Review: United Polaris Lounge San Francisco Airport

Filed Under: Airport Lounge Reviews, Trip Reports

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Review: United Polaris Lounge San Francisco Airport
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United has done a great job over the past year with opening new Polaris Lounges, which are their international premium cabin lounges:

So I had visited three of the five Polaris Lounges prior to this, and was looking forward to visiting the one in San Francisco, which I had heard a lot of good things about.

United Polaris Lounge access rules

United’s Polaris Lounge is intended to be an international premium cabin lounge, so there are two primary ways to access it:

  • If you are flying United longhaul business class the same day; you can use this even if your longhaul United flight isn’t actually out of San Francisco, but also if you’re connecting (so you could use it if flying Frankfurt to San Francisco to San Diego, for example)
  • If you are flying nonstop Star Alliance business or first class out of San Francisco the same day; under this circumstance (if not flying United), you can access it only prior to the international longhaul segment, and not after, in the event that you’re connecting onto another flight

This lounge isn’t open to any elite members, so Star Alliance Gold members, Global Services members, etc., can’t use the lounge.

San Francisco has service from several Star Alliance airlines, so you can potentially use this lounge if flying with Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, EVA, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, Swiss, or Turkish.

The good news is that all of these airlines leave from the same terminal, so you’ll be access the lounge easily regardless of which of the airlines you’re flying.

San Francisco (SFO) Polaris Lounge details

Location of United Polaris Lounge at SFO

The United Polaris Lounge San Francisco is located in International Terminal G. Here’s a map of the terminal:

If you’re clearing security at the international terminal, just hang a sharp right after you pass through security, and you’ll see the entrance on the right.

United Polaris Lounge San Francisco exterior


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco exterior

If you’re connecting from Terminal 3 (United’s domestic terminal), the lounge is similarly easy to reach. Just follow the signs towards International Terminal G, and you’ll see the entrance after you go up the escalator on the left. Terminal 3 and Terminal G are connected airside.

United Polaris Lounge San Francisco hours

The Polaris Lounge at San Francisco Airport is open daily from 6:30AM until 12AM. This covers all Star Alliance nonstop flights out of the airport, and also covers most passengers who would be connecting. However, it’s possible the timing might not work out for some people who are taking an early morning flight to another gateway before their international flight.

I spent almost the entire day in the Polaris Lounge, and I found that it was the busiest in the morning (from around 9AM until 11AM), then it emptied out a bit, and then it started to fill up again in the afternoon, around 3PM.

SFO United Polaris Lounge layout and seating

United’s Polaris Lounge San Francisco is more than 28,000 square feet, making it roughly the same size as the Newark lounge, and significantly larger than the lounges in Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles.

United has a lot of transpacific flights arriving in the morning, though I was still surprised that there was a long line to get into the lounge.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco line to get in


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco entryway

The agents at the desk were extremely friendly and apologetic about the wait. There’s a lot that impresses me about Polaris Lounges, and the consistent friendliness of the people at the front desk is among them.

The Polaris Lounge SFO is two levels. A majority of the lounge is on the second floor, while the first floor is significantly smaller.

The first floor has some seating as well as the showers and nap rooms, while just about everything else is on the second floor. So let’s start downstairs.

United Polaris Lounge San Francisco first floor

The first floor has quite a bit of seating and parts feel a bit like a hotel lobby. In general I found the first floor to be significantly quieter than the second floor. Due to the flow of the entryway, most people seemed to head right up the escalator.

The first floor has leather seats along the windows, and then semi-private “cubicles.” All Polaris Lounges feature these, and I love them, because they create a sense of privacy, so you don’t feel like you’re in a crowded lounge even when it is full.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating

Then towards the back were some small dining tables, as well as more leather chairs.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco seating

The first floor just had some very light snacks, as well as soft drinks and water.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco drinks & snacks

Then there’s an escalator leading to the second floor, which is the main part of the lounge.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco escalator

If you get off the escalator and walk straight ahead, you’ll get to what’s consistently the busiest part of the lounge, since it’s where the buffet and restaurant are. However, if you walk in the other direction you’ll find an area that’s pretty quiet. So let’s start with that.

