Review: United Club San Francisco Airport

Filed Under: United

After a quick, uneventful flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I arrived at around 8AM, plenty early for my 1PM flight to Hong Kong. My flight arrived at Terminal 3, while my connection was departing from International Terminal G. Fortunately these are connected airside, so I made the roughly 10 minute walk. Enroute I passed the Amex Centurion Lounge, which is definitely the best lounge I had access to, though I wanted to review the United Club.

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Walkway to international terminal at SFO

The views from the terminal connector were awesome.

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United domestic lineup at SFO

At the end of the connector was an escalator leading up to the terminal.

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Escalator to international terminal at SFO

At the top of the escalator and to the left was the entrance to the United Club, which is open daily from 5AM until 12AM. There was a line to get into the lounge, and the guy in front of me was directed to the Global First Lounge. The United Club is presently being renovated, so I’ve heard that United is directing certain elite members in business class to the Global First Lounge, in an effort to alleviate the crowding issue.

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Entrance to the United Club San Francisco Airport

After I was admitted I walked to the end of the hall, where an escalator led up to the lounge.

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Entrance to the United Club San Francisco Airport

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Entrance to the United Club San Francisco Airport

Before I get too much into this review, let me once again emphasize that the lounge is presently under construction, so the experience I had doesn’t reflect the finished product. United is in the process of building a Polaris Lounge here, so I’d like to visit again when that’s open.

At the top of the escalator was a customer service desk, along with some seating.

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United Club San Francisco Airport

Then there was a long corridor with two sets of seats on each side. There was maybe seating for a few dozen people.

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United Club San Francisco Airport seating

Past that was the bar and cafe area. The bar was “L” shaped, and there were lots of tables with 2-4 seats each.

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United Club San Francisco Airport bar

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United Club San Francisco Airport bar

Lastly in the back of the lounge was another room with a couple dozen more seats.

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United Club San Francisco Airport seating

The lounge also had an area with magazines and newspapers.

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United Club San Francisco Airport magazines & newspapers

The lounge has fantastic views of both the international and domestic terminal.

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United Club San Francisco Airport view

I especially love the lineup of heavy aircraft. The 777-300ER taking me to Hong Kong is the fifth tail in the below picture.

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United Club San Francisco Airport view

The lounge wasn’t overcrowded when I first arrived, but by 10AM it was packed to the point that just about every seat was taken. I know the lounge is under construction, but it’s embarrassing when this is the best they can offer passengers. This isn’t just United — I feel like all airlines are constantly promising something in the future rather than delivering. Just a few days ago I was in the Admirals Club at LAX and there was loud jackhammering going on. What a soothing environment!

I sat down at one of the tables with four seats, since I needed a power outlet, which the tables with two seats didn’t have. Fortunately I won the table-mate lottery, as an older Japanese lady and her grandson sat down next to me, and proceeded to talk very quietly the whole time. They were a delight, to the point that I watched them literally scrub the table with a napkin, presumably because they thought it wasn’t clean enough.

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Crowded United Club SFO

When I first arrived, breakfast was being served. The selection was very similar to the one at the United Club LAX.

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

There were scones, muffins, whole fruit, bagels, toast, sliced fruit, granola, yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal.

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport breakfast selection

Later on they cleared the breakfast spread and brought out lunch, which consisted of shaved carrots, a chipotle quinoa salad, celery, carrots, salad, soup, rolls, and mini pieces of brownie and disgusting cookies (they tasted stale).

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United Club San Francisco Airport lunch selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport lunch selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport lunch selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport lunch selection

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United Club San Francisco Airport lunch selection

There was also a selection of Illy coffee and a soda fountain.

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United Club San Francisco Airport coffee

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United Club San Francisco Airport soda

There was a bar with complimentary house beer, wine, and liquor, as well as premium drinks for purchase. The bartender was obnoxiously loud, and I could hear every word of the conversation she was having with guests sitting at the bar.

After a while I decided I had enough of the United Club, which is advertised as being “relaxing” and “a rest from the day’s travels.” Quite to the contrary, it was the least “relaxing” or “restful” place during that days’ travels. As it turns out, the terminal is actually significantly more comfortable.

There was tons of open seating with free Wi-Fi.

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Departure gate SFO

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Departure gate SFO

There was even an empty cubicle from which I could work. It sure made me wonder why I even bother with lounges sometimes.

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Departure gate SFO

There was also some great plane spotting to be had from the terminal, including of a United 747 (which won’t be around much longer).

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United 747 SFO

In the distance I spotted a United 777-300ER, which presumably was flying between Newark and San Francisco, based on it being at the domestic terminal.

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United 777-300ER SFO

At gate G100 was the 777-300ER that would be taking me to Hong Kong, “the new spirit of United.” This is the very first 777-300ER that United took delivery of.

