Review: United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Filed Under: United

We arrived on our United “Polaris” flight from London and had a four hour layover in Chicago before our connecting flight. This gave us plenty of time to check out the brand new Polaris Lounge which we were rather excited about since it is consistently rated as one of the best airport lounges in the US. Unfortunately, it was a few days before they began serving restaurant-style order-off-the-menu meals so those won’t be part of this review. A day late and a dollar short. Or something like that.

We cleared security and headed over to Terminal C through the psychedelic tunnel.

Connector Tunnel At Chicago O’hare Airport

As you come up the escalator, the United customer service counter is straight ahead.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

And the Polaris Lounge is just to the left of it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

The Polaris Lounge is between gate C-18 and the regular United Club, which was under renovation.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There was an advance matron outside the lounge doing some pre-screening for credentials as it seems there is still quite a bit of confusion about who has access and who does not.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

We flashed our boarding passes and then entered the foyer where there’s a cool United Polaris Lounge sign that is almost impossible to get a good picture of.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

And finally we came to the reception desk where they scan your credentials. We were warmly greeted.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There were chocolates and bottles of water at the end of the counter.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

It’s a somewhat dimly lit space which calls attention to the artistic light on the ceiling.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Apparently it depicts the lights of the Chicago skyline. There’s a map on the wall to help you orient yourself. The oval on the map corresponds to the oval shape of the light.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

As you go past the reception desk, the main part of the lounge is to your right.

Since we had arrived around 4 PM — sort of peak timing for the European departures  — the lounge was quite busy. This made finding space for our family of five a bit of a challenge. The lounge cleared out considerably after about an hour or so and that’s when I took some of these pictures.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge seating options

There are roughly five types of seating in the Polaris Lounge.

There are what I would describe as open-faced cubicles. There are 16 of these in the front area, comprised of two rows of eight.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There are 16 more cubicles behind the bar, so 32 in total. Note that there are left- and right-handed versions of them. Half of the ones in the front area are left-handed, while all of the ones in the back are right. I’m guessing most people don’t think about that when they sit down though.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Then there is a long bench along the wall with tables and chairs. These seats are good if you are with someone and want to work or eat.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There is another bank of these in front of the bar and a longer version behind the bar.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Then there are the typical comfy chairs that you find in lounges. These are along the windows and are also good if you’re traveling with someone.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Next there are three low-height circular tables. One of them is in the lobby, meaning you’ll be sitting in a high traffic area out in the open. The other two are near the buffet. Either way, these could be good for families or groups of three or four.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Finally there are two-person tables and chairs out in the middle next to the bar area. Note that I think these are going to be reserved exclusively for those dining off the menu.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

We eventually found some of the chairs by the emergency exit. This turned out to be good because the views of gate C-18 are fantastic. It’s almost like you can reach out and touch the plane. My son loved it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

The views from the club are excellent. You literally feel like you are right on top of the gate. We got to watch a 777 roll in, board, de-ice, and then depart for Frankfurt while we were there. It was cool to watch a de-icing from up close, yet not on a plane.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge buffet

I wasn’t really hungry but headed up to the buffet to check it out.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There was an array of breads, salads, and meats and cheeses, along the outer wall.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

The hot food is on the center island and consists of a selection of several individually sized pans.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Finally, there is a dessert area.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

It all looked pretty good but we weren’t feeling the best so we decided to pass.

I will say that I was a little surprised that the food had pretty much disappeared by the time we left around 7:45 PM despite the fact that the lounge was open until 9 PM.

The hydration station, including self-serve cans of soft drinks, is around the corner in the main lounge area.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge bar

The bar is one of the highlights of the lounge.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There is a self-pour area.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

And an extensive drink menu.

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

United Polaris Lounge Drink Menu

I read somewhere that they plan to keep specific bottles of wine on hand for Polaris regulars.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

I’m pretty sure you won’t see one with my name on it anytime soon.

The signature drinks come with handcrafted mini-airplanes clipped to the glass. I figured my kids would get a kick out of those so I asked for just the airplanes. But given that it was pretty quiet by then, the bartenders offered to make three mocktails for the kids. They loved them.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge amenities

The restrooms are down a hallway.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

They are very similar to the United Club at London Heathrow in that they are private rooms with a toilet, sink, and a bench.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There are ten of these which I’d say is a reasonable number, and twice as many as in London, despite this the Polaris Lounge being maybe a quarter of the size. The issue here, however, is that the occupied / vacant indicator is hard to read in the low light so everyone walks down the hall squinting. I could barely get a picture of it.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

There was also a wellness room which, given how I was feeling, seemed like maybe a good idea. I’m actually not sure what the room is for, but it seems like it could be good for nursing mothers.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Next I wandered over to take a look at the showers.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

By now they weren’t at all busy, so I asked the attendant if I could have a little tour. I’m sure they are getting a lot of requests for that right now, and he was happy to oblige.

They have six shower rooms, probably the nicest you’ll find anywhere in the United network.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

They also have four daybeds of which two were open which enabled me to sneak a peek. I would have loved to sack out for a few hours on one of those. Then I remembered that I have kids.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Towards the front of the lounge there were three United representatives who can help you with your travel. It was dimly lit over there, kind of like United wants to keep their agents in the dark.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago

The service in the lounge was definitely several notches above what you would find in a typical United Club.

