United recently introduced their new Polaris product which will feature a new business class seat, an improved soft product, and a network of lounges exclusively for premium cabin flyers. The new soft product launched in December of last year, while the new seats won’t start appearing for another month or so and will then take up to five years to trickle out across the fleet.
I had the opportunity fly United Polaris for the first time last month and was reasonably impressed with the enhanced dining and bedding options as well as the new amenity kit.
I also had the chance to visit the United Polaris Lounge in Chicago and will have a review shortly as part of my current trip report. Suffice to say that the Polaris Lounge is the most impressive aspect of the new product in my opinion — I think even the most casual of business class traveler will recognize that it is definitely not a United Club.
The problem, of course, is that there’s only one Polaris Lounge currently open in the entire network. So unless you’re flying through Chicago…
The Polaris Lounge rollout plan
According to Australian Business Traveler, United plans to open five Polaris Lounges in 2017. Newark and San Francisco are slated for mid-2017 with Los Angeles, London, and Houston following in late 2017. Then in early 2018 we can expect to see Polaris Lounges in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Washington Dulles.
It’s worth noting that the Newark and San Francisco lounges will open in two phases, with the second phase following in 2018. We don’t know exactly what that means — less space, fewer dining option, who knows.
The plan actually makes sense
I don’t necessarily agree with the way United has prematurely marketed Polaris — I think it leads to confusion in the marketplace and mismanages expectations. But I’m going to give United some credit here for a lounge rollout plan that actually makes some sense.
Or at least it makes sense to and benefits me personally.
If I were to have ranked United’s hubs in terms of lounge options for United business class flyers — not just United Clubs, but any lounge that could be reasonably accessed from the United gates — I would have put Chicago and Newark at the absolute bottom of the list. They basically had no accessible lounges except the United Clubs.
Technically, the American Admirals Club and the Delta SkyClub are both behind the same security checkpoint in Chicago, but they aren’t convenient, and aren’t really any better than the United Club, so I’m not counting them. That problem has now been addressed in Chicago. And Newark is next on the list, which is great.
The other United hubs all have other lounge options for United travelers.
American Express Centurion Lounge Houston
Star Alliance Lounge Los Angeles
London has arguably the nicest United Club in the entire network.
United Club London Heathrow
Tokyo has a decent United Club and also has the ANA Lounge.
Hong Kong has various Star Alliance lounges.
Singapore KrisFlyer Lounge Hong Kong
Therefore, at least from my perspective, Chicago and Newark were the two United hubs that really stood to benefit the most from a Polaris Lounge, and lo and behold, they are first on the list.
Now I’m not saying that United actually considered the presence of a Centurion Lounge when deciding where to next build Polaris Lounges — in fact I’d be quite confident they didn’t — but the end result is the same.
United flyers are getting major lounge upgrades precisely where they were needed most.
We now have an idea of where and when to expect the next Polaris Lounges in the United network.
I think the plan mostly makes sense, and am particularly glad that Washington Dulles made the cut as there is constant speculation about United’s long term plans for that hub.
I guess this will leave Denver as the only United hub without a Polaris Lounge — apparently one international long haul flight to Tokyo just wasn’t enough.
Which United Polaris Lounge are you most excited about?