Passengers flying in United BusinessFirst (international business class) or Global First (international First Class) arriving at select European and worldwide destinations in the morning have the option to enjoy a complimentary shower on the ground upon arrival, as well as breakfast and Wi-Fi at specific locations.
Arrivals services allow passengers to maximize sleeping time on board (a blessing on short flights between the US east coast and Europe) and to freshen up prior to a day at their destination (a useful perk since most hotels don’t let guests check-in until mid-afternoon.) While valuable, the benefit is seldom advertised.
Our Definitive Guide to United’s BusinessFirst and Global First Arrivals services aims at deciphering the offer and providing you with concrete details on how to enjoy this perk where available. We welcome your feedback and tips on your experience with the service.
Arrivals facilities are lounges operated by United or airline partners. All facilities are located after immigration and customs, so you’ll want to pick up your bags and go through immigration procedures, then carry your bags to the facility. The following rules apply:
- Arrivals services are only offered to premium passengers arriving at select destinations (see our list below) in the morning (typically before noon.)
- All United BusinessFirst and Global First fares qualify, including upgrades and awards. (Any information stating that upgrades do not qualify is out of date.)
- Guests are not allowed, and the benefit does not extend to MileagePlus or Star Alliance elite members.
- Access to Arrivals Lounges is not a Star Alliance benefit. While at some locations, Star Alliance members operate Arrivals lounges, those are not accessible to United passengers unless there is an explicit agreement between United and the lounge operator.
- Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all airport lounges are departure lounges only. This means that while your premium class ticket grants you access to a variety of lounges at your departure point, the same ticket does not grant you access to lounges upon arrival unless they are Arrivals Lounges. There may be a lounge with showers at your destination airport, but that does not mean that you can use it, unless you are connecting to another flight.
- Connecting passengers may use Arrivals facilities. However, since most facilities are located at airport hotels, they may not be convenient. Connecting passengers are typically better off using a departure lounge at the airport.
Note: as of April 2016, Arrivals services have been discontinued at 20 locations where they used to be offered by partner hotels. Arrivals Lounges remain available at four locations.
United Arrivals Lounges
United used to operate a small worldwide network of Arrivals Lounges, with facilities in cities as diverse as Paris and Sao Paulo. Times have changed, and the network has shrunk to two locations at San Francisco, CA and London, UK.
To access United’s Arrivals Lounges, just show up with your international BusinessFirst or Global First boarding pass upon your arrival. The agent will check your name against a list of eligible passengers. (Despite the wording on United’s web site, you do not need to make prior arrangements.)
Global Services members may use United’s Arrivals Lounges regardless of the class of service in which they travel.
San Francisco, CA (SFO)
The United Arrivals Lounge at San Francisco airport is a hidden gem. So hidden, in fact, that it seems to get relatively little use. After exiting immigrations and customs, make a left, walk past the bag re-check area and then follow signs to Terminal 3. As you hit the escalators, go downstairs to the baggage claim level.
The lounge boasts an old-fashioned charm but is efficient, well run and well up kept. With over a dozen shower suites and few customers, you’re unlikely to wait to freshen up. Amenities including slippers, razors, deodorant, combs and toothbrushes are provided.
The breakfast selection is simple but a notch above the United Club fare, with breakfast sandwiches, fruit salad, cereal, pastries and more.
The lounge is run by United’s San Francisco Global Services team, and it shows. Service is typically exemplary, with welcoming and friendly agents who go out of their way to proactively iron out any travel issues. If you’re connecting, don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by name on your way out and handed out an updated boarding pass with the latest gate information!
The facility is equally convenient to arriving and connecting passengers. While it currently closes at 12:30 p.m., rumor has it that United is considering extending hours in order to compensate for the lack of showers at the three United Clubs.
London Heathrow (LHR)
United’s brand new London Heathrow Arrivals Lounge at Terminal 2, “The Queen’s Terminal”, epitomizes the best that United has to offer.
Physically, the room is modern yet simple, but the range of services is what makes the lounge truly shine. Each well-appointed suite features a rain shower, posh towels, and Korres amenities. While you shower, the staff will press your clothes upon request.
The buffet features a generous assortment of breakfast items including smoothies, pastries, hot sandwiches, cereal and fruit salad. In addition, complimentary cooked-to-order options are available, including eggs any style, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, porridge, pancakes, and a even full English breakfast. Servers roam the room to take orders and bus tables — cynics might say that it’s like flying another airline.
Passengers connecting on Star Alliance may wish to enjoy the cooked-to-order breakfast options at the Arrivals Lounge, then head over to the United Club where the shower suites are even more luxurious (although availability is more limited.)
Partner Arrivals lounges
At some locations, United customers arriving in United BusinessFirst or United Global First have access to Arrivals Lounges operated by United’s Star Alliance partners.
To access Arrivals Lounges operated by Star Alliance partners, just show up with your international BusinessFirst or Global First boarding pass upon your arrival. (Despite the wording on United’s web site, you do not need to make prior arrangements.)
Note that access to a Arrivals Lounge is not a Star Alliance benefit — United passengers do not have access to partner Arrivals Lounges unless there is an explicit agreement between the airlines. For example, ANA operates an Arrivals Lounge at Tokyo-Narita airport, which is unfortunately off-limits to United’s customers at this time.
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA): Lufthansa Welcome Lounge
The Welcome Lounge spreads across two levels. On the ground floor, you’ll find a full breakfast spread with hot breakfast entrées, delicious fresh pastries, smoothies and other treats. The lounge also features a number of welcome extras, including a dark slumber room with recliners (in case you really didn’t sleep on the flight over), a business center, and a convenience that’s unfortunately too rare at Arrivals lounges: a secure bag storage facility.
On the lower level is an elegant reception area leading to no less than 28 shower suites. Short of being luxurious, the showers are spacious and clean, and feature high-end bath products. Don’t get too tempted by the clothes pressing feature, though — that’s only for Lufthansa‘s own high-value passengers.
United Global Services members enjoy access to the Lufthansa Welcome Lounge regardless of the class of service that they flew in.
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH): SWISS Arrivals Lounge
The SWISS Arrivals Lounge at Zürich airport is conveniently located at the junction between Terminals 1 and 2, a short airport train ride away from your arrival gate, after customs.
The design is reminiscent of all SWISS lounges, with dark hardwood floors, simple line, and modern designer furniture. The facility offers 20 showers featuring a compact and efficient design. In the main lounge area, patrons will find enjoy a buffet with a selection of hot entrées and a variety of fruit smoothies. A barista will craft the drink of your choice. There is also a quiet area as well as an assortment of business facilities.
If United does not offer arrivals services at your destination or if you are flying in economy, alternatives are often available. Many European airports operate showers which can be used for a nominal fee, and basic amenities (towel, soap) are typically provided. A few airports also offer independent Arrivals Lounges that welcome all travelers for fee, regardless of airline or class of service. For example, the worldwide lounge operator Plaza Premium operates Arrivals lounges at London Heathrow Terminal 2, Hong Kong, and Delhi, which offer breakfast and shower suites. Many independent arrivals lounges also welcome Priority Pass members.
The ability to shower, enjoy breakfast, and occasionally take a nap in a real bed is a luxurious benefit. The few Arrivals lounges that United’s passengers have access to are all pleasant, well run, upper scale facilities well worth a quick visit. Their location immediately outside customs is convenient.
It’s unfortunate that United phased out their partnership with 20 hotels where arrivals lounges are not available, but alas, that’s in line with the rest of the industry.