Review: United Polaris Lounge SFO And First Class, San Francisco – Austin

I was thrilled to visit the United Polaris lounge SFO at the end of my recent Australia trip. I’d been to the United Polaris lounge in Houston, in Chicago, and at Newark but had never had the opportunity to visit their San Francisco lounge before.

I came off of United’s Sydney – San Francisco flight and faced a mess to drop my bags back off after clearing customs. The employee accepting bags decided to go on break and everyone had to take their luggage upstairs to departures. The lines for bag dropoff there were seemingly endless – except for Polaris business class passengers, where there was no line and also no employees. I waited and finally was helped after a ten minute wait.

United Bag Dropoff

We took the airtrain over to the airport Grand Hyatt where I’d reserved a room either for a nap and a shower before connecting home to Austin, or an overnight and a separate award ticket home on Alaska the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my three year old daughter, but she did wonderfully on the trip and we decided to make the connection home.

United Polaris Lounge SFO

After a brief visit to the Grand Hyatt we took the airtrain back over to the international terminal, because – as luck would have it – that’s where our San Francisco – Austin flight would be departing from. That meant it would be convenient to use the Polaris lounge, with access available based on our arriving Sydney boarding pass.

    The United Polaris lounge SFO is open to United’s business class passengers flying same day long haul (on departure or arrival or as a connecting passenger). It’s also open to Star Alliance business and first class passengers departing long haul from San Francisco that day.

The United Polaris lounge SFO is just to the right past security in the international terminal at the G concourse.

united polaris lounge SFO entrance
Ground Floor Entrance

united polaris lounge SFO entrance

The lounge is 28,000 square feet across two levels, mostly on the second floor. (Showers and nap rooms are downstairs, as well as some seating and snacks.)

united polaris lounge SFO escalator

The lounge has a variety of seating areas.

Here’s the United Polaris Lounge SFO Bar:

The lounge features both a buffet (which underwhelmed) and sit down dining (which I’ve much enjoyed on past visits). Here’s the sit down dining menu:

Sit Down Dining Menu

And a look at the buffet:

Some lounges are dark. This one is especially bright with great views of airport operations.

The truth is there’s really just one reason I wanted to write about the United Polaris Lounge SFO, after such a brief stay. If you’re willing to sit far away from the food, you may find a lot more personal space. It gets very crowded at the center of the lounge and the closer you are to the buffet and dining room, but at the other end of the lounge we didn’t find a single other guest.

United’s Polaris lounges remain excellent, a real highlight to the airline, and sadly a contrast to their onboard business class product which has declined markedly since its introduction (even before the pandemic).

United First Class, San Francisco – Austin

Our flight was operating on time and out of the closest gate to the Polaris lounge. It was standard domestic fare in every way. There was a choice of food. Everyone else in the cabin had pre-ordered but the website wouldn’t allow me to do so in conjunction with out international flight. Food was tasty enough, seat was fine and service unremarkable.

I was too tired at this point to get much work done so I watched a television show on my laptop in order to stay up – I didn’t want to nap until bedtime in order to re-adjust to my home local time. I went to bed a bit early, woke up at normal time, and was largely readjusted by the end of the next day.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Polaris Looks pretty good on the surface
    Why can’t they do half as well onboard?

  2. Recently flew ORD-CDG In United Polaris. Lounge at CDG exceeded expectation. On board service was so bad that I asked FA if this was a Polaris flight. Onboard entertainment system failed at least 5 times. Food was mediocre at best. Meals served immediately after post-departure drink service, FAs never returned to see if we wanted another drink/beverage with the meal. A bottle of water 3 hrs later and lights out.

    I fly this route regularly and have never witnessed such terrible service, even during the height of the pandemic. FAs were checked out for the entire flight.

  3. @dwondermeant — People fly business class because they want to sleep. Hardly more than a blanket and a flat service is necessary for that. The gel pillows and teddy bears were good for marketing when the Polaris brand launched, but they are not practical, they just take up space. If you eat in the lounge, you don’t need to eat again on the plane. It’s wasteful for the airline to pony up twice for dining.

