Review: Emirates Lounge San Francisco Airport

Filed Under: Emirates

Our connecting flight arrived in San Francisco about three and a half hours before our flight to Dubai. As we had plenty of time, and my husband still didn’t feel great, we popped into the Delta SkyClub for some soup and downtime before heading over to the international terminal, which we were able to enter thanks to a credit card with lounge access.

The Emirates check-in desk opens three hours before departure, and online check-in isn’t possible from San Francisco. Fortunately, there wasn’t a queue for First Class passengers, so we had our boarding passes in minutes.

Emirates check-in counter SFO

Then began the most ridiculous “TSA” experience of my life. San Francisco doesn’t actually use TSA as such — rather they use Covenant Aviation Security as private contractors. While I would tend to support the idea of privatizing as a way to reduce government bloat, my experiences with CAS employees are always far worse than any TSA employee. So who knows.

I realize holiday travel period is a busy time, but the queue management and wait time was absolutely unacceptable. Wheelchair passengers, crew, and CLEAR customers were all being fed into the same ID check as premium passengers. All these people then fed into one lane, which was staffed by the surliest and most inefficient group of people I’ve ever encountered in any industry.

To give you an idea, from entering the Priority lane to the ID check took 11 minutes, by which point the people who had entered the non-Priority lane after us were already through the screening process. After our IDs were checked it took an additional 27 minutes to complete screening, without any secondary checks. The small child in front of us even had an accident due to the extra-long wait, so it was a frustrating experience for everyone.

Absolutely ridiculous.

With that out of the way, we headed towards the lounge, which is about half-way down the pier, across from the British Airways lounge.

SFO lounge signage

Emirates lounge entrance

Emirates has a combined lounge for first and business class passengers in San Francisco, though given they only have one flight a day it’s great they have a lounge at all.

The agent was friendly, and directed us to an elevator off the vestibule.

Emirates lounge entrance

The lounge itself is on the smaller side, but perfectly adequate for Emirates premium passenger load out of San Francisco. It basically consisted of one large room, with several seating areas, two TVs, and a water feature, then a separate room that served as a dining area.

Emirates lounge SFO seating

Emirates lounge SFO seating

I personally find the color scheme Emirates uses for their lounge to be a bit sickly-looking, and this one was no exception. The furniture was comfortable enough, but the colors!

Emirates lounge SFO seating

The relaxation area of the lounge had a self-serve beverage station, featuring a coffee machine, sodas, several varieties of booze, and a few bottles of wine.

Emirates lounge SFO drink selection

Emirates lounge SFO drink selection

Emirates lounge SFO drink selection

Emirates lounge SFO drink selection

I didn’t take pictures of the seating arrangements in the dining room because there were two families with small children present, and that always weirds me out, but the options basically consisted of a short wall with banquette seating, and a few additional tables and chairs.

The food options consisted of a lovely cold display, with fruit plates, small salads, cheeses, and some tasty-looking desserts:

Emirates lounge SFO cold buffet

Emirates lounge SFO cold buffet

Emirates lounge SFO cold buffet

There was a hot buffet as well, with some tasty-looking Indian options, a nice cauliflower soup, a pasta, roasted veggies, and so forth.

I was actually quite impressed by the variety, and this seems like an especially nice benefit for business class passengers.

Emirates lounge SFO hot buffet

Emirates lounge SFO hot buffet

Emirates lounge SFO hot buffet

Emirates lounge SFO hot buffet

Emirates lounge SFO hot buffet

On the other side of the lounge, near the elevator, was a small business center.

Emirates lounge SFO business center

Beyond that were the restrooms, which were divided into Men’s, Women’s, and an accessible room.

Emirates lounge SFO restrooms

The bathrooms themselves were fairly standard, with Emirates’ signature hand-towel pyramid.

Emirates lounge SFO restrooms

Each had a shower room as well, which isn’t my favorite setup. I much prefer when the shower rooms are separate from the bathrooms, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

The shower rooms were decently-sized, with a shower and a sink, along with a luggage stand, but no toilet or vanity. I don’t think it would be a great place to try and get ready, but again — better than nothing.

Emirates lounge SFO shower room

Emirates lounge SFO shower room

By the time we got to the lounge we only had about an hour prior to boarding, so we had tea, finished up some work things, and enjoyed the view out the windows. San Francisco has a beautiful airport, and the Emirates lounge has a great position for watching other planes.

