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To start our trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia we first had to get from Atlanta to Chicago. In the past we have paid separately to book “positioning” flights prior to starting our long-haul points redemption flights in order to obtain more favorably priced flights. In this case, all three flights were covered by a somewhat reasonable United Airlines (UA) points redemption of 155,000 points and $27.10 in fees for domestic first class UA ATL:ORD, UA Polaris business class ORD:BRU, and coach on Brussels Airlines for the final BRU:LJU leg of the flight.
I transferred 296,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to top-up my United Airlines account to book these tickets. (I earned these points on my Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card and Ink Business Cash® Credit Card.) All of my existing United Mileage Plus points had been earned via shopping portal purchases during promotional periods.
Our journey began at the surprisingly nice, albeit small, United Club in the mezzanine located above Terminal T between gates 11 and 12 at ATL. We had access to this club because of our United Polaris flight between ORD and BRU, otherwise we would not have been able to access this club. I won’t be reviewing this club as it was extremely busy while we were there making it very challenging to take photos. After a quick breakfast we headed to our departure gate at the end of the T gates to board our 737-900 jet for the 2 hour and 10 minute flight to ORD.
It’s at this point that I need to admit that this was the first UA flight I have taken in nearly 20 years after an absolutely terrible experience with UA at their DEN hub that had us swearing off the airline. Having reached the statute of limitations and our boycott, we were going to give them another shot on this trip in United Polaris. Let me just say that it was a totally fine domestic flight. A few things that stand out when compared to Delta, our preferred carrier:
- There were no seat back in-flight-entertainment screens on board our A319-100
- The wine came from a bottle not a can, a major bone of contention between René and Delta Airlines which continues to serve canned wines in domestic first class
- I heard one FA tell another “that isn’t my job” not once but twice during the boarding process. (maybe UA should already be paying FAs for boarding like DL does???)
After arriving at ORD, it was time for a more than four-hour visit to the United Polaris Lounge located in Terminal 1, Concourse C near gate C18 before our flight to Brussels. We had access to the Polaris Lounge by virtue of having Polaris tickets for our next flight. We were excited to try one of the Polaris lounges which are dedicated lounges for business class passengers travelling on long-haul business class routes. Delta currently doesn’t have any comparable lounges; however, that’s expected to change within the next year or so.
Check-in was easy with a quick scan of our ORD:BRU boarding passes on our phones and a passport check (these hadn’t been physically checked in ATL). We headed to a table in the spacious seating area near the buffet so that we could boot up and get some work done before starting our vacation. WiFi was simple to connect to and reasonably fast. For us, an overseas vacation doesn’t really begin until we plop down in our seats for the international flight. How about you?
The lounge staff were in the process of switching the buffet over from the morning breakfast selections to the lunch ones. So I helped myself to the coffee machine to make a latte, which was on par with the machine-made coffees in our typical Delta lounges.
After a couple hours of catching up on email and some light snacking we made our way over to the bar to peruse the United Polaris cocktail menu. I settled on their version of an Old Fashioned made with Bulleit Rye, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters. The drink was well made, though a bit sweet for my palette. Melanie enjoyed a Lanson Brut Champagne. There was no charge for these cocktails in the United Polaris lounge, a nice upgrade over a Delta Skyclub, where all but “well” drinks come at a charge.
After enjoying our drinks we wanted to try out The Dining Room, a feature of United Polaris clubs with table service and food prepared to order. The dining area was fairly small and fully occupied at the time. A helpful server took my phone number and said they would text in approximately 30 minutes when a table opened up. In less than 10 minutes I received the text and we walked over and were immediately seated.
Now a bit about our dietary restrictions. Both Melanie and I are Gluten Free but for different reasons. I have a gluten intolerance (not Celiac) while she is allergic to wheat. I appreciated on the buffet that the food was marked GF; however, the Dining Room did not do the same. We inquired about the ability to have the signature burger on GF buns. The server said these were typically available; however, he would have to check. After a quick trip to the kitchen he said that unfortunately they’d run out of the GF buns, but would we like the burgers prepared as lettuce-wraps. We were a bit disappointed, but went ahead as suggested. He took a drink order, we both had a serviceable Malbec and before we knew it our burgers arrived with wedge fries. The server had previously asked if we were OK with cross-contamination from a shared fryer as they didn’t have a dedicated fryer for GF foods. We said that would be fine and we appreciated him informing us. The burgers tasted great. Where’s the obligatory food picture??? Well…on a lettuce wrap they just didn’t look photo ready.
After our burgers we passed on dessert as there were no GF options and we were going to be fed on the upcoming flight in United Polaris, so we decided to go back to the bar for digestifs. A ruby port for me and a tawney port for Melanie and we were very happy, if a bit sleepy, campers.
Given the timing of our flights we didn’t utilize the showers, but the unisex restrooms and shower rooms were very nice and clean an located down this very futuristic corridor.
We really enjoyed our stay in the ORD United Polaris Lounge and would gladly fly through ORD again IF it included a trip to this excellent lounge. – Michael
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