SFO’s new Polaris Lounge in the International Terminal is a definite knockout.

Over the years, United Airlines has had a mixed reputation with its airport club facilities. Back when frequent flying was relatively rare, attaining membership in United’s 100,000-Mile Club allowed members a nice lounge, complimentary light snacks and drinks, and access to veteran reservation agents who could quickly solve travel issues. What followed was a period of time where club membership was paid, either directly or through mileage points, and the benefits of complimentary adult beverages and personal reservation service diminished. I call this “the vending machine era.”

What was the Red Carpet Club is now simply the United Club, and both bar service and better snack choices are available in nicely updated lounges. Separate United First Class lounges at major hubs upped the luxury treatment for those flyers in the premium seats. But the new Polaris Lounge at United’s SFO International Terminal takes United’s long-distance first and business class passengers to a level that’s as high as the best global rivals.

United’s regional spokesman Madhu Unnikrishnan gave me a tour of the two-story Polaris Lounge, located near Gate G92, and the impression I came away with was that United had equaled or surpassed Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class lounge at London’s Heathrow airport. Not only are the seating arrangements and private spaces luxurious, there’s a private shower, dressing facilities, quiet sleeping rooms, a great bar, food offerings, and a gourmet restaurant where reservations are accepted.

Unnikrishnan shared with me that international travel from the San Francisco Bay Area was the driver in United’s decision to prioritize SFO as one of the Polaris signature locations. Other Polaris lounges have opened in Chicago, Houston, and New York. Los Angeles is next with an opening planned this year, followed by Washington Dulles, Hong Kong, London Heathrow, and Tokyo Narita.

For passengers who haven’t bought a Polaris class seat on their international flight, the United Club is available between Gates G98 G100. For domestic flights, United operates lounges in Terminal 3, including an arrivals lounge in the baggage area. Perhaps this passenger pampering will catch on with other airlines.

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