Last week I had a chance to visit the United Polaris Lounge Newark and also the one in Houston. I visited United’s new Polaris business class lounge in Chicago 18 months ago.
At the time I thought it was the best business class lounge in the United States (and I really enjoy the outdoor deck of the Star Alliance lounge at LAX). It features not just a buffet but also sit down dining which is impressive. The only business class dining that’s more impressive is Air Canada’s Signature Suite in Toronto but that’s only open to paid business class customers, not even award passengers.
United was slow to open more lounges, while American opened several new Flagship lounges. American’s Flagship First Dining (at New York JFK, Miami, and Los Angeles so far) is more impressive but that’s only open to three-cabin first class passengers flying on American, not to business class passengers or partner airline premium cabin passengers.
Over the past three and a half months United has picked up the pace of new lounge openings, with Polaris lounges also now in San Francisco, Newark, and Houston. I wasn’t able to make the media preview events for these, so on my way home from New York last week United arranged for me to have access to the lounge in Newark — and I decided to add a connection on my way home, so I checked out the lounge in Houston as well.
The United Polaris lounge Newark solidifies my impression of the Polaris lounge project: this is perhaps the nicest thing that United has done. The dining is very good. The lounge amenities are top notch. And there’s a real thoughtfulness that has gone into the details.
Accessing the United Polaris Lounge Newark
The United Polaris Lounge Newark is currently open from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Access is available to United’s Polaris business class passengers and Star Alliance partner business and first class customers. It’s not open to short haul business or domestic first class customers. And it’s not open to premium transcon passengers.
There’s a staff member who stands outside the door and his job seems to be turning people away who aren’t supposed to enter, though of course there are staff at the desk inside as well.
Only international first class customers can bring in a guest who is not eligible for access themselves.
Unlike American’s Flagship lounges, there’s no elite status access to Polaris lounges. United elites flying internationally cannot use it, unless they’re also an eligible business class passenger. United’s Global Services passengers do not get access.
The restrictive access makes sense to keep the lounge from being overrun, which preserves the experience for those who do have access. However I think there’s an opportunity at off-peak times, such as in the morning when I visited, to extend access perhaps to Global Services members.
Sit Down Dining and Buffet
Offering sit down dining in business class is impressive, and the food in the United Polaris Lounge Newark is good. I arrived at about 8:30 a.m. and went straight to the dining area. The dining room has 24 tables, each a two top (which can be combined) so seating for 48.
Here’s the menu:
A friendly server greeted me and she offered me coffee. I quizzed her initially, “what kind of coffee do you serve?” She responded “Illy” with a smile. Why yes, I’d like to have a cappuccino thanks. I don’t do coffee on domestic airlines in the air, but I’ll certainly take one on the ground. It came out decorated with a Polaris star on it, which was a nice touch.
She also brought be a glass of orange juice, and that was nice as well. It was a test, too. I detest orange juice from concentrate, and think it really undermines a premium feel. The orange juice was delicious, though arguably could have been a touch sweeter.
I decided to order two things, so I could see how they came out. I went with the smoked duck eggs benedict and the potato latkes. Both tasted wonderfully, though my eggs were slightly overcooked and the bread they use for the benedict was a bit tough to cut. I’d go with a softer bread since they aren’t going to hand out steak knives to customers inside the airport.
I didn’t try anything off of the buffet, but it looked appealing.
I don’t mind the idea of a bagel bar, but it did seem strange to have that with a variety of spreads — but no lox, that’s in the dining room. If you’re going to offer a bagel bar, offer a bagel bar, tomato and onion and capers and lox and perhaps even some smoked whitefish salad.
The lounge’s bar is gorgeous and welcoming, it’s also long with plenty of places to pull up to even when busy and of course there are power ports as well.
Showers and Nap Suites
Each of the bathrooms in the United Polaris Lounge Newark is a private room. That means each bathroom can be used by a man or a woman (I mean, you could even share). And to avoid any awkwardness there’s an electronic notification that lets you know if the room is available (green) or if it’s taken (red).
During peak times I’ve read comments that the bathrooms can get messy, passengers do go inside before lounge staff can clean them, there’s high turnover and your fellow passengers aren’t always clean — but everything was immaculate while I was there.
I like the small private room concept because they also make for great rooms to get ready in, or to change before a flight. Often I’ll change out of a suit after meetings or a talk before getting on a plane. And it’s never fun to do that in the stall of a shared restroom.
