United Airlines has opened the first of its new Polaris business class lounges at the airlines' Chicago hub, providing travellers with a taste of what's to come as the Polaris lounge network spreads around the world.
The lounges represent the ground component of the airline's ambitious Polaris international business class (below)...
... with the flagship lounge at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to be followed by new-build Polaris lounges at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark, Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong and London Heathrow throughout 2017.
Here are ten aspects of the Polaris lounge which business travellers will love.
1. United goes upscale
Put aside all thoughts of the old United lounges, those dowdy crowded 'holding pens' for passengers. Polaris is a decidedly premium lounge, and United wants to make sure everybody knows it.
If you've been in any of the airline's newest lounges based on the United Club concept – those at London's Heathrow Terminal 2 are a great example, especially the first class lounge – then you'll be a little closer to the Polaris experience.
High-end touches at the new Polaris lounges include marble floors and wall paneling, concierge services, spacious shower suites and vastly improved food and drink offerings.
2. Business class only
Access to Polaris lounges is restricted to business class and first class travellers on United's international fleet and its Star Alliance siblings.
(United is actually drawing down the shades on first class, with its 'Global First' offering being retired in favour of the new Polaris business class design which sports many of the creature comforts once reserved for the airline's highest-paying passengers.
Top-tier MileagePlus frequent flyers – including Premier Gold, Platinum and 1K card-holders – and Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers travelling in economy will be shunted into United Club lounges (although it's suspected that members of the invitation-only Global Services tier will be exempt from the 'premium cabin only' access rules).
That's bad news if you're a status passenger flying in economy, but good news for business travellers who are tired of over-crowded lounges and rubbing shoulders with economy passengers who happen to have a shiny frequent flyer card.
3. Airport lounge food that actually tastes great
Each Polaris lounge will feature a dining area which United promises as more like "a boutique restaurant", with a la carte meals prepared and cooked in the lounge kitchen, alongside a self-serve buffet and salad bar.
If Chicago's Polaris lounge is anything to go by, passengers won't mind too much if their flight is delayed.
The tended bar has eight beers on tap, two of those being local craft crews from Two Brothers and Revolution, with over a dozen specialty cocktails and top-shelf spirits such as Whistle Pig and Auchentoshan whisky, Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka and Aviation American Gin.
Oh, and there's barista-pulled Illy coffee.
5. Freshen up before your flight
Each international Polaris lounge will have spacious shower suites (there are six in the Chicago lounge) with to-shelf fittings plus Saks Fifth Avenue-branded towels and slippers.
While you're in the shower your suit, shirt or dress can be pressed in under 10 minutes.
There's ample room to wheel your cabin bag into the suite and still move around, a design consideration that's also replicated in the extra-large restrooms.
6. Catch up on some work
These bespoke 'Quad' seats are designed for the busy business traveller looking to tidy up some work before taking to the skies.
The high walls offer a little privacy; there's storage for your coat and bag, personal lighting, a pull-out table with integrated tablet holder, and AC/USB charging points.
7. Or just relax...
Also part of the Polaris formula: a cluster of 'relaxation suites' for weary travellers.
These semi-private rooms sport a leather chaise lounge, blankets and pillows, with soothing white washing through the overhead speakers.
8. Considered design
The Polaris lounges have been designed by UK-based PriestmanGoode and will each will follow a common design plan which puts the most active areas at the entrance, followed by the bar and buffet, with the 'calmer' zones – including the shower and relaxation suites – further inside the lounge.
9. There's just one TV in the lounge
Tired of airport lounges with big-screen TVs blaring away on every wall? That's especially common in US lounges but this is another way in which United is bucking the trend, with only a single telly to be seen.
"That's very intentional," explains Michael Landers, United's Managing Director of Airport Lounges. "Our Polaris customers found the TVs in our other lounges to be an annoyance. They want to be in here to relax or be productive."
10. There's a hotel-style concierge...
The Chicago lounge employs a 'full-service concierge' who can arrange ground transportation, book hotel rooms and even purchase theatre tickets for your destination. If United pulls this off at all of its other Polaris lounges the airline will definitely have raised the bar for other airlines.