The Stars Have Aligned: United’s New Polaris Lounge at Newark
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To The Point
United’s Polaris Lounge at Newark (EWR) brings the best the airline has to offer to one of its most important hubs. The pros: a huge physical space, high on style and solid food and beverage offerings. The cons: there are some dining staff issues to sort out, and it’s exclusive — to a fault.
One of the first airline lounges I ever visited was the Continental Presidents Club at Newark Airport (EWR), just after the security checkpoint at Terminal C. I remember it feeling crowded and a bit less inspiring than I had imagined, but with free snacks and drinks, it clearly beat waiting to board in the gate area, as I had done for years.
As part of the carrier’s merger with United, the space was rebranded as a United Club half a decade ago, but it had seen only minor tweaks over the years — new chairs, eventually, and a slightly expanded snack menu. There were fewer free beers than I had remembered from that first visit, too. It also seemed to get progressively more crowded, as United added flights and perks like one-time passes for customers with a co-branded Chase card, such as the United Explorer Card. Then, it was shut down entirely in November 2017.
As of Monday June 4, that former Presidents Club has reopened as the East Coast’s first United Polaris Lounge, and the third to open around the world. It’s really a fantastic space — the days of Continental branding and amenities are just a distant memory now.
Location and Access
- United Polaris first class
- United Polaris business class
- Star Alliance long-haul first class
- Star Alliance long-haul business class
First-class passengers may also bring a guest, but access is restricted to long-haul intercontinental travel — if you’re flying between the US and Canada, Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean, you won’t be able to get in. United will soon retire first class, but other carriers, such as Lufthansa, will continue to offer first-class service from EWR.
Note that I reached out to United’s PR team in order to access the lounge on opening day. I looked into every other option before doing so, of course, including booking a one-way Polaris or Star Alliance flight out and finding something interesting to review on the return. Unfortunately nothing worked with my schedule, so — barring booking a flight and canceling it, which is very much frowned upon and even illegal in some countries — I had no choice but to request access for the purposes of this review. Thankfully, it didn’t seem that the lounge employees were instructed to pay any extra attention to me, though, as you’ll see below.
When I arrived around 8:30am, I asked the agent how many guests had checked in during the previous four hours — the lounge opens at 4:30am and closes at 10:30pm each day. She said 50 — most were headed out on flights to Asia. There seemed to be roughly that many in the lounge during the morning of my visit, though most cleared out by 11:00am, leaving the gigantic space feeling empty until 12:30pm or so, when it began to fill up again. And that late-morning lull certainly makes sense, given how the airline schedules flights.
Monday’s morning departures from Terminal C include the following, with a maximum of just 196 eligible passengers (for all of the seat counts, I deduct one for the pilot crew rest, save for the 777-300ER which has a dedicated crew rest and therefore 60 business-class seats):
- London (8:30am, with 38 business seats on a 767-400)
- Shanghai (10:45am, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Tokyo (11:00am, with 60 Polaris seats on a 777-300ER)
- Beijing (11:45am, also with 49 business seats on a 777-200).
