Last Friday, I took advantage of a special opportunity. United offered Mileage Plus members a “sneak preview” of the new LAX Polaris Lounge for just 2,500 miles. So, I made a day trip to Los Angeles to give it a look. My general impressions: it’s a great lounge, though I question its small size. (Fair warning: this is a very picture heavy post; keep that in mind if you have a slow internet connection.)
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles
Between gates 73 and 75 at LAX Terminal 7. It occupies the space formerly used by the United First lounge. Remember that a series of walkways connect terminals 4 through 8 behind security. So, assuming you have access, you can reach the lounge even if not flying United in Terminals 7 or 8. Note that the lounge is two floors up from the concourse. The elevator is just behind the Polaris sign above. Or head behind the Wolfgang Puck Express to find the staircase.
As with the other Polaris lounges, United maintains pretty restrictive access rights to this lounge. United Polaris Business customers may access the lounge on departure, arrival, or when connecting through LAX. For example, if you’re flying from LAX to San Francisco, then connecting in Polaris to Delhi, you can access the Polaris lounges in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Those flying Star Alliance partners, though, face more restrictions. These passengers may only access the lounge when departing LAX in either Business or First.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – Reception Area
If you’ve seen a Polaris lounge, this one surely looks familiar. (I view consistency as a good thing, by the way. Something United should apply to their fleet.) In fact, as you enter, it looks and feels very similar to the Polaris Lounge in San Francisco. Or Chicago. Or Houston. You get the point. In any event, you’ll find a nicely appointed, welcoming reception desk to kick off your visit.
Perhaps the most notable design cue here, and throughout the lounge? The ornate light fixtures on the ceiling.
There is also a small seating area to the right of the desk, which you can see in the photo above. Also note the “North Star” wall design behind the bench. This is something you’ll see throughout the lounge.
Just left of the desk is a departures screen, as well as a large piece of modern art. Like the gold star wall, I found several similar pieces throughout the lounge.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – Main Lounge Area
Continue straight ahead to the main section of the lounge. Compared to the one in San Francisco, the Los Angeles lounge looks “bite sized” in comparison. It measures approximately 12,000 square feet, whereas the San Francisco lounge comes in at 28,000 square feet. Size-wise, it’s similar to the Houston lounge, which United describes as a “boutique” lounge.
Anyway, head inside, and – wow. A large, gorgeous bar immediately grabs your attention.
Seating is to the left of the bar. The Los Angeles Polaris Lounge features seating for roughly 140 guests, with a variety of different options. Again, if you’ve visited other Polaris lounges, the decor probably looks familiar. The lounge includes plenty of traditional chairs and tables for one or two. Larger groups, though, will appreciate the three-side sofa with tables.
Additional small tables line the windows towards the back of the lounge, and the area immediately left of the bar.
United claims the lounge contains 272 power outlets and 120 USB ports. Indeed, I found power ports plentiful throughout the lounge. At least with the traditional chairs and tables, each group of two has two plugs and two USB ports.
Perhaps my favorite seats are the work cubicles, designed to mimic a Polaris Business Class seat.
Each cubicle includes two power and USB outlets each, providing plenty of juice for those with multiple devices.
As the above photos suggest, large floor-to-ceiling windows allow plenty of natural light throughout the seating area. And, more importantly, provide terrific views of the ramp for plane spotting.
Along one wall are two phone rooms with desks for those who need a quiet space to work or take a call.
Finally, turn right at the bar to find a service desk, for rebookings or other issues requiring an agent.
Overall, I found the seating area impressive. It looks and feels more intimate than mega lounges like the Qantas First Lounge or Star Alliance Lounge. But…I can’t help but worry about overcrowding. On preview day, it never got too bad. But what happens at peak hours? An employee I spoke with said United anticipates 200-300 visitors per day. At that level, a seating capacity of 140 is certainly more than enough. But that seems like a low estimate to me. We shall see, I suppose.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – Restrooms, Showers, and Quiet Rooms
Restrooms and showers are in the back of the lounge, behind the dining area (discussed later in this post). Follow this sign near the dining area to reach them.
Head left for the restrooms, with six private unisex bathrooms. Helpfully, each door features a light to indicate if the stall is occupied or empty.
These feel pretty compact, but include the same Cowshed toiletries found in the Polaris Business cabin.
Continue straight ahead at the sign for the shower suites (I believe six in total again). You pass this long corridor next to the dining room to reach it. Note the gold North Star wall again.
There is a check-in desk for those using either the showers or the quiet area.
Just before the shower suites is a “wellness room”. No idea what this is for (a yoga room perhaps?), but there is a cuddly Polaris teddy bear here.
Anyway, back to the shower area. Once again, each door features a light indicating occupancy status.
I unwittingly entered a handicapped accessible suite. The only difference, though, is a curtain instead of glass door to enter the shower, and a stool/chair to sit on. Each suite includes a toilet, Saks Fifth Avenue towels, separate sitting area, and Cowshed toiletries.
