Five years in the making, the elusive United Polaris Lounge at Washington Dulles airport is finally about to open.
The launch of the Polaris Lounge marks the dawn of a new era for international premium passengers traveling through Washington Dulles airport. When the glass door swings open to the public on Thursday, October 21st, guests will discover an oasis of luxury and service that is not only unprecedented at the nation’s capital’s airport, but has few contenders in the US overall.
We had the opportunity to join United executives along with guests and media representatives for a preview of the new club. Here’s what to look forward to.
In this post:
- What are United Polaris Lounges?
- A brief history of the Polaris Lounge IAD
- Where is the Polaris Lounge Dulles located?
- United Polaris Lounge Dulles design
- United Polaris Lounge Dulles food and beverages
- United Polaris Lounge Dulles a-la-carte dining
- United Polaris Lounge Dulles rest, relaxation, and other amenities
- Who has access to the Polaris Lounge IAD?
- When will United Polaris Lounges re-open?
- Bottom line
What are United Polaris Lounges?
United Polaris Lounges are exclusive retreats for United and Star Alliance intercontinental business class passengers.
United currently operates five Polaris Lounges at Chicago O’Hare, New-York/Newark, San Francisco, Houston Intercontinental, and Los Angeles airports, though all locations are currently closed due to COVID-19.
The Polaris Lounge at Washington Dulles airport will be the first Polaris Lounge to welcome passengers since the pandemic abruptly shut down the network in March 2020.
A brief history of the Polaris Lounge IAD
When United introduced the new Polaris business class service to great fanfare back in 2016, Oscar Munoz was CEO, business travel was booming, the US was welcoming 80 million visitors a year, and N95 wasn’t a household term.
Five years later, the complete Polaris vision has yet to materialize. United was doubling down on aircraft conversions and steadily rolling out new Polaris Lounges when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down borders and decimated business travel.
At the previous Polaris Lounge launch event in Los Angeles in January 2019, some attendees were quietly lamenting the fact that Polaris press events had become somewhat routine and repetitive. Little did they know what was to come. At the time, the Polaris Lounge Dulles was already under construction, and it was expected to open within a year. Construction was in fact substantially complete in March 2020 when history took an unexpected turn.
It felt somewhat dystopian to attend today’s event, almost three years after the LAX launch, in a dramatically different setting. The event was more intimate, the tone somewhat muted, and the ambiance less exuberant—surgical masks don’t make good party attire—but an air of optimism prevailed. Scott Kirby, United’s CEO since 2020, has steered the airline through rough waters with a sharp focus on customer experience and innovation. The carrier has been running a solid operation despite pandemic woes, and recently announced a major transatlantic expansion. The opening of the new Polaris Lounge marks one more step towards a return to normal, and it will support the newly-announced services from Washington, DC to Berlin, Germany, and Amman, Jordan.
Where is the Polaris Lounge Dulles located?
United’s new Polaris Lounge at Washington Dulles airport is located in the mid-field terminal, near gate C17, opposite the United Club. The location is as central as it gets as far as United gates are concerned:
- The Polaris Lounge Dulles is in the vicinity of United’s international gates (Concourse C).
- The Polaris Lounge Dulles is less than a 10 minute walk from most United domestic gates (Concourse D).
- The Polaris Lounge Dulles is approximately 15 minutes away from the security checkpoint (main terminal), regional gates (Concourse A), and Star Alliance connecting flights (Concourse B), which are all connected airside through the airport train system.
There’s a twist, though: the train doesn’t go all the way to Concourse C. It stops at the location of a potential future United terminal, which mostly remains a pipedream at this time. An underground walkway links the station to the existing terminal building.
Indeed, United’s mid-field terminal is a 35 year old “temporary” facility, which partly accounts for the challenges and delays in opening the Polaris Lounge. The airline had to build a new terminal expansion over the tarmac to support the new club. United has spared no expense to create a modern and eye-catching lounge in an outdated building, which is both a testament to the carrier’s commitment to the Polaris experience and a stark reminder that the temporary terminal is not going away anytime soon.
The Polaris Lounge Dulles will be open daily between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.
United Polaris Lounge Dulles design
The Polaris Lounge Dulles has the DNA of its siblings at Chicago O’Hare, New-York/Newark, San Francisco, Houston Intercontinental, and Los Angeles airports, but incorporates a number of locally-inspired touches.
United’s frequent flyers will immediately feel at home when they step inside the marble-clad lobby. The striking black-and-white ensemble is a replica of the reception areas at Houston and Newark airports, with a dramatic overhead light sculpture evoking the seven constellations that brings the Polaris brand to life.
