On a recent layover at New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport, I spent some time in the United Club lounge. I used the space for a light lunch and to get some work done.
There are not many lounge options at Newark – the Priority Pass app shows La Guardia as the nearest lounge! I was thankful for a passable, if not pedestrian reprieve from a deplorable Terminal A concourse.
United Club Newark (Terminal A) – Access
There are three United Club lounges at Newark. I visited the lounge in Terminal A, from which Air Canada flights depart. The lounge is open from 5:00am to 9:15pm daily.
The lounge is located just outside the middle of Terminal A’s three circular concourses. The entry is wedged along a narrow corridor running alongside the security checkpoint.
If you continue beyond, you’ll reach the lower-numbered gates, which are currently undergoing major construction. There, you’ll find the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, currently closed while construction is underway.
The lounge is framed by automatic sliding glass doors, tinted United’s signature blue tone.
In the foyer, there’s a small sitting table beneath a photograph of a United aircraft from many decades ago. The space features cream, tan, and light grey tones, a palette you’ll notice throughout the bright lounge.
As you enter, you’ll check in at the desk to your right.
Mistakenly booking a layover through a terminal with few lounges, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was eligible for complimentary access. I was able to enter the lounge by virtue of having an international departing boarding pass in a business class cabin on a partner Star Alliance airline.
I was flying on an Aeroplan award ticket in the Latitude fare class, successfully upgraded into business class. Arriving from Memphis on a United-operated route, my next segment was from Newark to Toronto on Air Canada – indeed in the business class cabin, despite technically being an economy fare, thus granting me lounge access.
You can also gain entry to the United Club with Star Alliance Gold status, which you’ll have as an Aeroplan 50K member or above. Alternatively, you can access United Club lounges if you have purchased an Air Canada Maple Leaf Club membership, although I don’t believe this is equivalent to the benefits you’ll get by holding a premium Aeroplan credit card.
If you’re without complimentary lounge access, you can pay US$59 plus tax – a reasonable use of any funds you may have in your United TravelBank if you don’t have a use for them for paid airfare.
Additionally, you can visit Terminal C, one of United’s major hubs, where you’ll find two United Club lounges. Terminal C also offers a United Polaris Lounge, with more restrictive access.
United Club Newark (Terminal A) – Seating
The lounge is arranged in a rectangular layout, with three distinct rooms. Each seating area has tarmac views of the A gates.
As you enter, on your left there’s an area entirely with lounge seating. The majority of the seats are individual armchairs, with end tables featuring lamps and multiple types of power outlets in between.
Some seating along the window is set up for pairs, with two lounge chairs facing each other across a small coffee table, but without any power outlets.
There are a few larger tables on the back wall, with chairs and a banquette. (I didn’t snap any photos out of respect for the people using the bench for a nap, in the absence of a nap room inside the lounge.)
To your right, there are two phone booths with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, where you can make calls with a bit of acoustic privacy. Each room has an empty desk and a swivel chair.
Continuing into the lounge, you’ll come to the main dining and bar area. There are some high-top stools lining the bar, and dining chairs arranged around medium-sized tables for groups of three.
Finally, in the third room, there’s more lounge seating like in the first room. There are also two high-top tables with large power banks for groups of eight, so you can dine or work as a group.
In the back corner, there’s one small table encircled by the same executive-style conference chairs that are in the foyer. This would purely be a place to have a relaxing conversation, as the table is too small and far from the chairs to eat or work comfortably.
I split my time between a dining room table, a phone booth, and a standard lounge chair with personal power outlets. I found all to be suitably comfortable for their intended purposes.
United Club Newark (Terminal A) – Dining
The United Club features a self-serve buffet in the main dining room, across from the bar. The food is protected by a sneeze guard.
I visited the lounge from 11am until 2pm, as lunch was being served.
All of the options were served cold, except for a lemon chicken orzo soup.
I tried the soup, a honey turkey wrap, a grilled vegetable pesto panini, a vegan couscous salad, and a chocolate chip brownie. All were decent for a varied light lunch and none stood out in any way, with the panini being my least favourite.
Other available options included oats, a green salad, and a snack box with cheese, grapes, and pretzels.
I’m not sure if this is a COVID-19 service reduction, but the presentation of the food did not impress. Paper plates and bowls are provided. Plastic cutlery is individually wrapped. Some meals are portioned and packaged in plastic containers. Single servings of condiments are also available.
The selection seemed a bit thin and unimaginative, although I wonder if this impression was exacerbated by the presentation. There was some vacant space at the buffet where there is an induction cooktop, which I assume is used for hot food as part of a more extensive dinner service.
All dishes displayed a prominent allergy/dietary warning, which I thought was a considerate touch.
In the third room, there’s also a snack bar on the backside of the main buffet, with fresh fruit, chips, and Illy coffee.
United Club Newark (Terminal A) – Bar
Bar service was also limited at the time of my visit.
Most notably, the bar had a very small selection of complimentary beverages. You can order a Peroni, a Sam Adams, or a Brooklyn Lager, a house red or white wine, or well spirits.
All other beverages had a significant upcharge, which in my view is a massive detriment to the value of airport lounge access. Most importantly, the bartender didn’t seem incredibly enthused to be serving guests. It’s definitely a bit awkward and disappointing to charge people who expected a free drink, which I felt impacted the quality of service.
The selection wasn’t very extensive, either. I didn’t look at a cocktail menu, but I didn’t get the sense that they feature any signature recipes. There are a handful of premium spirits available, such as Grey Goose vodka, Tanqueray gin, Zacapa rum, and Jim Beam bourbon. There’s also a selection of red and white wines.
They weren’t doing draft beer for some reason, which knocked out a good portion of the beer list that appealed to me. I ended up settling for a bottle of Brooklyn Lager with my lunch.
For a space that charges a hefty entry fee to non-members, I expected the United Club to offer a bit more. I assumed that most lounges were returning to full service levels with the end of COVID-19 policies, but perhaps the time of day I visited exacerbated the limited experience.
Overall, however, I found the food preferable to the Maple Leaf Lounges I’ve visited (though to be fair, that’s a low bar). For me, that outweighed the paltry bar service, given the timing of my visit.
It does seem like United has greatly stratified its offerings between Club lounges and Polaris Lounges, just as Air Canada does with the Maple Leaf Lounges and the Signature Suites in Toronto and Vancouver. I’d be eager to visit a Polaris Lounge soon to compare.
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the United Club at Newark’s Terminal A again, I was glad to have somewhere peaceful to relax and get some work done. It was the saving grace of a long layover during which the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge was closed, which will hopefully reopen soon once construction is finished.