As a traveler who doesn’t frequently travel business class or first class, I usually visit Priority Pass or Centurion Lounges by AMEX if I have the opportunity since neither require a premium cabin ticket. Don’t get me wrong, AMEX has some fantastic Centurion Lounges within their network, particularly from what I experienced in Dallas and Miami. Priority Pass also has excellent lounges within its network but most of the higher rated lounges are situated in Europe and Asia. Up until the opening of the Polaris Lounge in Chicago, the U.S. simply did not have a product that could compete with the business class lounges of Qatar Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, etc. United has expanded this product to San Francisco, Newark, and Houston. Polaris Lounges are considered the best airport lounges in the U.S. by many travel experts and bloggers. To get into the lounge, you need to have a business class or first class ticket on United Airlines or any of its Star Alliance partners (Turkish, ANA, Lufthansa, Singapore, etc.) In addition, you must be on an international long-haul flight that departs from Chicago O’Hare (or SFO, EWR, and HOU to access Polaris Lounge in those cities). This means a premium cabin flight to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, or Central America will not get you into the lounge. If you have a first class or business class ticket to London and you are connecting in Newark, you won’t have access in Chicago but you would in Newark. Chicago would need to be your point of international departure to have access to the Polaris lounge at O’Hare. I booked a business class ticket on Lufthansa to Lisbon, Portugal using United miles and thus had access to Polaris Lounge along with my wife. It’s not often that a place that’s been hyped up so much manages to live up to the lofty expectations. In this case, it not only lived up to it but exceeded it. My wife and I arrived at the lounge 5 hours prior to departure so we could experience just about every facet of what it had to offer.
Location and Entrance
Polaris Lounge is located in the C concourse of Terminal 1 at O’Hare. This is NOT the international terminal. However, United has their hub at Terminal 1 so all United International flights and Star Alliance partners ANA and Lufthansa (except LH437 to Munich which departs from Terminal 5) depart from Terminal 1. If you are flying on another Star Alliance partner in a premium cabin (Swiss, Turkish, EVA, etc), you need to walk over to Terminal 3 and take the Terminal Transfer Bus (TTB) to Terminal 5. This allows you to bypass another security check. Getting back to the Polaris Lounge, once you clear security at Terminal 1, take the escalators down to a tunnel which has quirky rainbow lighting and automated people movers. When you reach the end of the tunnel, go up the escalator and the Polaris Lounge is located on the left near gate C17. If your flight departs from the B concourse, you’ll have to make the 5-minute walk under the tunnel to get the C concourse. Since the lounge is located air-side after security, you don’t have to worry about budgeting time to get through security and to your gate. Once you enter, the receptionist will scan your boarding pass and you’re on your way.
The Polaris themed light fixture in the lobby was a great touch
View of the front disk from the corridor
Polaris Lounge – Seating
One of the best attributes is the amount of seating this lounge offers. Since United only grants access to international travelers flying on a long-haul flight, this lounge will never have to worry about crowding issues. When my wife and I were there, I’d say the lounge was only about 1/3 full and never got any higher than that.
Not a single person in this area of the lounge.
As you can see in the pictures, absolutely no shortage of seats. United did a nice job with the variety of seats and lighting that is offered. If you prefer a darker environment, they have that. And if you want a lot of natural light or like to watch planes take-off and land, they have optimal seating for that as well
This was my favorite seat. Near the window and watching various jets take off and land.
I was a big fan of these personal work areas that provided privacy but didn’t make you feel confined to a closed space. Excellent touch, United.
Polaris Lounge- Buffet
This was one of my favorite aspects of visiting the lounge. If you’re going to visit any Polaris Lounge, please come hungry. And pace yourselves. Their selection was the best I had ever seen at a U.S. lounge. And this was only the self-serve buffet!
Stacked caprese salad with fresh mozzarella. This was delicious
The salmon teriyaki was excellent. Never had it before.
The shrimp baked pasta was also delicious. At this point, I had to keep it to a few bites if I wanted to experience the sit-down dining
Eating any of the desserts meant there would be no hope for further food consumption. It was a tough mental battle but I willed myself into avoiding any of the pastries and desserts.
The minibar was stocked and had just about anything you’d want.
Fruit infused water
Polaris Lounge – Full-Service Dining
This is another aspect of the lounge that differentiates it from other lounges. It has a full-service dining option that allows you to pick from a menu and have your meal made to order.
Since my wife and I were there during the dinner hours, we chose to share a cheese tortellini and have our own ice cream. The tortellini was amazing and the ice cream was great as well. I really wish I didn’t sample as much from the buffet prior to dining but lesson learned for next time. Please don’t make this same mistake. Just a reminder that even though the dining is complimentary, remember to tip the waitress/waiter. They really go above and beyond at Polaris Lounge and help make the experience what it is.
Polaris Lounge – Bedroom and Shower
This lounge has 4 dedicated bedrooms if you want to catch a snooze prior to your flight. Linen from Saks 5th Avenue is provided for your comfort. None of the rooms were occupied during my time at the lounge and the rooms have a 3-hour limit if there is a queue.
The corridor that leads to the bathrooms. This is separate from the shower rooms which are found behind the buffet area. The Polaris themed lighting on the ceiling going down the corridor was a great touch by United.
The shower area and bathroom were all well maintained and the receptionist was kind enough to give me a tour.
Polaris Lounge – Bar and Buffet Area
The bar area was relatively empty and United did a great job with the blue ambiance.
The buffet area was very elegant. Synced perfectly with the type of dishes that were being offered.
Polaris Lounge – Conclusion
As I mentioned above, this lounge exceeded my expectations and I had some very high expectations going in. Even though I forgot to measure the wifi speed, I can assure you it was very fast when I was connected through my cell phone. This lounge has it all-excellent dining, comfortable sleeping rooms, spacious shower rooms, a variety of seating areas, fast internet connectivity, a vibrant bar area, and more. The Polaris brand of lounges is the standard for U.S. lounges and I hope I have the opportunity to visit one again in the near future. This lounge gets a 5/5 rating.