United claims that the new design will be a prototype for future lounges, as the carrier is investing $50 million in its global lounge renovations this year. United is also investing $550 million in its in-flight product enhancements, including lie-flat seats and wi-fi connectivity, as well as remodeling jet bridges at its Chicago and Houston hubs.
The new T2 lounge is now located a level above the “bridge” that connects Concourses E and F within T2. The previous lounge was fairly dingy and small, but almost all T2 flights are served on United’s regional affiliates via United Express, which means fewer traffic passing through that part of the airport.
The interior featured new modular furniture and a swanky, center-set bar area with accent lighting. The floor panels comprised of blond wood, a far cry from the ugly carpet used previously in the former Terminal 2 lounge.
I had a great time chatting with the staff. The credit card swipe machine was broken, so I was able to “up-sell” my drink selections at no-charge, and enjoyed a delicious Dirty Martini. All United clubs offer complimentary house wine, beer and spirits (except for top-shelf brands, premium beer, fine wines, champagne, some liqueurs and specialty cocktails, which are available for purchase).
In addition to the amenities above, United Club lounges offer free WiFi, continental breakfast items and afternoon snacks for all guests. Reciprocal club privileges are permitted for participating Star Alliance airline club holders (such as Lufthansa, Thai and Air Canada). Each club is staffed with a group of agents who can assist with reservations, seat assignments and electronic ticketing. In my experience, these individuals are generally the best-informed and most professional/courteous employees of the airline.
Clubs typically also have LCD TVs displaying news or sports channels, and offer complimentary newspapers and periodicals. It is also extremely convenient for workplace productivity, as the lounges are equipped with telephones, fax machines, photocopiers, individual workplaces, and conference rooms available for reservation. I personally have worked from the United lounges previously, and found it incredibly useful and efficient.
The widespread availability of electrical power outlets is particularly advantageous given that most airports are sincerely behind on providing charging stations for people to juice up their smart phones, laptops, tablets and other devices they need during flights. The United Clubs at Newark and Houston also offer complimentary showers for guest, which my older sister used to her benefit last summer after a humid commute from downtown Manhattan to EWR as we waited for our delayed 15-hour nonstop flight to Delhi on UA 82.
United Clubs are located at most major domestic US airports. In addition to the primary United hubs in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Washington Dulles, and Newark, United Clubs are also available at spoke cities such as Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Austin and Seattle, among others. Internationally, there are clubs in Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Osaka and Guam. Other Star Alliance hubs, such as Frankfurt or Bangkok, offer reciprocal access to eligible members to lounges operated by Lufthansa, Thai, or whichever operating carrier owns the lounge at that particular airport.
Eligibility varies according to membership, the passengers’ elite status tier, and/or class of service that day. Most United Club members generally maintain a paid 1-year membership, possess a Credit Card account (such as the United Club Card from Chase) which grants them unlimited Club access, or are a member of a partner carrier Club which grants 100% reciprocity such as the US Airways Club (although some access restrictions apply at times). One-day passes can also be purchased for entry, as a source of ancillary revenue generation for the airline.
The great thing about this type of membership is that you can have club access even if you are not flying on United that day, or any Star Alliance carrier that day. All you have to do is present your membership card and a valid ID. Of course, this is assuming that the airport has a United lounge nearby and accessible to your departure terminal and gate, post-security.
United also permits access to Star Alliance Gold Card holders, a status level which is attained whenever an individual earns over 50,000 elite-qualifying miles by flying on United or an eligible Star Alliance/partner/affiliate airline flights within a single year. However, in order to gain club access, the Gold card holder must be traveling on an international flight that day, operated by United or a Star Alliance flight. Star Gold members traveling on a domestic flight cannot access the lounge without a membership. This is a general rule that is enforced among all participating Star Alliance lounges worldwide. A valid boarding pass needs to be presented on the United/Star flight departing from the airport in which the lounge is located.
Finally, customers traveling in United Global First, United BusinessFirst, United First and United Business may access United clubs and select partner lounges if they are traveling on an international flight in any of the cabins mentioned above, or on a partner carrier.
United Global First passengers are eligible to receive lounge access at some exclusive First Class lounges at a select few airports such as Chicago O’Hare, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Tokyo Narita, or Washington Dulles. These lounges offer an “elevated” level of customer experience “tailored to the needs of United Global First customers traveling on long-haul flights” according to United.com, which offers additional privacy, complimentary hours d’oeuvres and premium beverages.
United also offers two arrivals lounges at San Francisco International and Sao Paulo Guarulhos International airports, by invitation-only, where travelers arriving on a same-day ticket before noon can enjoy a hot shower and continental breakfast before starting their day.
The Star Alliance website has an amazing lounge search tool where one can perform a lookup to see which lounges are offered around the globe and provided by individual carriers. The user can also add in filter criteria to determine which lounges they are eligible to access at a specific airport, by entering in information such as airline, cabin class, frequent flier program, status tier, or paid membership card type.