Review: United Polaris Lounge San Francisco (SFO) Experience
As part of a trip to Taiwan in the summer of 2019 that I booked fully using points to fly EVA Air's Royal Laurel business class product, I was able to check out United's Polaris Lounge at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Polaris lounges are United's highest-tier lounge and offer the most exclusive and luxurious pre-departure experience. The 28,000+ square feet SFO location is currently the largest Polaris lounge in the world. For all current and upcoming locations, check out this link. Here is an overview of the amenities available:
- The Library
- The Studio
- Small Snacks and Drinks Area
- General Seating
- Open Buffet
- The Dining Room (à la carte dining)
- The Bar
- Business Center
- Shower Suites
- Quiet Suites with Day Beds
Access requirements to the United Polaris lounge are extremely restrictive compared to many airline lounges in the US. Generally, you will only get an invitation when flying United Polaris first or business class, or long-haul Star Alliance first or business class. Luckily, since EVA Air is part of the alliance, I got an invitation to the lounge!
Read on as I walk you through my entire lounge experience, where I ended up spending 3+ hours before my flight to Taipei!
The check-in process was quick and uneventful. Thinking back, if it weren't for the countless reviews I'd read prior, it would've been a little disorienting to navigate and it would not surprise me at all if some people miss out entire areas of the facility.
It would have been nice if an agent could offer a brief overview of the amenities available after check-in (or am I asking for too much for a US lounge?). In addition, the agent at the front desk had a cold attitude and I did not feel welcomed. This was a disappointing first experience, especially considering this is supposedly United's most premium offering.
After scanning my lounge pass at the entrance, I was free to roam around this massive two-level facility. I proceeded to the escalators past the check-in counters and went upstairs to the second floor of the lounge (don't worry, I'll explore the first floor later!).
General Seating Area
My first reaction was that there was TONS of seating and not a lot of people. This is a stark contrast to the Priority Pass network lounges that I've visited, where these independently operated lounges have the goal of maximizing customers for profit. Premium airline lounges like the Polaris Lounges exist to enhance the premium travel experience for those flyers who have already paid thousands of dollars to fly United or their Star Alliance partner's business or first class products.
As seen in the pictures, there are a range of seating options available depending on your preferences.
The Buffet Area
Next, I headed past the bar and arrived at the open buffet. It was pretty late at night, so options were limited. However, if you are tight on time and will be eating on the plane, this is not a big deal. I decided to skip the buffet, and you'll see why very soon.
The Dining Room
This was probably the highlight of the entire lounge, as I've never experienced anything like this before (it was my first long-haul business class award redemption). If you find yourself in the Polaris lounge and have some time to spare, skip the buffet and head over to The Dining Room. It's a full-service sit-down restaurant where you can order items off a menu - everything is complimentary! This was also why I checked in for my midnight flight as soon as my ticket allowed me to at 9pm sharp. It was just in time to get last call in The Dining Room (having TSA PreCheck definitely helped!)
Note that operating hours for The Dining Room are shorter than those of the main Polaris lounge, so check your flight time to make sure you don't miss out on this amazing experience.
Since it was late evening, there were not many people at the lounge and even fewer in The Dining Room. Part of it may be that the area itself is at the very rear of the second floor, so people could simply have missed it or didn't know it was accessible to them. However, I have heard that during peak travel times, one may need to wait before a table becomes available, so leave enough time to be safe!
When I got seated, there were maybe 3-4 tables (out of the available ~15 tables) still eating, and it wasn't long before I was the only one left in the entire restaurant. It was a completely surreal experience, with a level of privacy and calm I never would've imagined was possible at an airport (it was quiet to the point where the only noise came from my utensils). The Dining Room comes with a full menu with various choices for light bites, entrees, drinks, and desserts that vary based on season and time of day. Since I was planning to eat more on the plane, I opted to just get some champagne, along with Cedar Plank Salmon as my entrée, and finally a panna cotta to finish off. The staff was also very friendly and professional!
As if the extensive drinks menu at The Dining Room wasn't enough, I headed over to the bar after my meal. It was late and I had a very long day, so I asked for a cappuccino. Again, everything here is unlimited and complimentary. I can see people who really love to drink having a great time here (just don't get too drunk and get denied boarding)! Apparently they have local celebrity bartenders staffing here at times, although I didn't get any alcohol so I cannot speak to that.
The Shower & Bathroom
Next stop was the Shower Suites area at the other end of the second floor space beyond the escalators. Once I arrived, the attendant asked for my boarding pass to ensure I had adequate time for a shower. Then, he showed me to my suite, guiding me through an impressive hallway design featuring shimmering LED lights simulating a starry night. This homage to the namesake of United's premium travel experience "Polaris" was really cool!
If you've never taken a shower right before a long-haul flight, you should really try it! After a day of hanging out with friends, driving around the Bay Area, and dragging my luggage across the terminal, I was in dire need for a good shower. Each individual suite comes with a sink, toilet, and shower (with rainforest shower head!), as well as premium amenities like bottled water, Saks Fifth Avenue towels, Sunday Riley's hydrating body wash, shampoo and conditioner, and a Ghirardelli chocolate. Since suites are fully cleaned after each use, be prepared to wait your turn during peak travel times.
The Quiet Suites
After a refreshing shower, I asked the staff for access to The Quiet Suites, which are individual rooms with a daybed and other amenities, located adjacent to the Shower Suites corridor. Note that they will once again check your boarding pass and let you know when you should head to your gate.
As there are only 4 private suites, the area is extremely private and made me forget I was still at an airport. Each suite contains a daybed (which unfortunately is not fully lie-flat) that is super comfortable, a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow, Polaris eye mask (I still use them today!), ear plugs, and once again bottled water paired with Ghirardelli chocolate.
However, I did notice some minor shortcomings that could hopefully be addressed in the future. First, the lights in each individual suite are motion-activated, which means as long as you are in the room, the harsh lighting will be shining directly on you. If the goal is to help you get some shut-eye and relaxation, perhaps a dimmer light that is not directly on the guest would be better. Second, although the Quiet Suites area is separated by a door from the rest of the lounge, the individual suites are not fully enclosed. Fortunately, I was the only person there at the time, but if your neighbor is snoring away, this would greatly discount the benefit of using this space.
After about half an hour in the suite, it was almost time for my flight. Time for me to check out the rest of the facility!
This is located next to the escalators on the second floor. Here, you will find business amenities such as conference rooms, print and fax services, as well as staff who can assist with things like checking flight status. I personally didn't use this, but you can see one man is taking advantage of the space to have his conference call.
Next, I headed downstairs!
The Library Room
Behind the escalator area was another general seating area. However, compared to the seating area upstairs, this area felt a lot more secluded, private, and calming. It also has an entire wall lined with books, in case you run out of things to do.
This quiet space can be great if you want to just get some work done with minimal distractions.
This area is located at the very back of the first floor behind The Library Room. It has a terrific view of the tarmac, great for watching planes. The Studio can also be closed off from the main lounge for private events.
Overall, I genuinely enjoyed my time here and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who has the chance to try it out! As far as lounges go, this is definitely one of the top in North America. Just budget enough time to make sure you can fully enjoy all the amenities it has to offer! For more official photos and 360 Tour, check out United's website here.
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