Catch It While You Can: The United Club at London Heathrow (LHR)
United Airlines is in the midst of major — albeit prolonged — upgrade of its network of lounges — United Clubs around the world are getting serious upgrades and rebrands, while all-new Polaris Lounges are being constructed in the airline's most critical markets. These new Polaris lounges are more exclusive and often far more competitive in the premium lounge space than a typical United Club, offering showers, a la carte dining and much more. The only three open at the time of this writing are in Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO) and Newark (EWR), which opened June 4. Lounges in Houston (IAH), Hong Kong (HKG), Tokyo (NRT) and London (LHR) are to follow over the next 18 months.
While most United Clubs are fairly standard and not anything to get very excited about, the newly renovated one in London-Heathrow's beautiful Terminal 2B (the Queen's Terminal, as it's called) is different than the rest. It currently occupies part of the space that will ultimately become the Polaris Lounge, but for now it is a truly competitive business-class lounge at one of the world's busiest airports.
United Clubs, in general, are less restrictive, access-wise, than the new Polaris Lounges. This particular Club is available to passengers that fall into the following categories:
- Traveling in United Polaris first
- Traveling in United Polaris business
- Traveling in Star Alliance long-haul first class
- Traveling in Star Alliance long-haul business class
- United MileagePlus Club Card holders
- Star Alliance Gold Members who are traveling on a same-day international flight operated by a Star Alliance carrier (note that you'll need proof — either in the form of a membership card or on your boarding pass — of your Gold status)
Only those traveling in Polaris first or first class on another Star Alliance partner may bring a guest into the lounge with them. You can also pay $59 for a day pass.
The United Club at Heathrow is situated underneath the United Global First Lounge, which is only available to passengers traveling in first class on United (the carrier still offers first class on some flights, though it's phasing it out) or Star Alliance carriers as well as Global Services members. The current United Club and Global First lounges will be combined into a single Polaris Lounge in 2019 — once it opens, access will be access limited to passengers traveling in United Polaris first, Polaris business, Star Alliance long-haul first and Star Alliance long-haul business.
The United Club is located near gate B46 and open daily from 5:00am to 10:00pm.
My Ethiopian Airlines business-class flight arrived at Terminal 2B, the remote concourse of Terminal 2, where many long-haul Star Alliance flights arrive and depart from, so I needed to walk to the main part of the terminal to clear customs, just to walk right back, now airside, to 2B in order to visit the lounge.
I followed signs for gates B31 through B49 and eventually came across signs for airline lounges. The United Club was on the left.
After a quick elevator ride upstairs and a check of my boarding pass, one of the lounge agents welcomed me into one of the best (if not the best) United Clubs in the network.
The lounge itself is spacious, well-lit and felt thoroughly modern to me.
It's basically one open room divided by translucent panels into smaller, slightly cozier areas. There's a primary food area, a carpeted middle seating area, more seating and the bar against the floor-to-ceiling windows. You'll find plenty of charging ports and a variety of chairs, couches and tables throughout. I took a seat by the bar on one of the plush, beige chairs by the window.
The lounge was crowded at 9:30am but it wasn't packed, nor was it too noisy. I'm sure it gets a lot more crowded around the peak times of North America-bound flights in the late morning to mid-afternoon.
It was even less crowded farther from the entrance, where there was coffee, fruit and other refreshments.
Out the windows, I had a view of Terminal 2 and one of Heathrow's busy runways, plus the sizable construction site where additional gates are being added.
Peering out the window, I caught sight of some interesting traffic, including a LOT 737 MAX 8. LOT is one the first European operators of the new 737 model.
In the back of the lounge is a quiet room with additional chairs, tables, magazines and power outlets.
If it's really crowded in the club when you go, try your luck at getting a seat in this back room.
Food and Beverage
Perhaps the most striking feature of this lounge is the bar. With a counter adorned with white marble, a healthy assortment of complimentary drinks and a proper view out the window, the bar was sleek and not overly grandiose.
A breakfast buffet was available during my visit, and included a few hot dishes like eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries and other Western breakfast staples. In addition to the hot items, there was a selection of bagels, breads and pastries, cereals, fruit, yogurt, cold cuts, cheese and an assortment of crudités.
I was pleasantly surprised by the food — by both the variety and the way in which it was presented.
The space features several coffee machines, and there were chilled cans of soda and other refreshments in refrigerators below.
Near the other end of the lounge are even more coffee machines, juice dispensers, fruit and refrigerators. During my visit, everything was kept clean and tidy, as servers walked throughout the lounge constantly to collect used dishes and silverware.
Besides Wi-Fi, printers, copiers and phones (which I didn't see but supposedly exist), the United Club boasts what is arguably the best feature of any modern lounge: five shower rooms, located near the bathrooms. After arriving on a red-eye from Addis Ababa (ADD), I was more than ready for a hot shower.
Thankfully, there was no wait when I arrived, though I'd recommend going straight to the showers during peak hours. I took my two carry-on bags into the room and was told that I'd be limited to an hour of use.
The shower rooms include a sink, toilet, full-length mirror, hair dryer and a closet in which you can put your wrinkled clothing for United Club staff members to press — pretty neat stuff.
The room was very clean, which is perhaps the most important "amenity" of a shower room. It was stocked with all the trimmings, including Cowshed shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.
The shower was huge, clean and, even though I'm under 6 feet tall, I'd wager that it passes the TPG shower test. The water pressure wasn't incredible, but I'm just happy I got to freshen up with a hot shower after my redeye flight, so no complaints here.
If you're traveling from or connecting through London (LHR) and have access to this lounge, you should absolutely build in time to relax here before or after your flight.
That said, be aware of just how much time you have: You probably shouldn't head to the lounge if you've got a tight connection (an hour or less) and you're leaving from a different concourse (most long-haul flights departing from Terminal 2 are in this concourse, thankfully). If you're not departing from Terminal 2B, be sure to check what gate your flight is leaving from so as to not have to sprint to get there.
Not long from now, this space will be converted into a full Polaris lounge, combining the Global First lounge upstairs with this United Club. It should be an even better lounge experience, though it'll be less accessible. If you're able, I certainly recommend checking out what is quite possibly the best United Club in the world — while you still can.