FIRST LOOK: The new United Polaris Lounge shines at Newark airport

The United Polaris galaxy expanded ever so slightly today, as the airline unveiled the third Polaris Lounge location, at New York-Newark Liberty International airport (EWR.)

A luxurious haven for passengers departing or arriving in United’s intercontinental premium cabin, the Polaris Lounge Newark is modeled on its predecessors at Chicago O’Hare and San Francisco, and boasts minutely designed semi-private workstations and slumber rooms, lavish shower suites, a full bar, an extensive hot buffet, and a complimentary full-service restaurant.

The investment marks the dawn of a new era for United: the carrier jumps virtually from last to first in the arena of international ground services at Newark airport, and leapfrogs much of the competition in the New York area.

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

A new departure for United at Newark airport

Polaris, United’s revamped intercontinental business class service, debuted in June 2016 with the promise of luxurious lounges on the ground, and highly private cocoons in the sky with all-aisle access and flat beds.

Despite a successful initial launch, the product has been rolling out at a glacial pace. Newark passengers have been enduring construction and swelling crowds since the main United Club closed a year ago for remodeling. Rumors of Polaris’ possible demise, supported by minor cut-backs, were swirling when United surprised us a month ago with the opening a sumptuous Polaris Lounge at San Francisco airport, and a commitment to accelerate both aircraft conversions and new lounge openings.

The airline has kept its promise. This morning, United unveiled the brand new Polaris Lounge Newark to guests and media representatives, and the verdict is in: the stunning club was worth the wait.

Located in Terminal C between concourses 2 and 3 (across the security checkpoint, between gates C102 and C120, next to Starbucks), the Polaris Lounge opens to the public on Monday, June 4th. Summer opening times are 4:30 am to 10:30 pm.

Ribbon-cutting at the United Polaris Lounge Newark (EWR)

Ribbon-cutting at the United Polaris Lounge Newark (EWR)

United Polaris Lounge Newark design

The new Polaris Lounge at Newark airport (EWR) occupies the footprint of the former main United Club in Terminal C near gates C1-C120, plus adjacent space on either side, for a total surface of approximately 27,100 square feet. The lounge is situated immediately across the security checkpoint, a central location which is nevertheless far from the furthest gates (allocate at least 10 minutes to reach your gate.)

A vast circular marble-clad lobby in monochrome tones greets visitors. Up on the ceiling is a light sculpture by Brooklyn-based Richard Clarkson Studio evoking the constellations of the 12 zodiac signs, in a nod to the Polaris brand.

United Polaris Lounge Newark reception desk

United Polaris Lounge Newark reception desk

To the left, a hallway opens onto the lounge proper, revealing a completely new space. The former United Club, which had not been remodeled since its inception as a Continental Presidents’ Club, is virtually unrecognizable.

The design is in the lineage of the United Polaris Lounge Chicago O’Hare and United Polaris Lounge San Francisco, with a modern yet timeless blend of soothing blue, gray, and white tones. The alliance of designer light fixtures, marble partitions, and accent lighting creates a serene ambiance with luxurious undertones.

United Polaris Lounge Newark workstations

United Polaris Lounge Newark workstations

The club boasts floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows overlooking the tarmac. The layout allows natural light to flow throughout the space—a substantial improvement over the former United Club, where the expansive business center used to obliterate both daylight and views.

United Polaris Lounge Newark tarmac views

United Polaris Lounge Newark tarmac views

The seating configuration appeals to solo travelers, couples, and larger groups alike. With a total of 455 seats, the space is by no means intimate, but the smart layout and sheer variety of seating options (up to 14, according to United) aim at accommodating the most discerning needs.

All seats are outfitted with power and USB outlets: 450 USB ports and 570 power outlets in total, or more than one per seat on average.

Solo travelers will find 44 productivity pods outfitted with personal lighting, USB and power, a coat hook, and a laptop table, which provide excellent privacy and comfort.

United Polaris Lounge Newark individual workstation

United Polaris Lounge Newark individual workstation

Couples will enjoy intimate seating for two with with privacy dividers.

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

For a more casual vibe, the Polaris Lounge Newark offers inviting star-shaped couches in the bar area.

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar seating

To accommodate peak traffic, there’s also more traditional seating reminiscent of the United Club design. Patrons have their choice of trendy egg chars or armchairs with side tables and individual lamps.

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

For private phone calls or impromptu meetings, guests can retreat to one of the four phone rooms, all elegantly appointed with an ergonomic chair, a desk, and a work lamp.

United Polaris Lounge Newark phone room

United Polaris Lounge Newark phone room

The Polaris Lounge Newark plays on the cosmos metaphor with star-shaped clusters of seats, “stardust” motifs on the ceiling, and the hallmark of all Polaris lounges: dimly-lit hallways outfitted with LED twinkling stars.

