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The Art of Making Air Travel Much, Much Better

Is the recipe for better travel smart menus, smellscapes, and unlimited drinks? We headed to United's newest Polaris lounge to find out.

In Terminal 7 of Los Angeles International airport, in a newly-constructed lounge above Wolfgang Puck, two terribly-frequent fliers hold artisinally crafted cocktails in one hand, look out over a row of gleaming airplanes on the tarmac, and lazily discuss the worst parts about being lucky enough to travel the world for a living.

For several minutes, leg cramps and airplane food-induced heartburn look like they might win out. But then an eavesdropper sitting on the oversized lounge chair over brings up jet lag, everyone within earshot groans in agreement and we have a winner.

We’re all here for the grand opening of United Airlines’ fifth lounge under its new business class brand Polaris, designed to make long haul travel easier on everyone. Which is why they invited a gaggle of grumpy aviation journalists to see if it has what it takes to take the sting out of flying far.

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United Polaris lounge seating area at LAX
Better Seats
1. Welcome 2. A Lounge Overview 3. Seating          Photo Credits: Meg Butler, United Airlines, Meg Butler

This Lounge Has A Smellscape

The United Polaris lounge’s custom scent, a banner at the front of the lounge explains, is called “Landing” and it was designed to “relax, reinvigorate” and put you “in the right mindset for [your] travels.” I don’t know if I have the particular set of olfactory skills it takes to nasally identify what relaxation smells like.

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But, as a metaphor for the lengths an airline will go to make a 1,200-square-foot space as comfortable, inviting, and worth revisiting, “Landing” definitely delivers.

United has spent a total of $573 million dollars renovating all of LAX’s Terminal 7, plus hundreds of millions more on new Polaris business class seats, new planes and new amenities in an effort to outdo other long-haul airlines that also leave out of Los Angeles and head far east or west, by creating a travel experience that “flyers can look to and depend on for true comfort and a sleep experience like no other.”

Or, at least, so the ad copy goes. The president of United Airlines, a Los Angeles native, has stopped by personally to make sure that this lounge, which “has a special place in my heart,” has exactly what’s wanted by people who know what it takes to be comfortable (and uncomfortable) when you’re traveling over 20 hours from front door to hotel door.

The Bar
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1. The Bar 2. A Selection of Drinks 3. The United Polaris Old Fashioned          Photo Credit: Meg Butler

The Best Lounge Is A Head Start on A Good Vacation

That’s why, in every lounge, the food and the alcohol are free. And frequent fliers like to eat and drink. The better the lounge, the better the food and drink. Some offer loose peanut m&m’s in a communal bowl and mixed well drinks.

Here at the Polaris lounge, it’s a little north of 11 a.m. but there’s a small crowd gathered around a display of drinks crafted with Los Angeles in mind. If all you’ll see of the City of Angels is the airport, you could do worse than this tour.

You can “visit” Sunset Boulevard via a clever play on a Tequila Sunrise called On Sunset, or do Miracle Mile (bitters) in the United Polaris Old Fashioned.

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United Polaris lounge buffet at LAX
United Polaris Lounge Dining Room
1. Food With A View 2. The Buffet 3. The Dining Room    Photo Credits: Meg Butler, United Airlines, Meg Butler

And because it’s wise to pair unlimited cocktails with at least a little food, there are bulgogi rice balls with kimchi dipping sauce by way of Koreatown, trios of street tacos, cauliflower flatbread, power green smoothies and dozens of other items in the buffet or a la carte restaurants that will take you anywhere in LA worth going.

Dishes that don’t have what it takes are tracked via a bot in the point of sale system and booted off the menu which is about as LA as a culinary experience can get.

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1. The Bed 2. Goodies 3. White Noise Machine            Photo Credit: Meg Butler

You Can Sleep Without Bending Your Neck at a Right Angle

Because what gets full and buzzed must also nap, this United Polaris lounge also features private sleeping lounges with white noise machines and Saks Fifth Avenue Bedding. Unfortunately, there are only two of those private spaces in the lounge, which means most of the excessively sleepy will be out of luck, we are all sure to note.

But, for anyone who doesn’t need to catch their z’s before their flight, there are showers for washing off the first leg of your trip with Cowshed toiletries. If you’re changing into more formal attire, you can have a valet steam it (or bring you a flat-iron, toothbrush, or anything you accidentally packed in your checked bag) and bring it back.

Photo Credit: United Airlines

All in all, the Polaris lounge is the right combination of good food, relaxation, and free drinks to make whatever your flight holds for you easy to manage. It pairs best with Polaris’ seats in business class that combine mood lighting and lie-flat seats to help you get enough sleep to fight jet lag and avoid leg cramps.

So how do you get in? The United Polaris lounge opened on January 12, 2019 and is available to anyone flying business, Polaris or First Class on any United or Star Alliance airline out of Los Angeles International Airport.

Won’t make it to the West Coast any time soon? There are four other Polaris lounges around the US and four more opening in Fort Lauderdale, Raleigh-Durham, New Orleans, and LaGuardia.

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