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United 777-300ER SFO

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United 777-300ER SFO

The cool thing is that the gates at SFO are one level below the main concourse, so there are lots of vantage points from which you can look at the planes. I loved the below picture, which has two 747s as well as a 777-300ER in the background. Sexy.

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United 777-300ER SFO

Boarding was scheduled for 12:15PM, and at around 11:45AM the crew showed up. I knew the crew working this flight would be Hong Kong based, though there were also quite a few American-seeming flight attendants (it’s my understanding that the flight has one or two “Polaris coordinators” based at SFO, and then there are also some Americans based in Hong Kong).

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Departure gate SFO

I always try to be first aboard when reviewing airlines so I can get good pictures, but my gosh, United seems to have the worst “gate lice” of any airline, probably due to their Southwest-esque signs. The below guy lined up at 11:35AM, a full 40 minutes before boarding was scheduled to start. About 10 minutes later another handful of people lined up. What the hell?

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Departure gate SFO

Sure enough, at 12:15PM boarding was called, starting with Global Services members, and then business class after that.

United Club San Francisco bottom line

The current United Club setup at SFO sucks. Admittedly this is temporary, but if you’re traveling through SFO in the coming months, make sure to visit the Centurion Lounge, or otherwise just sit in the terminal. United’s new Polaris Lounge in Chicago looks great, but unfortunately that’s not the experience available at SFO yet.

  1. It is a bleak and depressing place to spend time. Luckily, there are other options at SFO. Curious about the new Polaris Lounge.

  2. The best United Club in SFO is the Rotunda Club. While it doesn’t have the new furniture, t is large with many areas for seating. You had access to two other clubs you didn’t try.

  3. It’s a waste of time to post a review of the UA lounge at SFO international terminal. The word “mediocre” is sufficient.

  4. I’ve had the same issues with the club in the International Terminal. You’d figure since SFO is a UA fortress hub that the lounges there would be nicer. If I’m flying during that time of day, I’ll usually find my way into the SKL, though I understand that lounge’s days are numbered.

  5. I flew through there on SFO-XIY on UA in C. I skipped the UA lounge due to crowding and just went to the SQ lounge near it (I am OZ*G). Not as big, but much more quiet and empty.

    Will you review the SFO UA Arrivals lounge? That’s pretty nice I must admit.

  6. as a volunteer at SFO, i’m embarrassed by the UA club – surely a major pacific rim hub can do better? (and we know that the construction did not affect the quality of the experience, as it’s been the same sad situation for years – maybe the polaris lounge will be better) – i make sure that pax asking about the club know that they have access to the SQ and eva lounges if they are open (although my 1 time at the SQ F lounge years ago did not impress favorably) – i don’t feel that the club at T3 (domestic) is really better – it probably depends on the time of day – the free wine at all UA lounges is worth every penny 🙂 – the global F lounge is completely different in a good way, but usually the access is so limited that we poor schnucks in C class will never see it

  7. I could not disagree more on your view of the United boarding process. Designated lines are worse than the just general crowding AA flyers do? I think it adds some decorum to the process and keeps groups below priority out of the way of those of us with status.

  8. “Gate lice?” I guess you would consider me in that category, because I am a United Gold member who flies paid first class domestically and business class internationally, and I always try and line up early in the Group 1 line, even if that means, as you say, 40 minutes or so. I had no idea that I was doing something so utterly disagreeable to others. Yikes! “What the hell?” you ask, and I would answer that there are great potential benefits for those who are first to board. Why not stand in line to achieve this? Sometimes your attitude is rather fascinating. Just why would this behavior irk you so much?

  9. I spent 3 hours yesterday morning at the United Club SFO. I see from the photos that it must have been a different one than the one you reviewed here (no escalater for one thing). Nevertheless, it was just as unsatisfactory. Unlike the United Club at O’Hare which I used on my outbound flight, there was no eggs. I couldn’t find any cereal bowls until an employee pointed out these little high sided saucers so you could take the minimum amount. Bakery choices were limited to muffins and slices of coffee cake. The bar was closed which was fine by me but there was some guy behind the bar washing pots and pans making a huge racket. Just as you said in your review, the terminal gate area was more relaxing than the lounge and the food options were infinitely better.

  10. Does anyone know when the SFO Polaris Lounge construction will be completed? I am flying into and out of SFO in November on my ways to and from NZ.

  11. Boarding flights in the US is a mess. As a long time Delta elite I find their boarding process as one of the worse. The last couple years I’ve flown United domestic first a couple times and find their process a little more civilized. I really believe the signs help. Southwest’s system is very egalitarian, and also very civilized – IMO. Everyone knows were the A,B or C and numbers are, etc.