The lounge itself is located on the upper level, a short flight of stairs or a quick elevator ride away. At 21,000 square feet, the Polaris Lounge Dulles is generously sized—it’s significantly larger than the Polaris Lounge Houston, but 10,000 square feet shy of the colossal San Francisco location. The space is outfitted with 335 seats, which should accommodate planned growth.
At a first glance, the Polaris Lounge Dulles feels strikingly similar to its siblings. The club largely follows the same design language—casually elegant, modern, and subtly luxurious. The soothing color palette creates a continuum with the décor of United’s new business class cabin; stardust motifs and LED star lighting give a nod to the Polaris brand.
The Polaris Lounge IAD boasts a plethora of United’s acclaimed “signature suites”, cozy pods equipped with personal lighting, USB and power ports, a coat hook, and a side table. The design offers excellent privacy and in an otherwise mostly open space.
Couples traveling together may retire to a few intimate booths outfitted with a modern interpretation of the classic egg chair. United’s latest take on pendant lights leaves us wanting, though. We’re in love with the striking fixtures on display at the Polaris Lounge Los Angeles.
Power and USB ports are always available at arm’s length—there are more power ports than seats so passengers can easily recharge their devices on their layover.
Each new incarnation of a Polaris Lounge brings a new wave of subtle and thoughtful design enhancements. The Dulles location is perhaps the most accomplished product so far. A noteworthy addition to the décor is the bookcases that dot the space. The artifacts on display evoke both the nation’s capital and far-flung destinations in United’s network.
The concept culminates into the “Library”, a homely seating area adorned with original paintings by local artist Maggie O’Neill. Her canvases celebrate the capital city with abstract evocations of the famed cherry blossoms, the Washington Monument, and other storied landmarks.
While the Polaris Lounge Dulles is airy and luminous, views are relatively scarce. The lounge does boast a single large window wall overlooking the runway, and offers great best plane spotting opportunities, but the space is mostly windowless otherwise, save for a few ceiling-level openings.
United Polaris Lounge Dulles food and beverages
A key aspect of United’s Polaris ground services is the food and beverage offering. The carrier has outsourced operations to the FLIK Hospitality Group, whose Premium Airport Lounges division caters specifically to the demands of airlines.
The Polaris Lounge is equipped with its own full kitchen, and guests can look forward to an international selection of both healthy and comfort foods.
Today’s event featured a sampler of the dishes and treats that will be available for self-service at the buffet. The selection included local arugula and fennel salad, braised chicken, seared sustainably raised salmon, a Crown Orchards pear cobbler, lemon vanilla budino, and a local apple crumb bar. All were elegantly presented in an expansive buffet area that should easily accommodate peak crowds, and were well-proportioned and enjoyable.
The design of the bar area, with its coffered ceiling, is unique to the Dulles location. Guests will find a vast assortment of craft beers, wines, and creative cocktails, all served on Polaris-branded coasters. All drinks are complimentary.
The Polaris Lounge is also one of the rare domestic US airline lounges to offer handcrafted espresso drinks, in partnership with Italian brand Illy.
United Polaris Lounge Dulles a-la-carte dining
At Dulles airport, pre-flight dining service has become a staple of airline lounges. Flights to Western Europe, which represent the bulk of destinations from the US capital, can be as short as 5-6 hours. Pre-flight dining gives customers the option to skip meals onboard and maximize sleep, should they wish to arrive rested at their destination.
Virgin Atlantic and Etihad have long offered a-la-carte dining at their respective clubs. Early 2019, Air France launched formal pre-flight dining for business class passengers departing on late evening flights. British Airways moved the goal post further just a few weeks ago: restaurant-style service, which was initially reserved for First Class passengers, will be available to elite members of their frequent flyer program going forward.
United’s foray into restaurant-style service at Dulles airport puts the airline on par with competitors, or perhaps a notch above, considering the quality of the offerings. The dramatic Polaris Lounge formal dining room, secluded behind lattice pocket doors, accommodates 42 patrons in a gorgeous setting. All booths are equipped with power and USB ports.
Open all day, the restaurant is complimentary and available on a first-come, first serve basis. Highlights of the menu include quinoa samosa cake, braised chicken tagine, a vegetarian ramen bowl, as well as the popular Polaris Burger which is available at all Polaris Lounge locations.
When the first Polaris Lounge launched in Chicago, United floated plans to allow reservations through their mobile app, though the option hasn’t materialized. In San Francisco and Newark, United uses buzzers to notify customers when a table is available. At Dulles, United expects the dining room to be large enough that lines won’t be typical. That said, we recommend getting a table early as the service is bound to be popular.
United Polaris Lounge Dulles rest, relaxation, and other amenities
The Polaris Lounge Dulles features six luxurious shower suites outfitted with a rain shower, a toilet, a sink, Saks Fifth Avenue-branded towels, Sunday Riley bath products, slippers—and USB and power ports for those last-minute charging needs.