    @JL — I’m sure the FAs love dealing with such appreciative passengers as yourself. Asking “if this is a Polaris flight”? Who are you? United Airlines SVP of Inflight? The flight attendants don’t have a say in how a flight is provisioned or branded. They also don’t control the catering and should not be made to feel ashamed or apologize even on behalf of the catering. Meals are meant to be served ASAP because people may be hungry. If you want more water, you can always walk over to the galley and ask for it. Now with an attitude as yours, I wouldn’t be surprised if you receive a “checked out” attitude in return.

    @Dave — who are you? Moron? Gary Leff is an Executive with a Top Research University and he also spends his personal time cranking out posts for this blog, to our benefit, which takes time away from caring for his daughter and fulfilling other personal responsibilities. Gary Leff is an experienced business and leisure traveler with many contacts to Executives throughout the airline and hotel industries. He is probably the most credible public figure in the travel review space. You may want to revisit the title of this post, it is a “Review” meaning many of the statements herein will be SUBJECTIVE, not objective. As to the objective (factual) statements contained, such as the ability for an arriving Polaris passenger to enter the Polaris lounge on the same day even if in practice it is being used as a domestic lounge, those are verifiable with United Airlines policies.

  4. @ Olaf U. Fokker-Sergei
    For me I get excited by the food offerings on board and its a huge part of my decision making in booking premium cabins on award or revenue.Love Qantas in First with Neil Perry dining and had an amazing crab salad on KLM in biz before the pandemic.Get it fully that some wish to only snooze respected and understood.Looking forward to Qatar in September in First and Business class and see how it compares to Emirates
    And thanks for your post and your gratitude with the kind words about Gary well said
    I met him long ago and never thought he could follow in the footsteps of Randy Peterson but in many ways he has surpassed him in his expert reporting and sharing the good and the bad of the travel industry inside & out.He rarely misses a beat out there and rarely gets it wrong
    He’s truly not afraid to criticize/call them out unlike some other blogs that keep it squeaky clean and politically correct or just driven by emotion not hard facts.

  5. Dave, any regular reader of this blog knows that Gary identifies the shortcomings of every airline. One can look at this as complaining. Alternatively, one can look at this as advocacy.

    Today, he’s talking about UA. A week ago, he was talking about AA. Next week, he will be talking about DL. If you believe he can’t be trusted about UA, how can you trust him about AA or DL or anything? And, if that’s the case, why would you continue to read his blog . . . and comment?

  6. hmmmm…. looks like that Za’taar Chicken and Orzo rolled over and made it to the July menu from June…. looks dry as i remembered.

  7. I agree with Gary about the Polaris lounge & the lack of onboard anything. Not only is the food blah but I find the seats too narrow to be comfortable without scrunching my legs up. It feels claustrophobic! Unfortunately EWR is our closest airport and UA owns it.

  8. “He is probably the most credible public figure in the travel review space.”

    It’s good to see that the Gleff fan club and PR team are out in force tonight.

  9. I, too, will factor in the soft product when choosing an airline. Maybe not everybody is picky (heck, I know some people who can eat dry, tough, smelly airline meals I think are disgusting and still proclaim them delicious). And for international business class, the onboard food, beverage, and service are better on many other airlines, and often for a lower price than UA. So I have chosen to fly mostly other airlines internationally for years. The Polaris lounges are great, but only available in some cities, and BA, TK and AF lounges in some cities such as IAD are competitive. (I always thought that one of the reasons they brought out the Polaris lounge was that the poor ground experience at a typical United lounge was embarrassing enough to cause them to be losing too much business.) The dine-before-boarding thing was also something those airlines did for their later ex-US flights.

    UA has a good route network, but I think they rely a great deal on corporate contracts, so don’t feel a need to compete either on price or soft product, and it shows.

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