The first thing we noticed is that there are a lot of staff. There seemed to be several servers assigned to the buffet area, for example. And more to just wander around and be helpful.

Everybody we interacted with seemed sincerely friendly and acted like they wanted to be there — it’s almost as if United plucked the best staff from the entire United Club network and brought them here.

United Polaris Lounge Chicago bottom line

The United Polaris Lounge Chicago is a fantastic lounge, clearly a step or three above the United Clubs and just about any other club operated by the legacy airlines. The service was fantastic and we felt like the staff truly cared.

I do worry a bit about the crowding as it was very busy when I arrived. There are some other small quirks that they can work out — ensuring there’s food all the way until closing, for example — but otherwise this is an awesome lounge, and arguably the most noteworthy feature of the Polaris product so far.

I can’t wait to return and try the menu service.

  1. I give it 6 months before they start bringing in contract workers to do a half-assed job with the food. That’s what’s happening at the LGA Centurion lounge anyway. Quality always falls off after a while. Decor looks awesome though.

  2. Kind of hard to believe that this is a United lounge. Looks fantastic and a very nice wine selection as well.

  3. There is also an entire sit down menu selection which is awesome, especially the fried chicken. It’s a bit hidden and only in the sit to dine area.

  4. Bummed that you were there right before the a la carte menu started operating. There’s only one online review that I could find, and that was only a couple days after they opened so I think they were still working out the kinks and on their “best behavior,” so to speak. With all the travel blogs now you’d think they’d be popping up. (It shows that even with Polaris starting to roll out, those in the know would still rather fly long haul on airlines OTHER than UA. I know I would!)

    Not too surprised you all weren’t feeling your best though. Traveling with 3 children that young is a constant battle. There is barely any down time. But at least when they’re grown they can’t say you never took them anywhere! 😉

  5. I was there in December (so before the a la carte option). We were connecting from Maui to Brussels, and it was SO crowded in the lounge. There was also almost no food. For me it was a disappointment…

  6. Does anyone know if I can access the Polaris lounge if I arrive in Star Alliance (ANA) F and connect on UA domestic first?

  7. @Charles
    Who can use the United Polaris lounge?
    Only customers traveling in United Polaris business class or United Polaris first class on long-haul international flights, as well as customers traveling in international first or business class cabins on Star Alliance™ partner airlines, will have access to the United Polaris lounge.

  8. As always, great review Travis! Thanks!

    @Lloyd – Not completely correct. Passengers departing or connecting to/from UA Polaris First Class or Business Class can use the lounge. *A First and Business pax must be departing from that particular airport in *A First/Business for lounge access. Some airlines extend lounge access (maybe LH?) with a same-day premium BP, but that’s not required.

    @Charlie – You won’t have access to either the Polaris lounge or United Club with your NH F BP. If, however, you’re *G, you can still use the UC.

    Not allowing premium pax lounge access throughout their journey is a messed up *A policy that really should be changed…

  9. Nice to see Duckhorn and some other nice wines, but a bit odd that they have no French wines at all outside of Champagne. A white burgundy and a bordeaux would be nice to see …

  10. @iv

    Are you sure about the Air Canada info? When the lounge first opened there was talk of buying a cheap r/t Business class fare out of Chicago to Toronto where you’d be up and back in the same day just to be able to try the lounge. Then it was reported that it had to be Air Canada long haul to get the access. I nearly routed a trip over the holidays thru Toronto and ORD, but I would have had to spend the night in Chicago and I just couldn’t make it work. If you were able to get in, I’d love to hear about someone’s actual experience.

  11. I’m not sure how anyone could find anything negative to say about this lounge. For a U.S. carrier it clearly sets a new standard pretty much across the board. In fact it’s competitive with many very good international carriers as well. And remember this is business class not true first class. Frankly it’s impressive as hell.

  12. John — Yeah, it’s a little odd. But there are so many people showing up at the lounge without the proper credentials that it does sort of make sense to do some pre-screening out front. Otherwise a line would form at the reception desk as the staff tries to politely explain that this isn’t a United Club. I saw at least 3-4 passengers get turned around out front, and honestly I think that’s better than having them clog up the main counter.

  13. Was just in this Lounge yesterday (12 Jun 2017); NOT impressed at all, especially when compared with even the tiniest Lufthansa Lounge. They ran out of food multiple times (I had a 6 hr layover); they ran out of silverware (no excuse for this in a ‘premium’ Lounge); bathroom occupancy signs so tiny in a very dark hallway that they are still impossible to see (why hasn’t this been fixed in 6 months?!?, and SO crowded by 3pm. UGH. Typical of United Airlines to offer a half-assed product.

  14. A great review.

    I have been in this lounge a number of times now, and every time it is ever more crowded. Yesterday (July 12th, similar to the post above), while flying to Rome, I went in to find every single seat taken – every seat at the bar, every pod, every bench seat. Even the seats at the front desk were full. I appreciate 4pm is a busy time with all the flights to Europe about to depart, but it is not the level of service that United is claiming to offer. It was also very noisy as there were a lot of kids in the lounge.

    Moreover, as a Global Services level frequent flyer (sorry to get on the high horse), it falls well short of what competitor airlines offer their top customers.

  15. Lounges are cool, but am I the only FF who plans accordingly and arrives as soon as possible before takeoff?

  16. Just to be clear, I can access the lounge when I depart in LH F but not when I arrive in LH F when connected to UA domestic F? Thanks.

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