The main United Club at New York-Newark airport closed its doors permanently today, as the airline prepares to turn the venerable space into a posh United Polaris Lounge exclusively for international Business class passengers.
Competition in the ground services arena for premium passengers is heating up, with American and United rolling out upgraded amenities and a level of luxury previously unthinkable for US carriers. Scheduled to open mid-2018, the new Polaris Lounge at Newark airport, modeled after the Chicago location, will feature a complimentary full-service restaurant, elegant shower suites, semi-private relaxation rooms, and productivity pods.
Until then, you’ll probably be more likely to find a seat at the gate than at the other, vastly insufficient United Clubs.
With multiple ongoing construction projects, significant delays in the roll-out of Polaris Lounges—which won’t see the light until mid-2018 at the earliest—and crowding at major hubs, here’s a recap of United’s lounge closures, renovations, and planned construction system-wide.
New York – Newark, NJ (EWR)
United has shuttered the main United Club by gate C120 in preparation for the upcoming United Polaris Lounge. It may not feel like much of a loss at a first glance—the club was anything but luxurious, and was already partially under construction—but at the scale of a hub like Newark where every square foot counts, hundreds of passengers a day are likely to find themselves without reliable access to a lounge.
United offers two alternatives in Terminal C:
- The United Club by gate C74 features seating, Wi-Fi, all-day snacks, finger food and salad, complimentary wine and well drinks, and a cash bar in modest surroundings with a dated décor from the Continental era. The location is convenient to most domestic flights, but a 10-15 minute walk from many international gates.
- A temporary lounge by gate C124 offers comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, snacks, and self-service beer and wine. The décor is fresh and modern, but space is at a premium.
Due to significant crowding issues, the two Terminal C locations currently do not accept one-time passes.
Alternatively, United Club members, elites, and international premium passengers have access to five lounges in Terminal A and B.
- Recently remodeled, the United Club in Terminal A sports a luminous and inviting design, with power outlets at every seat, a substantial food selection, complimentary beer, wine, and well drinks, and a cash bar. The lounge accepts one-time passes and is accessible through an airside shuttle linking Terminals A and C. Allow at least 30 minutes one way, keeping in mind that the shuttle runs every 15 minutes approximately.
- Earlier this year, Air Canada opened a Maple Leaf Lounge, also in Terminal A. The space is relatively basic but the buffet features an enjoyable salad and mac and cheese spread. The catch: the section of Terminal A used by Air Canada is not connected airside to United’s gates. You’ll need to clear security twice, and Terminal A does not have TSA pre-Check.
- SAS recently renovated their SAS Lounge in Terminal B. The club features a distinct Scandinavian vibe, essential amenities, and a selection of snacks and salads. Unfortunately, while an airside shuttle links Terminal C and Terminal B, it operates only one-way: to return to Terminal C, passengers will need to exit security, take the AirTrain and re-clear security. Allocate 30 minutes.
- Lufthansa operates a spacious and well-appointed Business Lounge in Terminal B, with an adjacent Senator Lounge for Star Alliance Gold passengers. The buffet and beverage selection overshadow the selection on offer at every other Star Alliance lounge, but again, you’ll need to clear security twice.
San Francisco, CA (SFO)
The United Club at International G is closed, as the space is being converted into a two-story Polaris Lounge, which will span over the footprint of both the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge and EVA Air Evergreen Lounge, which have also closed.
This means that all three Star Alliance business class lounges in the international terminal are now closed.
To make room for international customers, United has downgraded the Global First Lounge and expanded access to all international Business and First Class passengers. The expansive self-service alcoholic beverage selection has survived, but the shower suites and premium buffet have been phased out. The lounge is off-limits to United Club members and Star Alliance Gold economy passengers, and despite the strict access restrictions, except a tight squeeze, especially at peak times.
United Club members and Star Alliance Gold passengers traveling in economy class may use one of three lounges in the adjacent domestic Terminal 3, a 10-15 minute walk away from the international terminal through an airside connector. All three clubs offer substantially the same amenities including finger food, salads, soups, a bar with complimentary wine and well drinks, Wi-Fi, printers, and work spaces.
- The United Club in the Concourse F rotunda boasts ample light and seating, expansive windows and views of the tarmac, and a dose of old-fashioned charm.