Curling irons, hair dryers, dental kits, hair straighteners, deodorant, sewing kits, shower caps, and vanity kits are available upon request. Patrons can also have their clothes steamed while showering by simply hanging their garments inside the double door.
Just like other Polaris Lounges, the Dulles location boasts luxurious private restrooms in lieu of shared facilities. The 13 gender-neutral bathrooms are outfitted with a toilet, a sink, and an ottoman. Red and green LED lights facilitate wayfinding and show which stalls are available at a glance.
The Polaris Lounge IAD also sports an impressive wellness room for new parents with a comfortable chair, a sink, a baby changing station, and a bespoke library-inspired décor.
Guests who wish to catch up on sleep can reserve one of the two slumber rooms for up to 60 minutes. The sleeping suites are a replica of the facilities available at other Polaris Lounges and feature a day bed, dimming lights, a Saks Fifth Avenue-branded pillow, blankets, slippers, an eye mask, and a white-noise machine. The rooms do not have a door but are located in a quiet and secluded area.
The design hasn’t evolved much since the first incarnation of the Polaris Lounge: the suites are exquisitely private, but the bed doesn’t cater to side sleepers.
While two sleeping suites for over 300 guests doesn’t bode well at a first glance, United expects that demand will be low at Dulles since most flights depart late afternoons and early evenings. Most customers will plan on sleeping onboard, and real estate was better allocated to more crucial amenities such as showers.
A handful of noise-buffered phone rooms provide a quiet and secluded environment for phone calls and online meetings. The booths are furnished with the essentials: a desk, power outlets, and a comfortable chair.
Should guests need assistance with their travel plans, they’ll find personal help at a five-star hotel inspired lobby area.
Who has access to the Polaris Lounge IAD?
The United Polaris Lounge at Washington Dulles airport welcomes exclusively international long-haul premium passengers flying United and Star Alliance partner airlines such as Air India, ANA, Austrian, Egyptair, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, SAS, TAP Portugal, and Turkish Airlines.
- Only international flights longer than six hours qualify, which means that flights to/from Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean are excluded.
- United passengers receive access as long as their itinerary includes one segment in Polaris business class, even when connecting to/from a domestic flight. For example, a ticket from San Francisco to Accra via Washington Dulles qualifies (and the customer can also visit the Polaris Lounge San Francisco.) Likewise, a guest arriving from Paris and connecting to Seattle will also be welcome. Guests are not allowed.
- Star Alliance Business and First Class passengers receive access only when departing on a long-haul intercontinental flight from Dulles. First Class passengers may bring one guest.
The Polaris Lounge is a business class lounge. It is off-limits to United Club members, MileagePlus elite customers, and Star Alliance Gold status passengers flying in economy.
United Club members and Star Alliance Gold passengers can visit one of the four United Club locations near gate C17, gate C7, gate C4, and gate D8, as well as the Lufthansa Business Lounge and Turkish Airlines Lounge in Concourse B. For customers without access to the Polaris Lounge, a trek to Concourse B is well-worth the effort as both the Lufthansa and Turkish lounges are far superior to the United Clubs, and they feature a hot buffet and showers.
When will United Polaris Lounges re-open?
On the heels of the launch of the new Polaris Lounge at Washington Dulles airport on October 21st, United will start re-activating the Polaris Lounge network.
- The United Polaris Lounges at New-York/Newark, Chicago O’Hare, and Houston Intercontinental will re-open by the end of the year.
- The United Polaris Lounges at Los Angeles and San Francisco airports will re-open by February 2022.
The original roadmap for the Polaris business class product also included Polaris Lounges at Hong Kong, London Heathrow, and Tokyo-Narita airports, but United has quietly dropped further expansion plans. “The product is exclusively domestic,” a United executive told us. United Clubs outside the US also remain closed at this time.
The Polaris star has risen at Washington Dulles airport. The United Polaris Lounge IAD will open on October 21st. It will be United’s sixth exclusive club for long-haul business class passengers, and offer premium amenities such as private work spaces, a complimentary full-service restaurant, a full bar, luxurious shower suites, and an elegant library. The lounge was built from scratch in a brand new terminal expansion overlooking the tarmac.
With the launch of the Polaris premium ground experience at Dulles airport, United makes a 180 degree turn and goes from worst to best.
United used to trail significantly behind foreign careers at Dulles airport in terms of ground services. The lackluster United Clubs are overshadowed by United’s own partner’s facilities—the Lufthansa Business Lounge and Turkish Airlines Lounge have long been a refuge for United’s premium customers.
The new Polaris Lounge is a game changer for premium international passengers. There’s no better place to wait for a flight at Dulles airport.