Also on Monday June 4, afternoon departures include the following, with a maximum of 342 eligible passengers:
- Hong Kong (3:15pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Tel Aviv (4:45pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Stockholm (5:20pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Rome (5:25pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Munich (5:30pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
- Amsterdam (5:35pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Hamburg (7:35pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Athens (5:40pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Berlin (5:50pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Geneva (5:55pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
Early evening departures include the following, with a maximum of 420 eligible passengers:
- London (6:00pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
- Paris (6:20pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Brussels (6:25pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Zurich (6:30pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Milan (6:45pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Venice (6:55pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
- London (7:00pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
- Barcelona (7:25pm, with 26 business seats on a 777-200)
- Dublin (7:35pm, with 26 business seats on a 777-200)
- Manchester (7:35pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Frankfurt (7:40pm, with 60 Polaris seats on a 777-300ER)
- Glasgow (7:40pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Edinburgh (7:50pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
While late-evening departures include the following, with a maximum of 439 eligible passengers:
- Madrid (8:15pm, with 26 business seats on a 777-200)
- Mumbai (8:15pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Lisbon (8:25pm, with 29 business seats on a 767-300)
- London (9:00pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Paris (9:30pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Buenos Aires (9:45pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Porto (9:45pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Delhi (9:50pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Shannon (9:55pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- London (10:00pm, with 39 business seats on a 767-400)
- Sao Paulo (10:05pm, with 49 business seats on a 777-200)
- Reykjavik (10:30pm, with 15 business seats on a 757-200)
- Tel Aviv (10:50pm, with 60 Polaris seats on a 777-300ER)
Of course, not all passengers traveling in business on these flights will choose to go to the lounge — and those flying standby, or whose upgrades have not yet cleared, won’t be able to. Additionally, customers booked in Polaris first may bring one guest, but while United is still operating 3-cabin aircraft on random frequencies, it doesn’t appear that the airline is selling first-class seats out of Newark.
Additionally, this doesn’t account for delays, or passengers connecting in Newark after arriving or before departing on an eligible flight. It also doesn’t factor in eligible partner flights departing from Terminal B, which would require passing through security at Terminal C then again at Terminal B.
Seating Areas and Amenities
While United is involved with developing the menu and overall lounge experience, Sodexo handles the day-to-day management.
Servers, mixologists and lounge managers all work for Sodexo — only the check-in and customer service agents are employed by United. The contractors represent the airline, however, and you wouldn’t know that they’re employed by another company unless you ask.
TPG‘s Brendan Dorsey went into detail on the 27,099-square-foot lounge’s seating options and amenities during last week’s media preview, so I’ll keep this section tight.
What I can add, though, is that with so many places to sit, and access being so restricted, I can’t imagine this lounge ever feeling nearly as full as that Presidents Club I first visited years ago.
And there are plenty of spaces to relax in peace and quiet, even if the main lounge areas fill up.
Those include the nap pods, of course — this lounge has 10 available, with Saks Fifth Avenue pillows, plus duvets available upon request.
There are also 10 well-equipped shower suites.
I didn’t have time for a shower, but I did give it a quick try — the water warmed up very quickly, with great pressure.
You can also request other amenities, including a curling iron, dental kit, deodorant, hair dryer, hair straightener, sewing kit, shower cap and vanity kit. Steaming services are also available, so you can have your clothes freshened up while you shower.
The staff seem to walk around to see if guests need anything from time to time, but if you want a full meal I’d head to the sit-down dining area.
Finally, there’s super-high-speed Wi-Fi available throughout the lounge — I just wish United’s regular lounges offered Wi-Fi this fast:
“The Dining Room,” as it’s called, is where you’ll need to go for made-to-order appetizers and entrees. There are 24 tables, each with two seats, so the space can accommodate 48 — I would expect it to be full ahead of the evening redeyes to Europe, but you should have no trouble finding a seat in the morning or mid-day.
United’s menu is a bit different than what I found at SFO and Chicago, and like at those lounges, I imagine it’ll change from time to time. Breakfast is served until 11:00am, with the lunch/dinner service beginning just after that.
I did find the staff a bit tricky to nail down, though — nobody proactively stopped by to take my order, and while the server was incredibly friendly at breakfast, the server I had for lunch seemed quite stressed when I asked to place my order. She was especially curt — I asked for sparkling water, for example, and she firmly responded with “we don’t have sparkling water.” I explained that I’d had sparkling water twice already today, and her response was “oh, I think I know what that is.” She returned with a sparkling water a minute later, at which point I thanked her and she responded with an “uh huh.”
Once I was able to place an order, all of the food came very quickly — at breakfast, my Bloody Mary was out in a couple minutes, and my appetizers, including the potato latkes and mini bagel with lox arrived within 10 minutes, with the eggs Benedict with smoked duck arriving five minutes after that.