Finally, the lounge includes two “quiet rooms”, where passengers can catch some quick shut-eye. An employee said passengers are limited to a 45-minute nap. However, he did suggest that the limit is flexible when the lounge isn’t busy. Each room includes a lounge chair, bottle of water, piece of chocolate, and what looked like an iPhone dock. The lounge chair also includes Saks Fifth Avenue bedding. Honestly, though, it doesn’t look particularly comfortable for sleeping.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – Food and Beverage
The Los Angeles Polaris Lounge offers two options for dining – a buffet and full-service dining room. First, I’ll discuss the buffet. I visited the lounge from 8-10 am, so breakfast was on the menu. The buffet features a fair selection of pastries, “small plate” hot items like quiche, and oatmeal.
Also on the menu are a selection of fresh fruits, juices, and coffee. Or you can order espresso drinks at the bar.
Seating is in a circular pattern around an atrium-like feature.
Buffet tables include power outlets if you need one.
And of course, make sure to check out the impressive wine collection.
But if you have time, I highly recommend utilizing the full-service dining room.
Still on Central time, and having left home at 4:15 am, it felt like a good time for a meal. A hostess promptly seated me, and handed me a dining room menu. The physical menu itself includes unique “LAX” branding. Meanwhile, the food selection definitely has a Southern California feel, with choices like chilaquiles, street tacos, and “The Pier” salad. FYI, the dining room serves breakfast until 11 am, and lunch and dinner thereafter.
I ordered the chilaquiles and the Nutella croissant. First up were the chilaquiles. My gosh, this dish was fantastic, and I say that as a Mexican food snob. Incredibly flavorful with a great mix of textures. And excellent presentation to boot. Yes, I’d say I’d order this in a restaurant if the opportunity presented. My only complaint: it’s a pretty small portion for a main course.
Next up I enjoyed my Sweet Nutella croissant. Another excellent dish. Fresh fruits and berries helps cut the richness of the Nutella. Not that there’s anything wrong with Nutella, mind you. And once again, kudos to the chefs for excellent presentation.
I also ordered a cappuccino from the bar. I’m hardly a coffee snob like Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly. Coffee probably ranks last on my list of lounge attributes. If it’s free, I just want something drinkable. But I found this the one “miss” of the meal. The coffee seemed a little weak to me. Perhaps I just expected better in Southern California. But at least it’s a real cappuccino, so props for that.
Incidentally, if you need a charge while eating, the booth side of the tables includes plugs and USB ports.
Overall, the entire menu seemed more like “brunch” than “breakfast”, but I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I actually found it superior to the vaunted Qantas First Lounge, who botched my steak. However, I possibly see one issue. The dining room is cozy. I counted 16 seats total, or 8 individual tables. A waiter confirmed that United does not plan to offer dining room service outside the dining room. This seems like a recipe for long waits for a table during peak periods.
On the other hand, the staff provided fast service, at least on this visit. I sat down at 8:30, and left by 9. Incidentally, I don’t know for sure the tipping policy within Polaris lounges. However, I left my server $5. She provided outstanding service, for what it’s worth.
In addition to the dining room and buffet, the lounge features a full-service bar. Options include a wide variety of beer, wine, liquor, and cocktails. United advertises two cocktails as LA-centric signature drinks – the “On Sunset” and “Let’s Rumble”.
As mentioned, the bar also has an espresso machine for coffee drinks.
I decided to try one of the local specialties, the “On Sunset”. Not really my thing, but the bartender made it strong, and I appreciate the local flavor.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – Service
This is where I think United really hits it out of the park. Service throughout the lounge wasn’t just good, but outstanding. Upon entering, a server immediately greeted me and asked if I needed a beverage. The host in the dining area took the time to give me a tour of the entire area, and explain the menu concept. My dining room server asked me my name, and referred to me by it throughout the meal. Everyone I encountered seemed, quite simply, very proud of the product. That’s just not something you see all that often in a stateside lounge. So color me impressed.
Of course, I’ll add the caveat that everyone was probably on their best behavior during this sneak preview. We’ll see how service levels hold up over the course of a longer period of time.
United Polaris Lounge Los Angeles – General Design
Based only on photos, I always assumed the Polaris Lounges were too cookie-cutter minimalist. I personally dislike modern minimalism, so I came in expecting disappointment. In person, though, the design seemed fine. Certainly, you do find minimalist elements throughout the lounge. And like seemingly every public space in the US these days, the lounge suffers from overuse of white marble and square grey tile work, for example. But overall, the design feels modern, but not cold and garish. I think the natural light helps in that regard. Sunlight and ramp views cure a lot of ills, after all.
I kept thinking to myself my entire time in the lounge, “this is United?!?!?!” Not only does it blow the United Clubs out of the water, it’s a great lounge, period. From top to bottom, I think I actually enjoyed it more than the Qantas First Lounge. The food was better, and service more polished and personal (though I’d like to see how this holds up over time). And of course, the avgeek in me just loves the ramp views. So you might say it checks all the important lounge boxes – food, drinks, seating area, and plane spotting.
However, I’m really concerned that the lounge is just too small. Will 140 seats prove sufficient during peak periods. Perhaps more than that, how will the tiny dining room manage wait times? Perhaps many eligible passengers will continue heading to the Star Alliance Lounge instead. I’m curious to see what happens during regular use.