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There is now an airline lounge at Houston’s IAH that you can’t buy your way into, unless of course you are holding an eligible international first or business class ticket. The new and exclusive United Polaris Lounge is officially open for business, and here is a look inside…
Spending time in a really nice airline lounge before, between, or sometimes after your flight can be a real treat. As you undoubtably know, airports and boarding gates aren’t always the nicest places on the planet to spend time. Instead of just biding time in a crowded gate area, my family vastly prefers to utilize our airport lounge access perks to the max. One network of lounges that our lounge passes, credit cards, and memberships can’t get us into is the growing network of United Polaris Lounges. The United Polaris Lounges are not to be confused with the much more prolific network of United Clubs that can be accessed with United Club membership, one day passes, and more.
Instead of being able to buy your way in with a day pass or annual membership, the exclusive United Polaris Lounges are only open for those traveling on same-day eligible international flights operated by United and their Star Alliance partners in first or business class. For quite a while, the only open United Polaris Lounge was in Chicago O’Hare, but in 2018 United got on a roll, opening additional Polaris Lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and, now Houston!
I haven’t made it to any of the previously opened Polaris Lounges, but since Houston is my hometown airport, there was no way I was going to miss this much-anticipated opening pre-opening event.
Houston United Polaris Lounge isn’t huge, but it is big
The posted square footage makes it clear that the Houston United Polaris Lounge is not as large as some of the others at 12,528 square feet. For reference, the San Francisco United Polaris Lounge is a whopping 28,000 square feet. If you have visited the other larger Polaris Lounges before coming to this one, I’m sure you will notice the more ’boutique’ feel of this lounge, but if you haven’t seen the others, then this lounge actually felt quite spacious to me. If you are used to the Houston Amex Centurion Lounge, the United Polaris Lounge is about 50% larger than that one 8,596 square foot lounge.
The United Polaris Lounge is located on the 4th floor in the previous home of the United Club in Terminal E near gate E12. There is a private entrance and elevator that takes you straight to the United Polaris Lounge after you visit their private check-in area, so you do not have contact with the regular United Club housed on the floors below.
In the Houston Polaris Lounge, there are 191 seats of all shapes and sizes, 324 power outlets, and 264 USB plugs so you can board the plane fully (re)charged.
In a nod to the City of Houston, the lounge features artwork from two local artists. This gives it a distinctive flair and a look unique to the city.
Rest and shower at the United Polaris Lounge
For travelers looking for a quieter space to relax, there are two private daybeds with Saks Fifth Avenue bedding that you can request. Note that these are not private rooms, but instead they are loungers in a shared room separated by a partial partition.
You can find this quiet area in the same section of the lounge as the showers, which is the opposite side of the space from the food and bar area.
These daybeds have some amenities that may look familiar as they mimic some of the onboard Polaris offerings with eye-masks, earplugs, and more.
I was a big fan of the white noise machine in the quiet room and the views.
Eventually, I had to give up my daybed spot and keep exploring the six private shower rooms located down the hall from the quiet room.
These six showers are equipped with Soho House & Co products available for your use as well as soft Saks Fifth Avenue towels. Because simply having showers isn’t fancy enough, you can also have your garments steamed while you wait. You will need to have them steam something you are not currently wearing as there is no compartment you can pass the items through from the showers.
At the check-in desk for the showers and daybeds, you can also request a curling iron, hair dryer, hair straightener, shower cap, dental kit, duvet for the daybed and more. Basically, they have you covered with the basics to get you clean, rested, and on with your day.
No family rooms, but there is a baby wellness room
Parents (and non-parents) may be disappointed to learn that there is not a family room at this lounge. In fact, none of the United Polaris Lounges have featured family rooms. I think this is a dramatic oversight as everyone benefits from young children having a closed-in place to play and be kids. I wish they would have dedicated even 200 square feet to a small family room with a TV and little toys, but they did not. However, there is a Baby Wellness Room that is a nice private place to nurse, pump, or even change a diaper.