Compared to its sibling at San Francisco airport, the United Polaris Lounge Newark feels dense and more compact: not only is the space slightly smaller, but United had to pack in more seats to accommodate peak-time traffic between 5 and 9 p.m. Hopefully, with as many as 10 shower suites and an expansive seating and dining area, the club will be able to cope with demand.

Four a bout of (ill-placed) nostalgia, here’s a picture of the former United Club near gate C120—taken at a rare time at which it was not crowded. It’s been quite the transformation for the venerable space.

The former United Club at Newark (EWR) Concourse C near gate C120

The former United Club at Newark (EWR) Concourse C near gate C120

Dining at the United Polaris Lounge Newark

While dining is a core feature of every Polaris Lounge, it’s a key amenity at Newark, where many passengers embark on overnight hops to Western Europe. Flight times can be short enough that partaking in the meal service on board leaves little time to sleep. The ability to optionally dine on the ground significantly enhances the experience.

United is not content with playing catch-up (several airlines offer a generous hot buffet or limited a-la-carte service), but leapfrogs the competition with an extensive offering available to all Business Class passengers.

Equipped with a full kitchen, the lounge employs a full-time culinary team. United has enlisted the help of global caterer Sodexo, who is in charge of both food preparation and service. The waitstaff has been especially trained for the demands of the Polaris service, and no detail is overlooked—during our visit, we observed a manager addressing the appearance of an employee’s lanyard.

United Polaris Lounge Newark buffet area

United Polaris Lounge Newark buffet area

The imposing buffet features an assortment of small plates, salads, entrees, and sweets. The focus is definitely on comfort food, with all-time favorites such as ravioli, BLT sandwiches, cold cuts, and bruschetta, but the more refined or heath-conscious palate will also find a salad bar, grilled veggies, and curried salmon. Breakfast is a traditional hot buffet featuring eggs, sausage, and other staples.

Compared to the Polaris Lounge San Francisco, the spread is less international and eclectic, which ultimately reflects local tastes: more passengers originate in Newark than at any other United hub.

A highlight of the Polaris Lounge is the complimentary full-service restaurant, where guests may enjoy a complete a-la-carte meal in elegant surroundings and with a bird’s eye view on the tarmac. 24 tables accommodate up to 48 diners on a first-come, first-serve basis. The service is bound to be popular in the evenings ahead of departures to Europe.

United Polaris Lounge Newark full-service restaurant

United Polaris Lounge Newark full-service restaurant

Highlights of the breakfast menu include strawberry mint acai bowls and Egg Benedict with smoked duck, while the lunch and dinner selection features wild mushroom risotto, Moroccan-spiced braised lamb, and the signature Polaris burger, a staple of Polaris Lounges. The dessert offering honors New York with a cheesecake cup accompanied with tiramisu and traditional cannoli.

United Polaris Lounge Newark full-service restaurant

United Polaris Lounge Newark full-service restaurant

United Polaris Lounge EWR bar

The stunning marble-clad bar, one of the focal points of the design, delineates the restaurant zone and the casual seating area.

The beverage selection boasts 14 international wines hailing from Europe, Israel, Argentina, and the US; as well as an Italian Prosecco and a French Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut Champagne. United also offers six beers on tap, and a generous assortment of liquors and spirits.

Signature cocktails include a local bourbon-based twist on United’s Paper Airplane (served with a clipped-on paper airplane on a Polaris-branded coaster); the United Polaris Star, a star-anise infused vodka with Dolin Blanc and Dolin Dryn; and the United Polaris Old Fashioned.

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar

The bartenders double as baristas, and will craft the espresso drink of your choice. It’s unfortunate that this luxury does not have a match in the air anymore; on-board espresso makers were quietly phased out few years ago.

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar

United Polaris Lounge Newark bar

Soda, juices, infused and bottled water, tea, and espresso are available for self-service in coolers in the buffet area.

Showers and relaxation at the United Polaris Lounge Newark

The Polaris Lounge EWR features ten spacious and exquisitely designed shower suites appointed with a rain shower, a heavenly memory foam bath mat, over-sized Saks Fifth Avenue-branded towels, a pair of slippers, and Cowshed Spa bath products in wall-mounted dispensers. Essentials such as combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower caps, and shaving kits are available upon request.

United also offers clothes pressing service: hang your clothes through the double door, ring the bell, and your items will be promptly returned to you while you freshen up.

In lieu of traditional public bathrooms, the Polaris Lounge sports generously-sized individual all-gender stalls equipped with a toilet, a sink, an ottoman, and plenty of room to change or freshen up. Exclusive to the Newark location is a simple but smart feature: a green/red LED light indicating whether a room is occupied.

United Polaris Lounge Newark shower suite

United Polaris Lounge Newark shower suite

Ten individual napping rooms featuring a day bed, eye masks, ear plugs, Saks Fifth Avenue-branded pillows and blankets, and a white noise machine, await weary travelers.