Emirates lounge SFO views

Bottom line

Honestly, I don’t think Emirates is great at lounges in general. The lounges in Dubai are massive, but they’re not particularly stylish, the showers aren’t comparable to what you’d expect from a First Class lounge, and the food is typically mediocre.

Certainly a lounge is better than no lounge, particularly at an outstation, but there’s nothing that feels particularly unique or special about them.

So the Emirates lounge at San Francisco is sufficient, and the buffet options will likely be appreciated by business class travelers, but I don’t think you need to go out of your way to arrive early for the purpose of enjoying the lounge. Just give yourself plenty of time to get through security!

  1. I find this to be one of the best lounges at SFO, especially for the food they serve and that it really is a business class lounge. Since you are about to get onto a 14+ flight when you visit this lounge, it is a nice way to welcome you to the EK experience. And if you are an EK Skywards gold or platinum, this lounge is especially nice if you have to tough it out in economy all the way to DXB. Yes, there are nicer lounges all around the world. But here in the US, there are not many lounges that outrank this one, especially as this is an out station lounge that services one flight a day. I have never seen it overly crowded and the food is always high quality and fresh. Drink selection is limited, but once again, on par or better thann most lounge offerings. I do agree that the decor looks a bit like a mid 1990’s office.

  2. Sorry you didn’t mention the ease of boarding the aircraft. I believe we were
    able to exit the lounge and immediately walk the bridge to the A380.

  3. I’m a United 1K flying out of SFO terminal 3 and International and can’t remember the last time I spent more than 5 minutes in an SFO security line. Your experiences with CAS have certainly been different than mine. The only bad experience I’ve had at SFO security was actually with a CLEAR employee, strangely. Unlike TSA, CAS employees can be terminated for poor performance, so they tend to be less arrogant.

  4. @ AndyF — Oh, to be fair, I’ve had short queues on the other international pier (where UA and the Centurion lounge are). This pier seems to always be bad for some reason, I might be hitting it at the wrong times.

  5. It seems that airline-alliances are waning lately, but this review reminds us of why they exist.

    This lounge, along with similar outstation lounges around the world, have to cost Emirates a fortune to operate; the fact that it’s only used for one flight a day is jaw-dropping. I understand that Emirates is known for their exclusivity, but they need to find other ways to get additional revenue out of this under-utilized operation.

  6. @Tiffany – it really depends on the time of day you’re in International Terminal A. Sometimes it’s a nightmare and sometime’s it’s a breeze. Either way, I’m not how they are training the contractors in the pre-check line but it’s the place where I have most consistently experienced longer waits at pre-check than the people in the normal or priority screening lanes. Guaranteed 1 out of 3 times I’m at that concourse and there’s a backup of 7 people with a slow screener at pre check compared to 6 passengers for 3 agents at the general screening line.

    I think part of the problem with International A in general is the mixture of carriers. You’ve got 1-2 times a year leisure travelers traveling on Alaska, JetBlue, Sun Country, Volaris, and Wow and the families going on their annual or regular long haul international trips. Mostly no fault of their own but the general unfamiliarity of folks to the screening process and the lethargic competence of the contractors lead to longer than necessary waits at International A.

  7. I’ve never noticed the sign before that’s behind the alcohol. “Consuming alcohol may cause cancer,” etc. Does everything cause cancer in CA?

  8. Thanks for the nice review. We’ll be taking the same flight in F in less than a month and had little info about this lounge. Now I know what to expect.

  9. @ Ken — Pretty much. Baked goods now too. Starbucks is the best about it because they have a super passive-aggressive sign up next to the notice that basically says “state law makes us put up this sign because your legislators don’t understand chemistry.”

  10. Baked goods now too? Things are getting a bit crazy.

    Pretty soon they will have signs when you’re walking on the jet bridge in CA airports that “breathing CA air and drinking CA water may cause cancer.”

  11. @ Mark — That’s awesome, and I’m super jealous. Our gate was a ways down from the lounge, so maybe they generally use a closer one? That’s a great feature!!

  12. Tiffany, somewhat by your review…I was blown away by the Emirates Lounge at SFO. Especially the food and beverage selection. But then again, I guess I am used to domestic and contract lounges.

  13. Your gut is wrong about privatizing being more effiecent and cost effective than government services.

    “the private contractors cost more in 33 of those 35 jobs. On average, the service contracts paid private employees 83 percent more than the government would pay a federal employee doing the same job (and that’s even taking into account health care benefits, pensions, and so on).”

    Here’s a link to the Washington Post article on the study:

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