfast.
And a selection of mini-sandwiches.
Items at the buffet are designed for nibbling — so you can easily try a little bit of everything without feeling too overwhelmed (or stuffed).
Granola and yogurt was available as well.
Then, around the corner, there's a large bar area, with even more seating available.
There's fancy Champagne glasses.
And there's Veuve Clicquot Champagne (there was today, at least).
The bar will also offer specialty cocktails, such as this twist on the Pimm's Cup on display today. Apparently the bartender will adjust the ingredients slightly based on where you're headed — if you're on your way to Paris, your cocktail might have Cognac, for example, while a drink for someone headed to London might have gin. Or you can order whatever you want.
There's also a selection of red and white wine.
And, perhaps as the most unique feature in the entire lounge, frequent visitors may be offered a spot in a wine locker, and lounge staff can help them source their favorite wines. It's not clear if the wines will be provided or if the guest will have to pay, but this is a very cool amenity nonetheless.
Finally, there are chocolates you can grab on your way out the door.
Just past the kitchen is a relaxation area, including a staffed desk.
Once inside, you'll find four relaxation rooms.
While compact, each room offers a chaise lounge and a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow and blanket.
There are also sleep-friendly amenities, including a special mask with eye cups (much more comfortable than the standard variety).
There are six private shower rooms around the corner.
These showers include Saks-branded towels and other high-end amenities.
There's plenty of room to get freshened up before or after a flight (Polaris Lounges are available to passengers connecting to a domestic flight as well).
There's even a special two-sided closet where you can hang items you'd like to have pressed. An attendant will take care of the pressing as you shower, and your clothes will be crisp and fresh by the time you're out.
Perhaps best of all, there's a washer and dryer that lounge guests can use. Don't bring a bag of dirty laundry and expect to have everything washed while you shower and eat, but if you spill something on your shirt or have another clothing-related emergency, the lounge is equipped to assist.
There's also Wi-Fi. Amazing Wi-Fi. In fact, the Polaris Lounge's Wi-Fi is the fastest connection I've ever experienced on my laptop anywhere. It'll be more than enough to support even the most data-hungry guests.
Is this the best lounge in the world? No, of course not. But I think it's easily the best lounge from a US-based airline, and given that United hasn't exactly had a reputation for offering the most luxurious airport lounges, that's very significant. If you're flying Polaris or business or first class on another Star Alliance carrier, I'd definitely get to the airport a bit earlier so you can enjoy the new lounge. It's a very spiffy addition to the United network.
This is the first of nine planned Polaris Lounges. Houston, Newark and San Francisco will be getting their lounges next, and those three should be open by the middle of 2017. Dulles and Los Angeles will follow later in 2017, and Hong Kong, London and Tokyo should open by the end of 2017, but may not be available until early 2018. Only customers traveling in Polaris or business/first class on Star Alliance partners on international routes will have access to a United Polaris Lounge, and the airline will be strictly enforcing this admission policy.
What do you think of United's new Polaris Lounge?