United has been busy behind the scenes for almost two years in renovating its huge United Club that’s just after security at the San Francisco International Terminal.
Polaris branding came along in the meantime and the re-opening had been delayed for quite some time. It finally happened about a week ago and Oscar Munoz officially opened the lounge to the public.
So, how well did it go? In a sentence – not very impressive.
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To get access to the Polaris lounge, you will need a long-haul business class ticket on United or a Star Alliance partner. Status or a short-haul business class ticket won’t do the trick (incl. flights to Mexico). The reception area indeed looks stunning but it is manned by the same lounge attendants who manned the front desk at the old United Club. They are known in the industry as some of the fiercest ‘lounge dragons’ and you know what? They haven’t lost a bit of that attitude. They are doing you a ‘huge favor’ by letting you into a Polaris lounge and that’s the way they treat you – plenty of attitude to go around (not that San Francisco has any shortage of that).
From the front desk to the two-story lounge, you will see where the interior architect team traveled for inspiration – Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong and (to an extent) the Qatar Business Class Lounge. The colors, the finish, the subtle signs, the lighting – I felt several times that I was in Hong Kong already – not in San Francisco.
I have to say United really succeeded in creating a stylish yet fitting theme (for the name Polaris) – it looks fantastic.
The new United Polaris lounge occupies even more space than the old (enormous) United Club. There is a new ground floor section that wasn’t there before and the upstairs sections have also grown. It is one of the biggest lounges I have been to (bar the massive Qatar lounges such as the Al Mourjan and Al Safwa lounges, both at Doha Airport).
I walked in around 6 PM and to my surprise, the space was packed with many European flights waiting for departure. The only seats available were in the dining room and downstairs (which is far removed from any food or drinks options).
I expected great food – on par with American Express Centurion lounges or at least above United flight catering standards. The self-service buffet had some rather horrible items on offer. They both looked bad and tasted bad (from my point of view).
The Dining Room
I opted for the dining room, which was suspiciously empty and looked fantastic.
I was confused about whether there was table service or not but there was nobody to ask. When a server finally showed up she would do everything she could to not acknowledge my waving. Eventually, her co-worker came by and after another 15 minutes, I could finally order.
The breakfast options weren’t available (understandable but it would have been nice). So I ordered crab cakes, pasta, two wines and a water. Guess what… After 30 minutes, none of them had appeared. Finally, the crab cakes came out first and I asked where my wine was. Well, it didn’t materialize (yes, drinks are table service too). The crab cake was inedible – it was like rubber in lots of oil.
The pasta showed up shortly after, with a white wine (although I had ordered the red with the pasta) and while it was better, the sauce reeked of old garlic oil. It was just bad food nobody would eat unless they would love acid reflux for the next 12 hours.
My sparkling water eventually came by after 45 minutes at the end of the meal. Thank you but no thank you.
There were just a few people at the bar by the time I walked out of the dining room (I wasn’t drunk since my wine only showed up when I was about to give up on dinner).
The bartender had no idea what was on the menu or that he had a menu. He had never heard of the term ‘craft beer’ and the wines all seemed the same to him. He was a gentle, older fellow but he looked dangerously out of place.
I tried a few wines from the menu and they seemed as standard as you can buy at Safeway for $5 a bottle (if not less).
The Quiet Suites
The downstairs sitting area is the same as upstairs but leads into a separate zone that has four ‘Quiet Suites’ and showers. It sounds like the awesome Qatar Quiet Rooms and showers. Not so fast. A United Quiet Suite has a rather sorry chair that does not even allow you to lie down properly.
You are allowed 50 minutes (what an odd number) but you can stay as long as you want if there are no other passengers. But four suites isn’t many. There are eight or more showers as well (I did not shower though).
The bathrooms look great (they are individual bathrooms (all-gender!) instead of the community showers that most lounges feature. This is great and allows for privacy and calm. They are huge but lines form easily with such a generous design.
As with the odd Internet provider that was used at the prior United Club, the Internet is lightning-fast. You can easily see 100 MBit here and you can likely push this further. This is incredible for any WiFi and especially at a semi-public lounge like this one when it is packed.
Is the United Polaris Lounge San Francisco a winner?
As usual with United, you find good hardware here (e.g. seats and the design of this lounge). The Internet connection blows many servers out of the water. There is also so much space that you feel like you are in a little terminal of your own at times.
The shortcomings are huge too – the staff are confused and clueless and some of them are rude. The food is a disaster and nobody should eat it when traveling and the alcoholic drinks are as unexciting as it gets.
So if you want good food and friendly folks who serve top-notch drinks, head over to the American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco (just a few steps away). Once you are done, head for the United Polaris lounge to marvel at the design, have a shower or battle for a quiet room.
United could be great (and they could make a lot of money suddenly) but the employees and the general lack of any service culture make this lounge a pass.