A First Look At United’s Polaris International Business Lounge

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Since the turn of the millennium, travelers have looked towards international carriers to provide a level of luxury not found in the United States. Those who wanted to be treated like VIP flyers often chose European carriers, including British Airways and Lufthansa, for a true business class or first class experience, from lounge to airplane.

More recently, the Middle East Three have redefined what luxury looks like in the air. From fully lay-flat seating to showers mid-flight, travelers are getting a new definition of what luxury looks like when traversing the world.

However, United Airlines says they will no longer be outdone by their international competitors with the launch of their latest product, United Polaris. A step beyond their domestic BusinessFirst product, Polaris is a true business-class product, both at the airport and in the skies. With our partners at FlyerTalk, United gave us a sneak peak of the new United Polaris experience one day before it opened to the public.

The most striking feature when walking in off gate C19 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) are the lounge’s art features. In the reception area, a sculpture of lights and wires — inspired by the grid of downtown Chicago and the stars above it — greet travelers as they enter the Polaris lounge. The installation’s sculptor, Wolfgang Buttress, explains it was inspired by the wonders of flying.

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“Flight is an incredible thing,” the sculptor explained to Frugal Travel Guy. “It’s the idea of express[ing] the sense of wonder or sublime, that you’re always at the center of it.”

Once inside, the lounge is separated into four very distinct sections. Leading into the lounge are a block of individual cubicles, designed for business travelers who want to get work done. Each cube features both traditional and USB power outlets, along with space to store luggage and hang coats.

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Further into the lounge is the dining section, completed with a full-service bar. Two of Chicago’s finest culinary experts – chef Art Smith and mixologist Adam Seger – collaborated to create a full-scale dining experience for the business class traveler.

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The dining area features two bars of food, with an island of hot plates in the middle. The restaurant-quality menu will revolve based on seasonal and locally-produced ingredients, with plates ranging from fried chicken to deconstructed salads. Desserts will include Smith’s famous Hummingbird Cake.

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“One of the greatest luxuries in life is the ability to make a choice, and the best part is to make a choice and not feel guilty,” chef Art Smith explained in an interview about the food area. “What I love about being here in Chicago, I’m able to bring something that Chicagoans love right here to United.”

The exit of the buffet looks straight at the bar area, led by Seger. The bar features a signature cocktail created by Seger, as well as recipes created by other mixologists from across the United States. The cocktails will also feature local flavors, with spirits created and popularized by Chicago. Drinks at the bar range in ingredients from potato vodka to Kansas City whiskey.

“You’re going to see spirits here that you’ve never seen at an airport before,” Seger explained about the Polaris bar. “We wanted Polaris to not only elevate travel, but elevate the cocktail experience that travelers have never flown before. Why compromise what you are drinking after so many hours of travel?”

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Seger’s signature cocktail, the London Spritz, features locally produced spirits, along with a garnish of fresh herbs. The drink was created to have restorative effects for the traveler, who may have spent hours in an aircraft and will be ready for a renewing beverage.

“Imagine if you have been traveling,” Seger said as he poured the cocktail. “To have something that’s not only refreshing, but also has restorative botanicals in it, it’s going to help you feel better.”

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Both the bar and kitchen were created in concert with one another, in order to complement each offering. The lounge was built with this in mind, to create a holistic luxury experience for the flyer.

“Every great restaurant has to have a mixologist…it establishes the tone of a place,” Smith said about the bar complimenting the food menu. “You can’t have great food without a great bar. That is something that, in today’s restaurant and bar culture, is so important – you cannot have a successful food venture without a successful bar.”

For travelers who wish to put more relaxation in their trip, the lounge also features a mini day spa area. The day spa features daybeds, which can be reserved by the hour, for travelers who need a quick nap. When all the areas are full, travelers can request a bed, with staff alerting them when it is ready through the use of beacon technology.

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In addition to the beds, the spa also features individual shower areas, stocked with Saks Fifth Avenue towels and slippers. The showers are available to travelers arriving or departing from Chicago, and are outfitted with heated floors.

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To say the United Polaris lounge was deliberate from start to finish would be an understatement. From walking in, it is very clear that United sought to create an experience worthy of the business-class traveler, inspired by the great lounges and experiences from around the world. With the launch, United was completely successful – and even though I appreciate traveling from the back of the plane, a stop in the United Polaris lounge had me rethinking purchasing United Polaris tickets the next time I go overseas.

“We’ve had to really rethink every aspect of our business, but as [United CEO] Oscar [Munoz] always says, it’s about proof, not promise,” Julia Haywood, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at United Airlines, said in opening remarks to the media. “What you will see today truly exemplifies what we call the new experience of United.”

I can only hope that this new experience of United will continue to permeate through every aspect of the customer experience.

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