Stephanie Holmes visits United Airlines' Polaris Lounge at San Francisco International Airport.

The greeting:

I was confused about whether this was the right lounge, or whether I should be looking for one further into the domestic terminal, but the staff on the desk gave me a warm welcome and some information about how long it would take me to get to the gate when it was time to leave. I instantly felt right at home.

First impression: It was a beautiful, calm, sanctuary after the cattle-herding transit experience I'd just been through. Travelling from Auckland and with a connecting flight to Portland, I'd been in various queues for more than 90 minutes, so it was joyous to be in the lounge's peace and tranquillity.


What's there: The Polaris Lounge spans two floors with seating for up to 440 people. On the first floor there's a shower room, quiet room, and various secluded seating areas; upstairs there is a large bar, a range of places to sit, a small self-serve buffet, plus a seated dining room for up to 40 guests offering a full service menu. Both floors have lots of natural light to help reset the body clock, and tasteful contemporary artworks from local Bay Area artists.

Who's there: A mix of ages, cultures and nationalities — international travellers waiting for connecting flights, plus Americans on their way to domestic destinations.

Anything for the kids: Nothing that I could find on my walk around.

Tech stuff: Free unlimited unsecured Wi-Fi. Plug sockets and USB at every seat.
Reading material: Not even a newspaper.

The view: Out to the runways and gates, plus the San Francisco hills beyond.

Eating and drinking: The breakfast buffet featured oatmeal, fresh fruit, granola, bircher muesli, and congee. The dining area had a wider selection — including bagels, eggs, and tapas-style light bites. The fresh fruit-infused waters were refreshing after a long-haul flight. If it hadn't been so early in the morning, I would have opted for a freshly made Paper Plane cocktail — bourbon with jasmine honey, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, chamomile, honey and lemon, garnished with a paper plane, and first introduced in United's Polaris lounge at Chicago O'Hare airport. Maybe on the return journey.

Bathrooms: The shower suites were large and spotlessly clean with fresh, fluffy white towels from Saks Fifth Avenue. Toiletries were by Cowshed, a British brand available at Soho House Chicago. The water pressure wasn't great, so I turned on both the rain head and regular shower attachments and that really amped things up, giving me a good, refreshing blast after my 12-hour flight.

Lounge atmosphere: Gentle. Everyone seemed to be easing into the day.


Bottom line: Make sure you have plenty of time between connecting flights so you have time to enjoy the lounge. It would be a real shame to miss it.