This area has some more of the semi-private seats, then there are leather chairs arranged in rows, and then there are dining tables with booth seating.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating

Behind that is another room, which is almost hidden, featuring some cool couches, as well as more dining tables.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating

There’s also some seating along a table overlooking the apron.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating

Speaking of which, this lounge has really great views of the gate area, both in Terminal G and Terminal 3.


United Polaris Lounge SFO view


United Polaris Lounge SFO view

In the end of this area is a small buffet with very basic snacks, water, and soft drinks.


United Polaris Lounge SFO snacks & drinks

I also love that there are some private rooms here, should you want to make a phone call, or whatever.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco business center

Going in the other direction in the lounge (walking straight ahead when getting off the escalator) is a lot more seating.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating

Past that was the bar area.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO bar

Then there was even more seating.


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating


United Polaris Lounge SFO seating

Then behind that was the buffet, and then the restaurant area.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco buffet

United San Francisco (SFO) Polaris Lounge dining options

Buffet at the United Polaris Lounge San Francisco 

While the lounge has an a la carte restaurant, in reality most people just get food from the buffet.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet

I’ll let the pictures of the food speak mostly for themselves. Here’s a look at the breakfast buffet…


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco breakfast buffet

Then here’s the lunch buffet, available later in the day…


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco lunch buffet

On top of the food, there’s self serve coffee, soft drinks, and water.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco buffet

Just remember that the bar has barista made cappuccinos, so I highly recommend that, as they do a good job with them.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco cappuccino 

The bar also has an extensive alcohol menu. Here’s a look at that:

Complimentary restaurant at the United Polaris Lounge San Francisco

The Polaris Lounge SFO restaurant is located at the very back of the lounge on the second floor.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco dining room

The restaurant has just over a dozen tables. At all the other Polaris Lounges I’ve found the dining area to be fairly empty while I was there, which wasn’t the case here. When we ate in the morning there was about a 20 minute wait, but then it emptied out later in the day.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco dining room


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco dining room

Ford and I had breakfast here, and then since I was in the lounge all day, I also had a late lunch here. The breakfast menu read as follows:

Our server was friendly, and offered us drinks to start. I ordered a cappuccino, which was excellent.

United Polaris Lounge SFO breakfast

Our food was brought out within about 15 minutes. Ford ordered an omelet, which he enjoyed.


United Polaris Lounge SFO breakfast

I ordered two things from the “light bites” menu (though I’m not sure I’d call either of them “light bites”). First I ordered the deconstructed bagel and lox.


United Polaris Lounge SFO breakfast

Then I also ordered the tropical mango pudding.


United Polaris Lounge SFO breakfast

Then later on I had lunch, and the menu for that read as follows:

To start I ordered the crispy shrimp cake.


United Polaris Lounge SFO lunch

Then I had the chicken katsu bento box.


United Polaris Lounge SFO lunch

Lastly for dessert I had the tiramisu espresso cup.


United Polaris Lounge SFO lunch

Everything I ate in the lounge was exceptional, and I still pinch myself that this is really in a US airline lounge.

San Francisco (SFO) United Polaris Lounge features

Showers & nap rooms

The area with showers and nap rooms is located on the first floor.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco showers & nap rooms

The lounge has eight shower suites.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco showers

The suites were spacious, and water pressure excellent. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, were in resuable containers in the shower.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco shower room


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco shower room


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco shower room toiletries

There are also five nap rooms, though I never ended up using one.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco nap rooms


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco nap rooms

Bathrooms

While perhaps minor, I appreciate that United has individual bathrooms in the lounge, and they’re located in two areas, and there was never a wait.


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco bathrooms


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco bathrooms


United Polaris Lounge San Francisco bathrooms

United San Francisco (SFO) Polaris Lounge experience

Lounge ambiance

This might sound minor to some, but makes such a huge difference in my perception of the lounge. The Polaris Lounge has soothing music in the background, and they also don’t make announcements in the lounge.

This makes such a big difference, in my opinion. In some lounges you either have the TV blasting, or you have an announcement every minute. That’s not the case here, and I oh-so appreciate that.

Lounge service

I had nothing but good experiences with the service in the Polaris Lounge. From the people at the front desk, to the servers in the restaurant, to those roaming the lounge, everyone was friendly and seemed to enjoy their jobs.