- The United Club in Concourse E by gate 70, United’s newest lounge at San Francisco airport, features the airline’s latest design, but disappoints with a tight layout and relatively little space.
- In an effort to mitigate crowding, United has (re-)opened a temporary club in Terminal 3 Concourse E on the mezzanine across gates 71A-72. While compact and window-less, the mezzanine club is functional and boasts United’s latest design, including a bar with designer lighting, power and USB outlets at every seat, comfortable furniture, and pictures of vintage aircraft.
American Express Platinum and Centurion card holders may also use the Centurion Lounge by gate 73. Priority Pass members may hop over to International Terminal A and use the Air France Lounge, but at the expense of an additional trip through security.
For more information about the lounge situation at San Francisco airport, see our blog post.
Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Chicago is blessed with United’s first—and only, so far—Polaris Lounge, exclusively for Star Alliance business and first class passengers traveling on long-haul international flights.
Located in Concourse C, the Polaris Lounge is a stylish haven featuring high-end services including a complimentary full-service restaurant, a cocktail bar, luxurious shower suites, and a Concierge. Unfortunately, the Polaris Lounge is a victim of its own success and routinely overcrowded. The adjacent space by gate C16, formerly a United Club, remains vacant. United is currently expanding the Polaris Lounge to and plans to remodel the leftover space into a small United Club. Construction is scheduled to be completed this winter.
In the meantime, United Club and Star Alliance Gold international passengers traveling in economy need to use the two United Clubs in Concourse B, or the club in Terminal 2. Showers are no longer available for United Club members.
- The United Club by gate B18 was recently renovated and features comfortable seating, complimentary hot food and a variety of snacks and salads, as well as business amenities.
- The United Club by gate B6 was recently expanded and completely remodeled. The club offers hot food, and a wide array of seating options.
- The United Club in Terminal 2 (accessible airside from Terminal 1) was United’s prototype for the new design. It includes elements that did not make the cut at other locations, including comfortable couches and semi-private zones. The Terminal 2 location is typically quieter than the Terminal 1 clubs.
Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
All five United Clubs at Houston Intercontinental airport are open, though construction of a Polaris Lounge has started in the three-story Concourse E lounge. However, the shower suites are not available anymore, and some portions of the space may be closed. With construction soon in full swing, additional closures are expected to occur.
The United Club in Terminal C North was recently remodeled, and features the airline’s new design.
At Los Angeles airport, the United Polaris Lounge will replace the former United Club on the mezzanine level by the rotunda near gate 73—which, incidentally, used to be a Global First Lounge. The footprint of the club will be significantly expanded in order to meet the requirements of a Polaris Lounge. Until then, passengers may enjoy the new United Club in Terminal 7 and its open-air deck. The Polaris Lounge is scheduled to open late 2018, and construction will have no impact on the current facilities.
At Washington Dulles airport, the United Polaris Lounge will replace the current United Global First Lounge. The current Dulles lounges are United’s worst system wide. With the twenty-some year old “temporary” terminal getting a new lease on life in absence of an agreement to move forward with the construction of a new terminal, it will be interesting to see how United manages to transform the venerable space. The Polaris Lounge will open late 2018. At this time, the Global First Lounge is still open.
At Tokyo Narita airport, the United Polaris Lounge will be located above the United Club, in the large space currently occupied by the United Global First lounge. The United Club was recently refreshed with new furniture and carpeting, and with many intra-Asia flights being phased out, the lounges should feel quiet and spacious. The Polaris Lounge will open late 2018. At this time, the Global First Lounge is still open.
At Hong Kong airport, the United Polaris Lounge will take over the current United Global First Lounge. The adjacent United Club has just been refreshed and features showers and hot food. The Polaris Lounge will open in 2018. At this time, the Global First Lounge is still open.
At London Heathrow, the United Polaris Lounge will replace the current United Global First Lounge, which is currently United’s best lounge worldwide, and already features virtually all elements of Polaris Lounges, including gorgeous shower suites, a full service restaurant, and private recliners. The Polaris Lounge will open mid-2018. At this time, the Global First Lounge is still open.
- At Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, the United Club near gate E6 is still closed for remodeling, and construction is months behind schedule. Until then, club members may use the temporary lounge by gate E22, a 15 minute walk from United’s gates.
- At Fort Lauderdale airport, the United Club by gates remains closed for renovations. A smaller temporary lounge is located between gates C1 and C3.