By Anna Zaks
My most recent trip was to Israel. My favorite way to fly is, of course, in premium cabin, especially when I am going so far away. I also wanted to check out a couple airport lounges on the way.
The easiest way for me to find award flights from Cleveland to Israel is using United Mileage Plus program. For this trip I used 85,000 United miles to fly in business class on Austrian Airlines from Cleveland to Tel Aviv via Newark, NJ and Vienna, Austria. I opened a personal United Mileage Plus card last year when the sign up bonus was 60,000 United miles. A few months later I opened a business version of the same card with 50,000 sign up bonus.
In this article I want to share with you my experience on the ground and how opening the right credit cards can change the way you fly. I recently opened American Express Business Platinum card and one of the perks is a membership in Priority Pass. Membership in the program gives you access to airport lounges and meal credits at select airport restaurants. I felt really spoiled that day, I had breakfast at Bar Simon restaurant at Cleveland Hopkins Airport ($27 restaurant credit) and because my flight was delayed by an hour, I headed over to Airspace lounge – a Priority Pass lounge at CLE. It was really nice to relax away from the crowds.
While my on the ground experience in Cleveland was nice, I was really looking forward to my layover at Newark airport. This might sound crazy, who has ever looked forward to a layover? But I was really excited to check out United’s new Polaris Lounge that opened one day earlier!
The new United Polaris Lounge at the Newark airport is a real gem and a huge improvement for United, whose regular clubs leave much to be desired. The new lounge opened on June 4th, 2018 and I was lucky enough to be flying through Newark on June 5 on an Austrian Airlines business class ticket. You can only visit Polaris Lounge if you are flying on a United international long haul flight that has Polaris class or if you are traveling on the Star Alliance business or first class ticket. United Club members aren’t eligible and have to go to a regular United Club. United Club day passes aren’t accepted either.
Polaris Lounge General Information
The Polaris Lounge is located near gate 120, where the old United club used to be. The new lounge has no resemblance to the old one. It is a completely different experience than visiting any US- based airline lounge. You enter through a beautiful oval-shaped entrance with sparkling LED lights on the ceiling made to resemble the starry skies.
The entire lounge is decorated in the muted tones of grey and white with navy accents. There are beautiful light fixtures throughout the lounge. I am partial to contemporary design and especially to modern light fixtures, so that’s always the first thing I notice anywhere I go.
Another feature you will notice right away is the abundance of electrical outlets. Everywhere you look there are more outlets! They are in the showers, the sleeping suits, the sit down dining room and plenty by all the chairs in the main area.
There are a couple different sitting areas – one close to the entrance lobby and another one by the huge windows with views of United planes. The grey leather chairs have small side desks for your laptop and there are, of course, more outlets.
United Polaris Lounge Food and Drink
There are two eating areas in the lounge- the buffet and the dining room. There are also self-serve drink refrigerators and espresso machines scattered around the buffet area, and a well-stocked snack bar.
At the time of my visit, the buffet had a small assortment of cold appetizers, including sandwiches and a few salads, and 4 or 5 hot dishes. They didn’t look particularly appealing to me so I headed straight to the sit-down, restaurant-style dining room.
One of the great features of the Polaris lounges is the full service dining room where you can choose the food from the menu. This is not unusual for first-class lounges worldwide but the fact that you can visit Polaris lounge even when flying on a Star Alliance business class ticket really sets it apart.
As soon as you sit down, you are presented with a pretty extensive wine list. The bar menu includes whimsically named craft cocktails with names such as United Polaris Star and Cloud Cover.
The menu at the dining room has a few options – fish, meat, pizza and pasta dishes; enough to satisfy any taste, carnivores and vegetarians alike. The portions are small, so if you are hungry, order an appetizer and an entree or two entrees. I got cod because it seemed to be the only gluten free option. As someone who is gluten free, I was glad to see a dish that I could eat, not an easy feat at the airlines’ lounges where the food choices skew toward bread and pasta options.
My dish was delicious, definitely restaurant quality food. The fish was delicate and beautifully presented. There were no gluten free dessert options so I headed back to the buffet where I earlier spotted a tray of French macaroons. They did not disappoint!
The beautiful backlight onyx- top bar has top shelf liquor, cocktails, wine and beer. You can sit at the bar or order a drink and someone will bring it to your table.
Showers and Sleeping Suites
Polaris Lounge has well appointed restrooms and showers with Cow Shed brand amenities. Shower rooms are huge, with rain fall shower heads and beautiful, fluffy, white Saks Fifth Avenue towels. The showers also have heated floors, which feel absolutely amazing. And there are, of course, more outlets! That day I got up at 6 am to catch my early morning connecting flight, so a hot shower felt great and helped to sooth my aching muscles.
There was also a pair of slippers that I decided to take with me, and they came in very handy on the plane. Note to self, next time I fly, take a pair of hotel slippers to wear on a long international flight; so much easier than putting your shoes on every time you need to get up. Don’t know why I didn’t think about that before!
On request amenities include hair driers and curling irons. Lades, if you have a long layover, that’s one way to occupy your time. You can also have your clothes steamed; interesting option for someone who is about to get on a long flight.
Next, I went to check out the sleeping suites. The little room has a chaise longue, a pillow and you can request a blanket from the attendant. The white noise soundtrack plays sounds of cicadas on a summer night; that definitely helps drown the other noise and sounds very relaxing.
My General Observations
I could see that there was some staff training going on and there are a few kinks still to be worked out at the full-service dining room. There were a few hick ups with the service in the dining room but I am sure these are just the growing pains and the service will only get better.
I was there between 1:30and 4:30 pm. When I arrived, the lounge was practically empty and only 6 tables were occupied in the dining room. When I left, there were a lot more people; there are many late afternoon and evening international flights, so I am sure it can get pretty crowded later in the day.
Clearly, the Polaris Lounge is a huge improvement for United and a great way to spoil Polaris and Star Alliance premium customers. This is a great place to spend a few hours: a nice hot shower is a nice perk before a long flight and delicious food is always welcome on the long layover.
Anna Zaks is an avid traveler and points and miles addict. She can be reached at [email protected].