United Polaris Lounge San Francisco bottom line

I have nothing but good things to say about this lounge, or any Polaris Lounge. United has done a spectacular job with these lounges, and every time I use one I can’t believe that it belongs to a US airline.

This lounge is spacious and well designed, and has great amenities, food, and drinks. I also love the background music they have in the lounge, and the lack of announcements, which create a soothing atmosphere.

Talk about a stark contrast between United’s lounge experience and their onboard experience, at least based on my flight from Tahiti to San Francisco

If you’ve visited the Polaris Lounge SFO, what was your experience like?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!
Comments
  1. Lucky- to be clear, do you have access to the Polaris lounge if only arriving off International Business Class that same day? Meaning, do you have to have a flight after that out of SFO? I guess the answer is yes because otherwise you couldn’t get access through security. But it seems like that flight has to be on United or a Star Alliance partner.

  2. Thanks for another great review Lucky! Do you remember about what time the breakfast to lunch changeover occurred?

  3. I absolutely love the Polaris Lounge at SFO. I’ve been able to use it on 3 occasions. I’ve done both the buffet and a la carte restaurant. I agree that the food quality in both are exceptional. The space is so large, that even when its busy it never feels like it. And I’ve been able to relax and enjoy it. I’ve not had the opportunity to visit any of their other lounges, as SFO is my starting and stopping point most of the time. But I’d find it hard to top SFO

  4. My experience was early in the morning at 6 ish, it was busy but didn’t feel crowded at all. The nap rooms are stocked with Saks bedding, eyeshades, earplugs, chocolates, and an aromatherapy pillow spray for relaxation! I didn’t use it to nap but used it for a quick yoga stretch session before boarding a long flight instead. Walked by other nap rooms and people were passed out so that lounge chair must be super comfy. For those that are flying long haul business on Star Alliance (paid or award) definitely consider SFO because the lounge is worth it.

  5. Having been to the Polaris lounge twice now, the service level was completely different within the restaurant. The first time was excellent, the second was indifferent at best to downright awful. The whiskey/bourbon selection at the bar beats anything I have seen for a business class lounge.

    If you are flying United metal, you have same day flight access, if you are flying Star Alliance metal, you only have access if SFO is your last point of departure to Asia, Europe or Southern South America

  6. @ Kevin — Nope, sadly not. If flying a Star Alliance partner the longhaul flight needs to be out of SFO, and you can’t be connecting.

  7. @ Kyle — Thanks! 🙂 I want to say it switched over at 11AM, but don’t hold me to that.

  8. @ DCJoe — You actually don’t need to be flying United, you just need to be able to access the airside. So I was flying Qantas that evening to Melbourne, and could use the Polaris Lounge based on my inbound boarding pass.

  9. Asiana and morning EVA leaves from the A wing… but technically you can clear security twice to access Polaris.

  10. Last time I fly out at night the sit down al la carte dining was closed. Around 9:30 or 10pm I think. Very sad.

  11. I was at this lounge on Sunday flying UA863 from SFO to SYD, departing at 10.55pm

    Lounge was jammed pack, The dining room was closed by 9pm and there was hardly any choices on the buffet selection

    For revenue paying passengers, this is unacceptable.. compared with EK or SQ lounges, the new Polaris lounge was a let down for me

  12. @mon
    My experience 3x, also. Arrive in Polaris SFO but the sit-down dining is closed. The sit-down dining menus never change (at least in EWR and IAH) so it’s good we can’t use it too often. I’m in EWR often enough to not look forward to the sit-down dining option, but it’s the only way to get a low-carb main dish (I have diabetes). Really appreciate the SIZE of all the Polaris lounges!

  13. I found the SFO lounge to be a bit cold. It was pretty dead during the late evening I was there. The long narrow seating area felt disquieting to me. I realize we are all different but I choose to walk a block or so over to the Amex Centurion lounge and preferred it (both are accessible without going through security a second time). On the plus side the Polaris lounge stays open later.