While the sleeping suites provide a generous amount of personal space, they face each other and as such are not especially private. A staggered configuration would have increased privacy at a relatively low cost. On the flip side, the Polaris Lounge Newark addresses our top concern with the O’Hare and San Francisco locations—the slumber rooms are finally located away from windows and daylight.

United Polaris Lounge Newark sleeping room

United Polaris Lounge Newark sleeping room

The showers and sleeping rooms are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from the Valet, next to the customer service area. We recommend inquiring early should their be a wait at peak times.

United Polaris Lounge Newark Liberty airport access rules

The United Polaris Lounge at Newark airport is primarily intended for customers departing or arriving in United Polaris. United passengers receive access as long as their itinerary includes at least one segment in United Polaris, including when connecting to/from a domestic flight.

The Polaris Lounge also welcomes Star Alliance Business and First Class passengers departing on international flights longer than six hours, though Star Alliance partner airlines operate from Terminal B, which is not connected to Terminal C.

Passengers arriving on United in Terminal C can enjoy the Polaris Lounge before catching the transfer shuttle to Terminal B (allow at least 30 minutes to reach your gate.) For Star Alliance passengers originating in New York, visiting the Polaris Lounge is a time-consuming endeavor involving a terminal change. They may prefer to use the SAS Lounge, Lufthansa Business Lounge, or Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Terminal B.

First Class passengers are permitted to bring one guest.

The Polaris Lounge is off-limits to United Club members, Star Alliance Gold customers traveling internationally in economy, and Business class customers flying on United’s transcontinental premium service to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those customers continue to receive access to United Clubs which, while far less attractive, should be less crowded from now on.

United Business class passengers traveling internationally within North America and Central America do not receive lounge access.

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

Future United Club investments at Newark Liberty airport

With the Polaris Lounge Newark in operation, United will turn its focus to United Club improvements and renovations.

  • The temporary “pop-up” club near gate C124 will remain available in the foreseeable future. The location offers comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, and a basic snack and beverage selection, though it suffers from noise, crowding, and the lack of a bathroom.
  • A second pop-up location will open near gate C91 in the next few months.
  • A new, permanent United Club is expected to take shape within 24 months. While the details are still in flux, United envisions a spacious bi-level floor plan in a central location.
  • Eventually, the legacy United Club overlooking the food court near gate 74 will be renovated. The club has already benefited from minor refurbishments, including new furniture and a more space-efficient layout.

United Club guests may also visit the renovated United Club in Terminal A, and the SAS Lounge and Lufthansa Lounges in Terminal B, though the lack of a two-way airside connection between the the three terminals makes it impractical.

United Club - New York-Newark Liberty (EWR) Terminal A

United Club – New York-Newark Liberty (EWR) Terminal A

Bottom line

The new Polaris Lounge Newark propels United from the abyss to the firmament. Gone are the days of constant crowds, tired furniture, a cash bar, and carrots and celery sticks. United has established itself as a world-class player, with superb amenities and services. The Polaris Lounge easily overshadows the competition at Newark, and puts United in the top-league compared to major players at JFK.

The full-service restaurant is a somewhat unique offering in business class. Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Air France, and Etihad all offer some type of a-la-carte dining, but United’s product is the closest to replicating a true restaurant experience. Notably, the Polaris Lounge restaurant is a superior offering compared to Lufthansa’s top-floor First Class Dining area at JFK, and leaves the SWISS First Lounge JFK in the dust.

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

United Polaris Lounge Newark seating

The arrival of the Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty airport also solidifies United’s position in the premium and ultra-competitive New York to London market. United operates two world-class departure lounges at London Heathrow (a United Club and a Global First Lounge) but also an Arrivals Lounge for inbound transatlantic passengers. The combination of lounges at EWR and LHR allows passengers who want to maximize sleep time to skip both dinner and breakfast in the air, and even shower on both ends.

United Arrivals Lounge - London Heathrow (LHR)

United Arrivals Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR)

There’s little not to love about the new United Polaris Lounge Newark, though the club lacks a quiet area like its San Francisco sibling, and is bound to be busy in the evenings.

This summer, United  expects to open the United Polaris Lounge Houston, on what used to be the top floor of the United Club in Terminal E. By November, the Los Angeles location will open in the footprint of the former Global First Lounge/United Club above gate 73. With five Polaris Lounges in operation, United will serve 75% of their customers departing out of the US, making the Polaris vision ever closer to reality.

Unfortunately, customers traveling through United’s second East Coast hub, Washington Dulles, will need to arm themselves with patience. The Polaris Lounge won’t materialize until late 2019 or early 2020, due to the challenges of upgrading the venerable 20-year old “temporary” concourse that United occupies.

The Big Picture

 

 

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