United Polaris Lounge SFO Review
Finally. It took nearly five years, but I finally got to visit the United Polaris Lounge SFO. United only has a handful of these premium business class lounges across the country, and they are a substantial cut above the regular United Club. My itinerary included a 3+ hour layover, so I enjoyed much that the Polaris Lounge has to offer. My overall takeaway: it’s hard to do better at SFO.
The exclusivity of the United Polaris Lounge SFO sets it apart. You cannot access it with a United Club membership, nor with any credit card-provided lounge membership like Priority Pass. To access the Polaris lounge, you must have one of the following:
- Boarding pass for travel in United Polaris business class on a long-haul flight
- Boarding pass for travel in any Star Alliance long-haul international first class cabin
- Boarding pass for travel in any Star Alliance long-haul business class cabin
Long-haul flights are those from the U.S. to Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, Africa, and select destinations in South America.
If you have a first class boarding pass, you’re allowed one guest. You’re only allowed Polaris lounge access at the departure airport for the long-haul international flight (e.g. if you’re flying SFO-LAX-AKL, with LAX-AKL in Air New Zealand business class you cannot access the SFO United Polaris lounge).
The United Polaris Lounge SFO is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.
You can find the Polaris lounge immediately to the right after passing through security at International Terminal G. If you’re connecting from Terminal 3, it’s immediately to the left at the top of the escalator as you enter Terminal G.
Space and General Impressions
I was impressed by how large the United Polaris Lounge SFO is. The space starts on the terminal level, where there are a number of these armchair-desk seats. These are one of the more common seating options in the Polaris lounge, and I really like them. The lower-level space isn’t as large as the mezzanine level, but it seemed more quiet. The showers are also on the lower level.
Heading up the escalator, you’ll find the rest of the lounge. The United Polaris Lounge SFO occupies a long stretch of real estate overlooking International Terminal G and part of Concourse F.
From end-to-end, you can find a great variety of seating. You have the more private armchair-desk seats with power and USB outlets, armchairs, two-person dining tables, and more. It’s a well-designed space. Everything is in silver, gray, and blue.
The bar is roughly in the middle of the space, with the buffet dining and restaurant beyond. I found the other end, the east corner, to be quieter once the lounge got busy.
As I mentioned earlier, the large armchair “desk” seats are my favorite. The only issue is that two of these in the most “prime” locations had split cushions. Clearly they get the most use. I ended up using one anyway, as I wanted to face the windows.
The views are lovely from nearly everywhere, if plane-watching is your thing.
Amenities at the United Polaris Lounge SFO
The Polaris lounge at SFO is an oasis for premium cabin travelers. You can enjoy buffet food, sit-down dining (more on that later), a well-stocked full-service bar, napping suites, showers, and a dedicated help desk. Like regular United Clubs, it also has its own Wi-Fi.
Things I did use:
- Buffet dining
- Drinks from the bar
- Sit-down dining
- Help desk
Amenities I didn’t need:
- Quiet suites
The quiet suites and showers are both located on the lower level. On the upper level, the Polaris Lounge SFO has a whole row of individual bathrooms. They appear to be kept very clean.
The lady at the help desk confirmed my boarding time. This was critical since I needed to know if I had time to enjoy the pre-flight dining, once I realized how long the wait would be. The SWISS boarding pass in the United app wasn’t showing either gate or boarding information.
I worked for a while and had no issues with the Wi-Fi connectivity and speed. But you’re surely not here for these details. What was the food like?
Food and Beverage
The United Polaris Lounge SFO has a decent selection of self-serve buffet food. The hot options the day I visited included roasted pork loin, Korean chicken, a Thai curry, and basmati rice to go with any of the previous choices. You could also enjoy a bowl of chicken tortilla soup if desired.
Across from the hot food, there was a salad bar, a selection of sandwiches, crackers, cheese, cold cuts, cheese, and desserts. This is a substantial step up from their Club offerings.
I enjoyed some of each of the hot food options, which complimented the airplane views nicely.
Later, I headed to the bar for a cocktail. The Polaris Lounge bar is staffed and has a quality liquor selection. I almost went with a glass of wine, but ended up staying the course and ordering a vodka lemon drop martini as originally planned. It was excellent.
If you wander to the far end of the lounge, past the help desk, bathrooms, and corner area, you’ll find a snack bar. It’s stocked with coffee, water, tea, candy, fruit, and pastries.
Polaris Dining Experience
One of the best Polaris Lounge features is the restaurant dining. If you don’t care for buffet food, you can enjoy ordering freshly-prepared breakfast, lunch, or dinner from a menu. Dining doesn’t open until 7:30 AM, an hour after the lounge opens.
The sign isn’t kidding about needing a minimum of 45 minutes to dine. I wish I’d seen the note earlier. Plus, you need to factor in a wait. When I asked to dine, the hostess said it’d be 35-40 minutes(!). The lounge had started to fill up around 5:00 p.m., and I missed a great window for scheduling dinner. Luckily, I had just enough time to still enjoy Polaris dining.
It truly did take 40 minutes to be seated, and I was at my table around 6:20 p.m. for a flight with a 7:00 p.m. boarding time. The dining service was excellent once the waitress got to me. She seemed to have most of the tables in the restaurant, so it took a bit to order. The food arrived 15 minutes later.
I started things off with a cocktail, trying the signature United Polaris Star. It wasn’t nearly as good as the lemon drop, nor as good as other citrus-ginger recipes I’ve tried.
Since I would soon be flying SWISS business class and planned to eat again, I ordered just the cioppino. It was excellent, a perfect light bite before the flight.
Other entree choices included lamb kebab, mushroom risotto, and the signature burger. There are several small plate appetizer options as well.
I’m glad I was able to sneak in the dining experience. I almost missed the opportunity! As soon as I was finished, I had to quickly head to my gate.
United Polaris Lounge SFO Review: Final Thoughts
I’ve been to all of the domestic carrier lounges at SFO, the Centurion, and a handful of the international carrier ones in Concourse A. The United Polaris Lounge SFO is definitely my favorite. It’s a large space with great views, friendly staff, and a nice variety of seating. It got busy as evening approached, but not crazy crowded like the Centurion. The food and drink selection is solid, and the restaurant dining really adds to the experience. It’s a good thing that the only way to access it is when you’re flying in a premium cabin.
The only negatives I can mention are the limited seating for the restaurant dining and the length of time this can take. If you’re connection is less than two hours, it may be difficult to squeeze this in. The state of a few of the seats was also surprising, with completely split cushions. I figured they would replace or repair these.
I look forward to the next time I fly long-haul business out of San Francisco and can again enjoy the United Polaris Lounge SFO.
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