Everything was flavorful — I really liked the bagel with lox, and found the sesame seeds and sprouts to be a nice touch. And I would have never thought to pair pickles with lox, but the combo worked very well. The potato latkes were good, but a bit on the dull side — they weren’t greasy at all, though, which is definitely a plus. I liked the eggs Benedict, too, but one egg was overcooked and one was runny, and the bread was too crispy to cut with the dull knives the TSA allows past the security checkpoint. The tomatoes on that dish were fantastic, though.
Lunch was tasty as well. I ordered a chopped salad and flatbread pizza with prosciutto, arugula and truffle oil to start. Both were on the “small plates” menu, and my server confirmed that both were small, although that pizza would have been enough for a full meal!
Since I was expecting tapas-sized items — and because I wanted to try as many things as reasonably possible for you, the reader — I also ordered The Polaris Burger, which is served with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, garlic aioli, bacon and a fried egg. Apparently my server forgot to add the burger to my order, but a manager caught the mistake, at which point she asked if I wanted it cooked medium or medium-well — I requested medium, but it arrived almost well-done anyway. The fries were especially delicious, as was the burger patty itself, though the roll could have been fresher.
If you’re in a rush, I’d suggest heading to the main buffet, instead.
The buffet selection at breakfast wasn’t quite as diverse as what I saw at SFO — there was a mix of pastries, for example, in addition to oatmeal and yogurt parfaits.
There were many more options at lunch, though.
The salad bar looked great — probably the freshest I’ve seen at an airport.
The charcuterie selection didn’t seem especially high-end, but it was well-stocked and looked fresh.
Still, if you have some time, I’d definitely opt for a-la-carte dining. I was pretty excited when I came upon a selection of self-serve treats — not that I had room for even a few M&Ms at that point.
The same aesthetic from “The Dining Room” seems to extend beyond that space, so you can grab a similarly appointed booth or table while still serving yourself from the buffet if you wish.
Bar and Beverages
While only well drinks and mainstream beers like Coors Light are included at the United Club, everything’s free at the Polaris Lounge, ranging from a diverse selection of wines to custom cocktails.
There are 14 wines on the menu, including a few I hadn’t seen before — a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Israel, for example. As for Champagne, United’s pouring Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee 1785 Brut (about $40 retail).
There’s an interesting liquor selection, though it’s fairly limited — the cocktails are the highlight here.
I ordered several cocktails to sample, based on Zoe’s recommendation.
The Paper Plane, also available at ORD and SFO, was my top pick, consisting of bourbon, amaro, Aperol and chamomile tea, with the signature paper plane clipped onto the side of the glass. I enjoyed the Cloud Cover as well, with gin, grapefruit liqueur and lime juice. Finally, I tried the London Spritz, a “local favorite” which is only available at the Newark Polaris Lounge. It was refreshing, and on the lighter side, but not especially memorable.
The last time we reviewed a United Polaris Lounge was in December 2016, right after the airline’s first location opened its doors at Chicago O’Hare (ORD). UA’s first (and for nearly 18 months, only) Polaris Lounge represented a huge step up from the airline’s previous business-class lounges — even my favorite United Club, at London Heathrow (LHR). Since then, an enormous 28,120-square-foot location opened at SFO, followed by this one at Newark today, June 4, with Houston (IAH) and Los Angeles (LAX) expected later this year.
This Newark Polaris Lounge is clearly a huge improvement over the United Club that occupied this space until the end of 2017. There are some minor staffing issues to work through, especially in The Dining Room, but anyone eligible for access will likely walk away very impressed, considering what a leap forward this is for United.
My only real complaint is that some areas of the lounge felt especially cold — that’s better than it being too hot, of course, and I imagine United will figure out how to optimize the HVAC system soon enough. Oh, and of course I wish it were easier to get in — with access restricted to long-haul flights in business class, I’ll likely continue to pass the time before a flight at Classified, my Newark-Airport go-to, always heading to the Polaris Lounge ahead of the rare long-haul biz flight from Terminal C.