    During the last year I’ve been flying Virgin America a number of times. Generally speaking VX flyers have one of the most laid back boarding attitudes out there. People generally don’t storm the gate during boarding, and wait in the seating area until their group is called. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve noticed it more than a few times flying with them.

  12. I’m guessing since it’s not mentioned or pictured, there’s no espresso machine. And yet they have a relationship with Illy? Weird.

  13. The lounge does get crowded around the noon peak hours. It’s okay, but not a place you’d get rest unless you’re mainly there for drinks at the bar.

  14. @Dan T. Nelson:

    Yes, that DOES make you gate lice. Though, typically, that refers to people who generally crowd the boarding lines when they’re, say, Boarding Group 6 but they’re still on Boarding Group 2 and there’s no specific queueing area. This has been worsened by the fact that most airlines charge for checked bags these days and most folks would prefer to just carry their stuff on, meaning that the first people aboard get the overhead bin space. This leads to crowding of the boarding area.

    If you’re flying in paid First Class, as you so boldly proclaimed, then you likely don’t have to worry about available overhead bin space. So you being in line 40 minutes prior to boarding is unnecessary and would lend to calling you gate lice. Own it, live it, love it…and don’t read the blog if you’re so easily offended.

  15. Hi, new reader here. I’ve got a booked flight from SFO to HNL this summer in United First. Base on my understanding, I’ll not have access to this United Lounge, right? Thanks!

  16. “I always try to be first aboard when reviewing airlines so I can get good pictures, but my gosh, United seems to have the worst “gate lice” of any airline, probably due to their Southwest-esque signs. ”

    @Lucky, you do understand this is ‘pot meet kettle’ scenario? “I always try to be first aboard’… You are the king of gate lice! 🙂 It is okay, I like to board early, so I am gate lice too.

    But, I never fully got why people who are allowed to board first, who want to board first, are considered in bad form for lining up. And the irony is it is usually the people that want to board first that are calling other people wanting/waiting to board first ‘lice’. I guess, in this case, Lucky you are lazy lice! 🙂

  17. The nearby/adjacent Singapore Kris and Eva Air lounges are only open for limited hours catered to their own flights leaving SFO, which is generally late at night. Singapore’s lounge space is also contracted out for Air France (I believe) before they open up for the Singapore Airlines flights, which has a completely different food spread. I got in there once as a Kris Flyer and United Star Gold before they officially opened…they lock the doors and clean up once the Air France flight leaves then reopen a bit later. It is small but there are showers. Unfortunately, both the Singapore and Eva lounges will close permanently as part of the UAL renovations. So no more laksa. 🙁

  18. The newest United Club (by the E gates) looks more like the LAX club you reviewed, although it’s tiny and insanely crowded. My favorite one is deeper in the terminal, by the F gates. It’s really big and always seems to have a lot of open seats, plus floor-to-ceiling windows with great runway views. Food is of course mediocre, but that’s what the Centurion lounge is for. However, if I’m not looking for a meal before my flight, I prefer the relative calm of that particular United Club to the Centurion or other United lounges.

  19. The last few times I was at centurion club in sfo it was packed. Hard to find a seat. The food may be better but the atmosphere is almost as frenetic as the crowded ua club there.

  20. As I understand it from a UA Club rep I so=poke to last week, the existing UA Club adjacent to International Area G security that you reviewed will become the United Polaris Lounge. The existing First Class lounge will become a new United Club lounge. She also indicated that somewhere near gates 91-93 there would be a new United Club lounge as well as a new Global Services lounge…(???).

    Another UA club rep said that the Existing Singapore KrisLounge will be annexed into the new Polaris lounge….Seems like a lot of lounges are moving around to accommodate the new UA lounges.

    Sadly the existing UA Club lounge in Intl, that you reviewed above has seen better days. Hopefully when the construction is completed it will sparkle anew !

  21. I visited the United Club at SFO one week ago on Easter Sunday. It was not the one you describe here, and I had no problems at all. Power at every seat, plenty of food that tasted good, and it was not crowded. WiFi worked great, and the seats were comfortable, the staff very gracious and welcoming. It more than met my expectations.

  22. @matthewsf
    Is there any reason the SQ club is contracted to Air France? Air France is flying out of Terminal A and have their own lounge.

  23. @ Tom — Hah, yes, to some degree I realize I’m being hypocritical here. My point is that the only reason I line up early is because my job is to get pictures of these cabins. If I’m not reporting on a flight, my goal is usually to be the last onboard. For those who aren’t photographing the hell out of a cabin or taking the flight exclusively for the purpose of reviewing it, I just don’t understand the point of lining up for 40 minutes so you can board a minute earlier than you otherwise would. 🙂

  24. @ KeonG — That’s correct, unfortunately. No lounge access for domestic flights, at least not based on your class of service.

