United’s Polaris business class service took off to much hype over a year ago—the airline touted new private seats with all-aisle access and exclusive Polaris lounges at major hubs—but landing hasn’t been smooth.
Despite notable improvements to the in-flight “soft product” including excellent bedding, enhanced meals, new china and silverware, and a myriad of small touches that have elevated the quality of United’s premium product, the airline is struggling to deliver its complete vision.
In the air, there are still only a handful of aircraft equipped with the new seats, and new Boeing 787 deliveries continue to come with the legacy seats. On the ground, there is a single Polaris Lounge worldwide, at Chicago O’Hare airport. The re-imagined lounge is a complete departure from the United Club, with high-end amenities such as a complimentary full-service restaurant, individual work pods, gorgeous shower suites, and private day rooms. But it suffers from chronic crowding, prompting the airline to re-evaluate its plans and the footprint of future lounges.
Nine months after the launch of the United Polaris Lounge in Chicago, the other clubs at eight global hubs from Los Angeles to Tokyo have yet to materialized. A month ago, United acknowledged the delay and quietly updated their road map: Polaris Lounge openings have been pushed to 2018 and beyond.
Despite the delays, construction has started at several airports, and travelers are feeling the pain, with partial club closures, increased crowding, and the phasing out of showers in the US. Nowhere is the situation worse than at San Francisco airport, where half of the United Club in the international terminal is closed for construction, and the new domestic lounge in Concourse E is severely under-dimensioned.
For better or for worse, construction is about to kick into full gear, with several changes happening over the next two weeks.
The Global First Lounge at SFO International Terminal closes on October 1st
Spelling the demise of United’s international First Class service, the Global First Lounge at San Francisco airport International Terminal G will close on Sunday, October 1st.
Once a crown jewel of United’s lounge network, the elegant but faded club will be hastily converted into a United Club—with more seats, substantially reduced food offerings, and a paid bar. Sadly, the two shower suites will also go out of service—which, while hardly surprising since it puts the lounge in line with other United Clubs, is unfortunate since the showers will not be dismantled in the foreseeable future.
The United Club is expected to open within two weeks after the closure of the Global First Lounge.
The United Club in International Terminal G closes early October
A shadow of its former self, the United Club at San Francisco airport International Terminal G is currently half boarded-up, in preparation for the Polaris Lounge that will eventually occupy the space.
While hardly luxurious, the club was extremely spacious, and featured some of the airport’s best tarmac views. In an attempt to speed up construction, the lounge will be shuttered early October, after the Global First Lounge is converted into a—much smaller—United Club.
The EVA Air Evergreen Lounge closes on October 10th
Slated to become the largest United Polaris Lounge worldwide, the United Polaris Lounge at San Francisco will be built in the footprint of the current international United Club, and also incorporate the current Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge and EVA Air Evergreen Lounge.
EVA will be shuttering their lounge on October 10th. While not remarkable by any means, the venerable EVA Air Lounge featured hot food, and offered the airline’s passengers a dedicated space. Going forward, EVA’s premium and elite passengers will be redirected to the United Club. In 2018, they will receive access to the United Polaris Lounge.
The Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge closes on October 1st
The Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge at San Francisco airport will close permanently on October 1st. Interestingly, Singapore Airlines suggests that premium customers use the new United Club in the International Terminal (the former Global First Lounge), while Star Alliance Gold members head over to the United Clubs in domestic Terminal 3, a 10-15 minute walk away. It’s unclear if the guidelines will be enforced, since technically all United Clubs welcome Star Alliance Gold members.
During the closure period, eligible customers will be invited to the following lounges:
First Class, Business Class Customers: United Airlines International Departure Lounge (located in the G Concourse between gates 98-100)
PPS Club, Star Alliance Gold members: Any United Club lounges in Terminal 3
Even though the SilverKris Lounge at San Francisco airport was a far cry from Singapore Airlines’ international facilities, it was the only club where Star Alliance passengers could enjoy a shower prior to departure. It also featured hot food at meal times.
The temporary United Club in Concourse E re-opens on September 29th
In an effort to mitigate crowding and the loss of substantial lounge space, United is re-opening the former temporary club in Terminal 3 Concourse E, on the mezzanine across gates 71A-72. Opened in May 2014, the mezzanine club closed in November 2015 when United opened a new permanent United Club at the Concourse level, near gate 70.
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.
The temporary club will be open daily from 6 AM to 8 PM. While accessible airside from International Terminal G through the connector hallway, it is located far away from the international gates, and is no substitute for lounge space in Terminal G.
In the next few weeks, United’s passengers at San Francisco airport should expect significant changes to ground services, with the closure of the Global First Lounge which will be subsequently transformed into a United Club, the closure of both the International United Club and the EVA Air Lounge, and the re-opening of the United Club on the mezzanine of Terminal 3, Concourse E.
International First Class passengers will miss the privacy of the Global First Lounge and access to showers. Arriving premium passengers continue to benefit from access to the United Arrivals Lounge until noon.
The changes make the American Express Centurion Lounge—which boasts a full hot buffet, a complimentary premium bar, and a shower suite—more appealing than ever. But it’s difficult to envision a more crowded Centurion Lounge.
Featured photo: United Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO) International Terminal G