United Will Only Begin “Designing” International Polaris Lounges In 2019

Filed Under: United

The pace at which United has been rolling out their new Polaris Lounges & seats has been nothing short of embarrassing.

In December 2016, United opened their first Polaris Lounge at Chicago O’Hare Airport, which was very well received. I had the chance to check out the lounge last year, and was impressed.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

While United’s Polaris Lounge in Chicago is nice, unfortunately the problem is the pace at which United is opening these lounges. It has been over 14 months since the first lounge has opened, and they still haven’t opened another lounge. As a point of comparison, American opened their first new Flagship Lounge in late May 2017 (nearly six months after United opened their first new lounge), and in less than seven months opened Flagship Lounges in New YorkChicagoMiami, and Los Angeles.

American Flagship Lounge Los Angeles

Last October I wrote about how United delayed the opening of their Polaris Lounges. Prior to that their online Polaris tracker said that United will open Polaris Lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and London in “early 2018,” and that they’ll be opening Polaris Lounges in Houston, Los Angeles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong, and Washington Dulles, “later in 2018.”

Then they updated their tracker to indicate that Polaris Lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and London, will be “opening starting in 2018,” and indicated that the other locations would be “opening later in 2018.”

Then in December United updated their Polaris Tracker yet again, eliminated any mentions of the timeframe with which lounges will be opening, and simply listing the lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and Houston as being “under construction,” and listing the other six lounges as being “in planning.”

United has now updated their Polaris tracker again. At this point United says:

  • Polaris Lounges in San Francisco, Newark, and Houston will be “opening in summer 2018”
  • The Polaris Lounge in Los Angeles will be “opening in fall 2018”
  • Polaris Lounges in Washington, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo Narita, are simply “future locations”

AusBT quotes a United spokesperson as saying that they “will begin design for these international Polaris lounge locations in 2019.” So United will only begin designing Polaris Lounges in London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo in 2019. “Designing” is presumably the phase before “construction,” so who knows when construction will start, though I’d be surprised if any of those lounges open before 2020.

If there’s any silver lining here it’s that there’s less value in Polaris Lounges at these international locations, since travelers have access to other excellent Star Alliance lounges. So it’s less of an issue not to have a United Polaris Lounge at Heathrow when you also have access to the excellent Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge. Besides, the United Club at Heathrow is actually already pretty nice.

The United Club Heathrow

I just can’t wrap my head around United’s failure with these lounges. I get construction delays are common at airports, but this isn’t an instance of construction delays, since for the most part they’ve even delayed starting the work. It sure sounds to me like this is more of a budget issue than anything else.

(Tip of the hat to Mark)

  1. A pathetic airline management. Inconsistent fleet, inconsistent lounges, no idea what the brand is supposed to stand for. A weak but huge founding member of Star Alliance.

  2. If I am not mistaken, Matt from Live and Let’s Fly is sitting down with Oscar Munoz. He said he will be asking about the horrible roll out of their polaris product/lounges and why it’s taking so long. However, I suspect Oscar will give some standard CEO answer and not really reveal the truth.

  3. I’ll take a stab.

    What they are doing is more ambitious that what AA or DL have designed. They are doing full meal service for all J class passengers at all their premier Hub/focus cities, which is 3 times more locations than their competitors.

    UA realized after the opening of Chicago that they under-anticipated the required size of these lounges. So adjustments need to be made

    Real estate is a real issue. UA doesn’t generally own their terminal space. Therefore they must negotiate with Airport authorities/bid contracts/get city Dept of Buildings plans approved/ to negotiate expansion of these lounges. While at the same time, grappling with the need to close a significant amount of lounge space while trying to do a build out. It’s all a balance.

    Capital expenses need to be controlled. UA doesn’t have unlimited budgets.

    As for the international locations, they updated them to be good enough for now. The UA lounge in LHR is already better than other *A offerings at that terminal.