  25. @Alinsfca, yes, you are correct. I thought (at first) it was either them or KLM but upon further review it was Air New Zealand. So I was indeed admitted correctly….they just didn’t kick me out when they closed up for the switch over. :))

  26. Lucky,
    was the ‘loud bartender’ an elderly Chinese lady named Chow? If so, while she does sometimes speak loudly, she’s a funny, insightful & amusing lady who’s been a welcome sight for many weary SFO-ites for many years. She’s given me some pretty handy life advice in the past, actually. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else!

  27. Gate lice are truly bizarre. They’re like people who block a moving walkway or stand in the door of an empty subway car… except they’re incurring a cost (wasting 40 minutes of their life standing in one spot) for no purpose at all. @ Dan – you write “there are great potential benefits for those who are first to board.” No, there aren’t. You’re in Group 1. What benefit does being the first person to board bestow that being the eighth person to board doesn’t??

  28. Josh, The interesting thing about United’s Groups 1-5 system is that on many flights you see three quarters of people in Groups 1 and 2, and that is after a lot of preboards (children/military/Global Services). I heartily agree with you that there is no difference between being first in Group 1 or eighth in Group 1, but eighth is often not the choice. What typically happens is that when a few people start to line up the crowds pour into line, so you quickly go from a few people in the early groups to scores of them in less than a minute. I have found three advantages to being early in Group 1: (1) I get the actual designated line space at the gate, without having to go beyond it and having to fight with people walking down the corridor or having to mix with the other groups that are forming outside of the actual line limiters, which is often very confusing for everyone; (2) I get maximum chance at overhead space, and (3) I don’t have to stand in line so long in the Jetway and on the plane waiting for people to get situated (so I trade one line for another, but the terminal has more room). Certainly I can see why some people, as with you, would choose differently than I do when it comes to waiting in a line at the gate, but I hardly think the concept is so strange or harmful to others that it deserves a nasty nickname like “gate lice.” It never even crossed my mind that some people would be offended by it until I saw this post. Now I know. Dan

  29. Not temporary Ben. What you saw is how is been for at least a decade. Although the food you got was better than I have ever seen.

  30. The domestic Club in the E Concourse is just as bad overcrowding-wise. I was there around noon on a Saturday, and it was awful. I think I literally grabbed the last open seat, though at least it was one by a window. The overall design is nice, though, similar to the LAX Club, and the bar has some nice California wines for the complimentary selection.

  31. I’m based in SF and fly out of SFO at least thrice a year on Intl flights. I can’t wait for the Polaris lounge and hope it lives up to the hype. And you’re right, it gets really crowded at certain times of the day (I’ve been lucky to use this lounge (now closed) early morning or later in the evening.
    Yep, before this lounge was closed, there were 2 United Club lounges at SFO, in addition to Global First and Arrival Lounge.
    Most United Club lounges are lagging their Asian and European rival airlines lounges. i believe all United Club lounges need upgrading, not just Polaris (which I believe is for Intl Business flights). And most Asian airline lounges provide liquor, cocktails and wines for free (no bartender), at United Club, I beleive you pay for them (up to $9) unless it’s the house red or white.

  32. No matter how good a United Club may look — and I thought the one in SFO yesterday looked nice — it still sucks because United insists on spending as little as possible on amenities in their clubs. It would cost literally nothing (or a pittance) to upgrade to a drinkable house beer. The only non-dairy protein you’ll ever find might be a chunk of meat in the canned soup. The cheap rolls are often stale, which makes the bargain-bin cheese cubes even less palatible. I go through security twice to visit the Lufthansa or SAS lounge at EWR because the United Clubs in terminal C have such a meager offering. Non way I’m renewing next year. The thing is, a few minor food upgrades wouldn’t cost much and would make a world of difference. Like the United Club in LHR — the only one I like to visit!

  33. As my granddaughter would say, “this is just SAD”. I’m sitting in the normal lounge at SFO, international terminal. While sitting here is definitely nicer than the airport, the food served is terrible. I got a cookie and thought I would break a tooth bitting into it. They would be much better off, serving fewer choices, simple items, but decent quality.

  34. Since Air New Zealand has no own lounge we had to use the United Club in SFO. It’s nicer outside in some of the terminal restaurants. No food offering but two soups and some dry salad. None of the staff seems to have heard about Gluten free or Dairy free food before. Thanks god Air NZ has high quality food on board….
    I don’t drink alcohol myself but the only options here were beer and some wine.
    All in all not a place to recomend. We really hope Air NZ opens their own lounge soon or I will not route via SFO anymore. LAX is the better option for me as we don’t need to use United Club.

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