The showers here too are nice, sleek design, attractive and functional. I’m a bit saddened that United’s regular clubs no longer offer showers, that’s an amenity that competitors have kept, but for those with Polaris lounge access the showers are quite nice.
They offer several items on request here – curling iron, hair dryer and straightener, duvet and toiletries for instance. And the shower rooms feature electronic time and temperature control.
In the back of the house they’re well-equipped to do some quick laundry for you if needed as well.
There’s also semi-private nap rooms. There’s no door, I’m told they looked at doors but there are issues with fire code. I wish they could have managed a curtain the way Cathay Pacific has in the first class side of The Pier in Hong Kong.
Still these are much better than the lounging chairs that are far more public in American’s Flagship lounges, and they come with amenities to help relax.
Finally they have ‘wellness rooms’ meant for changing or feeding a baby.
Work and Lounge
I like the variety of seating that the United Polaris Lounge Newark offers, and the layout which creates a sense of different areas. There’s also plenty of space to walk around and circulate, you aren’t climbing over anyone to do it. So even though there are 455 seats here, it doesn’t feel too densely packed with furniture.
One of the really impressive things United has done is make power available. Everywhere. Frequently where I sit in a lounge is dictated by where I can find a power outlet. Here I can sit anywhere and plug in. They boast 570 outlets and 450 USB ports in this lounge.
Some of the seats have tables which work both as a desk surface, and extend back so you might even place a drink or snack on the table too. And they’re wide enough to curl up in, not just sit up straight, so even the work tables assist in relaxation.
There are also private rooms for making calls, with desks to work at. I like the colors and design of these small rooms, they aren’t sterile the way you might expect of an office space. The one criticism I’d offer here is that the desks are against the wall, chairs face the wall, with glass doors behind you. That means anyone behind you can see your computer screen. I think I’d have gone with solid doors instead of glass for the privacy.
Does This Lounge Get Too Crowded? And What About United Clubs at Newark?
With 455 seats in the United Polaris Lounge Newark there should be enough seating for everyone with eligibility for the Polaris Lounge Newark whose flights leave from the United terminal. Of course not every flight is full, not everyone upgrading clears before the gate, and not every business class passenger uses the lounge.
You don’t want just one seat per person, though, a lounge like that feels packed and isn’t peaceful. Fortunately this is a huge lounge, over 27,000 square feet, one of the larger business class lounges in the world (just a smidge smaller than American’s Flagship Lounge in Miami, and elites traveling in coach and partner elites flying domestically have access there).
While I was there on a Thursday morning the lounge was downright peaceful. The most peak period for the lounge will be before the afternoon and early evening bank of European departures. The lounge has gotten to capacity — that tends to happen during weather events when flightss are delayed and so passengers stay in the lounge longer, while passengers on later flights enter.
Still I have to commend United for building a lounge that really does fit the passengers they’re looking to accommodate, and the furnishings and layout of the lounge are designed to create spaces, to create a sense of privacy (with many seats having high walls around them).
Taking over this main United Club that’s right after security though has meant inconveniencing United Club members. They’ve run ‘popup’ lounges to increase capacity but those aren’t going to be as nice as a permanent lounge.
In the medium-term United has a solution to crowding in their clubs as well. Alexander Dorow, United’s Director of Premium Services, tells me that they should be ready to announce details of a new United Club for Newark in the next couple of months. He had a half day planning meeting for it on the 10th. I’d hope, then, that they might be able to open by the end of next year.
Plan a Visit When You Can!
I’m not going to choose my airline based on the departure lounge, but the United Polaris Lounge Newark certainly sets the right tone for a relaxing flight. Have a nice meal, get comfortable, and get ready to sleep on board. Hopefully your United flight will feature new seats.
If you’re flying another Star Alliance airline out of Newark and you arrive at the airport early it could be worth a visit, even though you’ll be flying out of another terminal. Only United operates out of terminal C.
Tarmac Views Look Out Over Myriad United Aircraft
Visiting the United Polaris Lounge Newark you’re left thinking this is United? And wishing that they’d bring everything up to this standard. Unfortunately this isn’t open to elites, club members in Newark are having to suffer overcrowded conditions at least until the airline builds another club since they’ve taken this one entirely for business class passengers. But for those with access it’s a treat.