    If you’ve ever run a multi faceted multi-year project, had to deal with construction, regulatory, and labor issues, and do within budgeted constraints, I think you’d appreciate the challenges with these projects.

    Yes, they are behind. But you trivialize the efforts involved.

  4. As it gets more and more difficult to get to JFK during business hours, United has a chance to steal market share from Delta and American (and JetBlue I guess). However, their lack of lounges, plus Newark’s poor state in general, have kept me in New York state for my travel.

  5. What an embarrassment, but let’s not forget that United itself said in 2016 that Polaris wouldn’t be available on a “majority” of aircraft until 2021. I guess the lounge timetable seems to confirm this.

    Of course, this also makes me doubt United’s ability to launch its new premium-economy product, which has been noticeably downplayed by United when compared against Polaris.

    By the time the last Polaris lounges open in 2020/2021 and the Polaris seats are on a majority of aircraft in 2021, the first Polaris lounge (Chicago) and the first aircraft with Polaris will begin showing their age.

  6. @Anthony : “plus Newark’s poor state in general” ….

    … and exactly what amazing state-of-affairs is Jamaica Queens touting ?

  7. A couple of thoughts,

    If United would only communicate more about why these lounges have been so delayed it would certainly help the situation. For that matter they should explain why they are being so slow to reconfigure aircraft.

    Secondly you mention other lounges that are available in many of these locations. Do you automatically get access when flying in Polaris to these lounges regardless of status? Because if not they are going to be useless to a lot of people.

    Third, Lucky I have to assume there are people at United that you can each out to Lucky. What do they have to say about this?

  8. @wpr8e Based on United’s own rollout schedule (and numerous subsequent changes) it would appear that the airline itself didn’t anticipate ANY of the issues you suggest. That in itself is pretty damning.

  9. I think UA’s inability to deliver what its marketing has promised is bad enough to have probably significantly damaged the brand with frequent flyers. A delay of a year or so is understandable; not so a rolling delay of currently three plus years. I would not be surprised some day to see the rollout of Polaris as a B-school case study, and not in a good way. It is particularly embarrassing for UA what a decrepit set of gates and clubs it has at IAD. I know plenty of people who try to fly BA, LH, AF or other airlines besides UA (possible for government employees if booking through a US alliance member) to avoid UA and the C/D gates. Thank goodness for the LH club.

  10. @lucky : those comparisons against AA Flagship lounge isn’t a fair comparison. Due to the strict access requirements, the old AA flagships, like the JFK one, were already on the low utilization side of things (relatively speaking), so passenger displacement during construction was limited, and the other AA lounges could easily absorb the short-term demand.

    Now compare that with a situation like EWR, where there wasn’t any old Global First lounge to speak off, and the pax displacement was HUGE, both in terms of paid J as well as the ones with lounge membership. So before they could even begin construction, they had to first design and build an entire temp / pop-up lounge … along with all the paperwork (it’s next to C124). Ditto situation for IAH.

    And on a side note, when i was in LHR, it was pretty much the ONLY time in which after I’ve sampled the AC Maple Leaf Lounge for less than 5 mins then ran straight back to the UA Club. The AC MLL @ LHR isn’t remotely close to the caliber of their YYZ flagship (both INTL and TransBorder ones)

    (I went during the early days of LHR T2 when SQKF wasn’t open yet, so I didn’t have a point for comparison. SQKF @ SIN is obviously stellar but SQKF @ HKG was such a dud)

  11. As far as any potential Polaris lounge at IAD, my hunch is that United is waiting to finalize plans for the construction of the new midfield terminal, construction of which will probably be timed to coincide roughly with the opening of the Washington Dulles metro station. In short, don’t expect to see it anytime before late 2020.

  12. @ henry LAX — Interesting about your experience about the AC MLL. I think the Heathrow MLL is fantastic, and prefer it to either of their YYZ MLLs (the new Signature Suite is of course better).