Dine at the United Polaris Buffet or Dining Room
If you are hungry during your time in the Polaris Lounge, you are in the right place since you have the option of either table-service dining at one of the tables that can serve up to 28 guests at a time, or you can visit the buffet for a faster bite to eat. At peak international departure times (presumably mid to late afternoon), you have to imagine that the lounge will fill up a bit. I’m sure they have run the numbers on how many premium cabin international passengers they can serve at a time, but if you are in a rush, the buffet may be the way to go.
The Houston Polaris Lounge buffet has menu items including: Sesame Udon Noodle Salad, Pimento Bruschetta, Chipotle Mac and Cheese Casserole, Brazilian Empanadas, and some truly outstanding Brussels Sprouts.
My personal favorites from the Houston Polaris buffet were the brussels sprouts, empanadas, and udon noodles. Others seemed to enjoy the pulled pork sliders, but that was just too much bread for me on that day. Kids should like the mac and cheese as it was pretty basic and not very spicy.
If you have time to sit and enjoy a meal at one of the 28 seats in the dining area, you have some slightly different menu options.
I heard many people rave about the huge Polaris burger, and I’m hoping to try the Avocado Caprese Salad and Argentinian Roasted Chicken with Black Beans, Rice, and Plantains.
For dessert, you can order Bread Pudding, Tres Leches Bites, or Lemon Curd from the sit-down area. On the buffet, you can grab some Pecan Sandie Cookies, Dulce De Leche Arroz, or Berry Cobbler.
I haven’t yet tried the Polaris sit-down menu, but the buffet had some good items such as the empanadas and brussels sprouts. If I were to nitpick, I would say that some of the hot menu items get cool a little faster than I would wish. For example, room temperature mac and cheese isn’t quite as good as piping hot mac and cheese. This may be one of those things that they work out over time, but in general, it felt like you were in a restaurant much more than an airport lounge.
If you are dining with your little one, there are a couple of high chairs available in the corner of the dining room.
The United Polaris bar in Houston is a beautiful space located next to some massive plane-spotting windows.
Some popular aviation-inspired drinks are United Polaris Star and the Paper Plane shown below. The Paper Plane is garnished with no other than a tiny paper airplane that you can take with you.
That drinks was good, but I think next time I would try out the Caliente on the Rocks because nothing says Houston like a drink made with tequila, jalapeno, house sour mix, and orange juice!
You can check out the full bar menu in the photos below, though they can also whip you up things of the menu.
Flights eligible for admission to the Houston United Polaris Lounge
The eligible Polaris flights from Houston would be the nonstop United and Star Alliance partner flights to Frankfurt, London, Manchester/Singapore, Amsterdam, Munich, Narita, Beijing, Taipei, Sydney, Auckland, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Please let me know if I missed one!
As I understand it, if you are on an eligible Star Alliance partner flight then you only get Polaris access at your gateway airport (a.k.a., last stop before crossing the water). However, if you are on a United-operated international Polaris flight in a premium cabin, you also get Polaris access at your origin and connecting airports.
Even if you are flying in first class, flights to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Ecuador, Guam and Lima are not eligible for United Polaris Lounge admission.
Mommy Points take on the United Polaris Lounge in Houston
The United Polaris Lounge in Houston is a truly beautiful space that I look forward to visiting again in the future. There is not a dedicated space for families, but there are enough nooks and crannies, that hopefully you can find a good spot for your crew to relax before heading on your long-haul flight.
While the best spot in the lounge for a family will depend on how people are dispersed when it is in actual use, this section of chairs near the showers caught my eye as being a potentially good place for families to sit together.
Wherever you decide to sit, be sure to take a minute to enjoy the views before you continue on the next leg of your (premium cabin) adventure. Also be sure and allow your kids some time in the terminal to stretch their legs before hopping on your long adventure.
The next United Polaris Lounge to open is scheduled to be in Los Angeles by the end of the year. Over the course of the next few years, lounges should open at Washington Dulles, Hong Kong, London Heathrow, and Tokyo Narita. It took quite a while to get to today with the doors officially opened at the United Polaris Lounge in Houston, but I’d dare to say that it was worth the wait.
Know before you go.
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