  14. Just going off the people above me who have commented they have visited the lounge x amount of times and have different opinions. It’s an interesting opinion because they are repeat visitors. The restaurant while it looks great should rotate the menus and have more flexible hours for people on the super late departures. Unfortunately, I can see how service varies especially for an US airline. I do believe that the Polaris lounge are excellent quality and can’t wait to experience one for myself!

  15. While the a la carte dining is nice, the wait and speed of service can be very hit and miss. My main issue with the Polaris Lounges is the buffet. While the quality of the items are good, it’s not very substantial and varied. I much prefer the buffet at Flagship Lounges. It would be nice if they allow people to order items off the a la carte menu (maybe a simplified version) from other areas of the lounge rather than just the dining area.

  16. Ben Could you clarify? You said you had access to Polaris based on inbound *UA* flight which makes sense according to the rules. But your outbound flight does not have to be UA? In other words, how did you get back to terminal g airside with Qantas? Aren’t their flights from Terminal a? I thought terminal g was only * a +Aer Lingus.

    And so essentially as a stretch, if you were flying LHR-SFO Polaris business and then later that night SFO-TPE on Eva in economy you could access Polaris lounge?

  17. @ flyingrohit — You’re allowed to access any terminal at SFO with a boarding pass departing from any terminal, so I could get through security at the G gates. And yep, in your example you could access the Polaris Lounge same day before flying SFO-TPE based on your inbound flight.

  18. Agree with Dennis Deew. Their decision not to carry newspapers is very disappointing. When I asked the lady at the desk said that no one reads them (that’s probably why they don’t have newspapers in the plane either). What a contrast from say Kris Flyer Silver lounge in Singapore which has newspapers from all corners of Asia Pacific region.

  19. Given all the delicious food and drinks you describe, would be interesting to hear some discussion of how you work exercise into your travel life, to keep weight under control.

  20. This lounge used to be the best United Club in the US until they closed it to elites and made it for business class only. Now the other United club in the international terminal is permanently crowded, a huge mess, and standing room only no matter what time of day. UCs are truly a disaster nowadays and you have Polaris to thank for that.

  21. Thanks for the great review and all the photos. I’ve used the Polaris Lounge a few times at ORD on long-haul flights to NRT. Could I access both the ORD and SFO Polaris lounges if I took a business class flight from ORD with a same-day connecting flight at SFO to NRT? When the Polaris Lounge opens in NRT, I guess I could use three Polaris Lounges on a NRT-SFO-ORD-BOS flight. It might be worth breaking up the flight like this just to try out all the lounges. 🙂

  22. My wife and I flew LAS/SFO/SYD a week ago and I gotta say, we were pleasantly surprised by the SFO Polaris lounge including the facilities, food and service. I’d give it an 8 from 10.

    More importantly, the UA B789 flight SFO/SYD was one of the better international flights we have experienced. It departed on time, arrived almost on time and the food and service exceeded our expectations. It departed at 23:05 and even though we were both pretty tired we stayed up until around 21:30 Sydney time. We both managed around 8 hours sleep/dozing and the higher humidity/lower atmosphere resulting in much less jet-lag.

    I’ve crossed the Pacific (LAX, SFO to SYD, BNE, TYO, ICN, KIX nd HKG) and this was one of my better flights.

  23. So if I fly United economy RSW to Dalas and Dalas first class to Japan I can use the Polaris lounge no problem ?
    But on my way back 1st class Hong Kong to Newark and have a 6 hour wait to go back to go business to RSW I can NOT use the Polaris lounge?

  24. Dining room was open ‘til 11 pm on the Wednesday I passed through; interesting that isn’t always the case (esp given so many 10-11-12 departure times).

    At least the bar will be open and the drinks are fantastic!

  25. JAN: No Polaris lounges in RSW, DFW or NRT Japan, so puzzled by your first question. On your return, you can use the Newark Polaris lounge, so long as your flight back from HKG-EWR is on United.

  26. Can you access the Polaris Lounge from SFO to Toronto, Canada, with an Air Canada Business Class Ticket?

  27. Jan mis spoke In Sept 2019 Out we fly…rsw econm to iah..iah first class to nrt with 2 hr layover
    Home we fly..hong kong to nrt 6hr layover then nrt to RSW bus class
    All flights UA
    can we use Polaris lounge both ways??

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