    I must be missing something regarding your point about passenger displacement. Isn’t that a reason that United should actually be renovating lounges faster than American, given that more passengers are displaced? For example, the United Club SFO International has been closed for months, and it’s still going to be months before the Polaris Lounge opens. Also keep in mind that American reallocated a lot of Admirals Club space to Flagship Lounges. The footprints of the lounges across the two airlines aren’t that different.

  13. Oh FFS this is just appalling. I use SFO as a hub to Asia several times a year. The old International First lounge that is being used for Polaris is not nearly large enough to sub for the old United Club (which was always packed to the gills anyway with Star Alliance Golds), even with the entry restrictions. On top of that they’ve closed the Singapore AND EVA lounges which had showers and far better food, respectively.
    UA is a joke.

  14. @Ziggy,

    I think the point is, once the ORD Polaris Lounge opened, they had to go back to the drawing board for all lounges. This is an assumption, but would make sense given the delays. They needed to expand the spaces, add additional kitchen capability, do impact analysis on displacement for other United Club members once the Polaris opens, etc.

    Project management is like wack-a-mole.

  15. I love the defense of Newark…it is a total S-hole. JFK isn’t perfect but the AA experience is light years ahead of EWR A or C.

    Also, it doesn’t take a PhD to realize, if you build something nice for a change, people might actually want to patronize it more and for longer. How that escaped the UA planning geniuses is mind boggling.

  16. @Lucky Any update on American’s Flagship Lounge in Philadelphia? I am flying from Venice to PHL in May and am hoping it might be open.

  17. Sorry but this is just pathetic. I respect the complexity required to phase in a large multinational project like this, but I don’t buy at all the logic that “they realised the lounges wouldn’t be large enough so they just decided not to start them at all”. If they have to wait for the proper space for an uncrowded lounge in all these airports thy will never build anything. They do indeed face worse displacement challenges than AA did, but that doesn’t excuse a timeframe that has now run to many of the AA construction program.

    More broadly the UA decision to gamble on revitalising their brand with premium passengers by announcing a product that didn’t, and won’t, exist for quite a few years yet was spectacularly idiotic.

  18. I agree it’s appalling. Yes, there needs to be planning to lease the space, get permits, etc etc. That’s what project managers are for, and I’m sure United can afford the best of them. Building or renovation an airport lounge is not new territory full of unexpected hurdles. It’s done all the time!

    Same goes for Polaris upgrades to the planes. Yes, I get the supplier has delays but why didn’t United consider this when picking a supplier. On top of that, as the largest airline in the world, surely they have some clout with their supplier to get them to add additional shifts or something like that?

    If I managed rollouts like this in my job, I’d be fired for this many delays and poor planning.

  19. It’s driven by changing priorities in leadership. Much of the Polaris work was pushed by the overall UA transformation that Haywood led. Once Kirby came into the President role and Haywood left, many of the transformational initiatives were scaled back or slowed down because they were at the expense of short-term capital returns and stock performance.

  20. @wpr8e

    Instead of your Public Relations BS, United passengers would like communication and explanations from United management.

    Right now, the delay without a proper explanation creates a situation wherein the customer is disappointed and disengaged.

    But, hey…..keep drinking the Kool-aid.

  21. You really do need to work to be on the list of the most hated companies in America. Congratulations, United.

    The delivery of the real Polaris hard product is on schedule to be totally obsolete and outdated prior to implementation. Again, good work United.

  22. “I just can’t wrap my head around United’s failure with these lounges”.

    Let me fix that for you:
    I just can’t wrap my head around United’s failure.”

    I suspect the real answer is greedprofit. Out of the US3, United is consistently the worst. From on-time performance, to its broken website, to FAs who think you’re not part of their job description. And it starts at the top.

  23. Can I ask a foolish question? Since everyone in these Polaris lounges is flying 1st or business class, why in the world would you want a full meal before you board? Even if you just want to sleep on the plane. None of that airport food is French gourmet (especially United), and it is loaded with salt for flavor. Just what you don’t need before a long over seas flight.

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