After the recent merger of United and Continental Airlines, many travelers felt like they were getting the short end of the stick. Extraordinary wait times, buggy computer systems and uneducated attendants all contributed to their collective annoyance at the newly formed mega-airline. Despite all this, there does seem to be one portion of the merger that has gone smoothly and benefits frequent travelers in a major way: the rebranded ‘United Club’.
Originally named the United Red Carpet Club and the Continental Presidents Club, the new United Club operates 50 locations throughout the world. Of these 50 locations, 5 are located in George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston), which used to be the main hub of Continental. The specific Club I will be reviewing today is located in Terminal E, which happens to be United’s International terminal.
Having arrived from Los Angeles, I had to walk from C (one of United’s domestic terminals) to E, where my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica would be departing from 4 hours later. After crossing over to E, I followed the signs to the United Club. There were plenty of markers pointing me in the right direction and it was really easy to locate the Club. It should be noted, however, that some terminals have multiple United Clubs; if you are going to a specific one, it might be a good idea to find out which gate it’s near.
After entering the sliding doors, I was welcomed by two friendly attendants who quickly checked out my credentials and sent me up the escalator. As I mentioned before, Houston was Continentals main hub and center of operations. Because of this, all of the stops were pulled out to create the gorgeous lounge known currently as the Terminal E United Club. Spanning three floors, this club is indubitably the largest United Club to date. I wouldn’t go so far as to pit it against the international lounges of Europe or Asia, but it is definitely the most impressive one I’ve seen in the continental United States.
After ascending to the second floor, I was faced with a concierge desk. At this desk you can check arrivals and departures for flights as well as seating arrangements and other issues you might have while travelling. To the left of this desk is a room filled with cubbies and lockers, should you chose to wander this lounge unencumbered by your baggage. Also in this area is a desk with two iPads preloaded with United’s travel app, which allows you to view and change your reservation at your own leisure. Directly to the left of this desk is a family room, complete with two TVs, various toys and assorted DVDs. (Please note that this room is usually locked. In order to gain access, you will have to ask an assistant at the concierge desk.)
Another interesting area you might come across on this floor is the TV Room. Featuring a ~50” screen and three rows of seats, some might consider this room a miniature theatre. The local news is usually the default channel, but feel free to change it with the remote, which should be near the TV shelf.
Past the TV room is the food area. At the time I visited, the breakfast bar was stocked with yogurt, bagels, mini muffins, fruits and cereal. You can also expect to find a bread toaster, in case room temperature bagels aren’t your thing. Coffee, orange juice, tea and hot cocoa can be found around the corner.
This club also features an open bar with a variety of wines, spirits and beers. Due to the early nature of my visit, I didn’t feel up to testing their mixing talents. Based on the tip jar, however, it seems like they employ some pretty decent bartenders. The rest of the second floor was occupied with a large seating area and a few workspaces.
Going up one more flight of stairs brought me to the third floor (an elevator is also available for those who don’t feel like doing the walking). To the left you might notice a room with a placard that reads “Business Center”. In this room you will find a fax and copy machine, as well as doors to 5 separate conference rooms. It is suggested that you make a reservation to use these rooms before planning a conference. You will also find a surplus of workspaces on this floor, each with power ports and a phone.
A few speed tests on my PC pegged their free united_club network at ~11mbps down and 5 mbps up. Speed tests on my phone from different points in the lounge showed similar results.
Another feature you will find on this floor is the shower area. The club features 4 rooms with a toilet and shower stall. In order to use these showers, you must go to the shower desk near the stairs to the third floor and let them know that you would like to use one of the rooms. I had to wait a few minutes until someone came to help me, so my advice to those who don’t feel like waiting around is to go straight to the shower area and locate someone there. You can usually find a person cleaning up who will let you in.
The room itself isn’t too impressive, but something that I did find interesting was a garment valet service. If you leave your clothing in the dedicated closet while you are showering, the assistants will steam and press them for you and have them back when you are ready to get dressed. The shower pressure was lacking, however, and I found it hard to manage a comfortable temperature. Even so, as airport showers go, it was quite decent. There weren’t too many toiletries present except for shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and the ubiquitous hotel blow dryer.
In order to get into this club, you would have to be a Star Alliance Gold member (this includes the United Mileage Plus levels Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K, as well as certain levels on other airlines) and traveling to an international destination. You may also buy a one-time pass for $50 or an annual pass, with prices ranging from $475-$375, depending on your United membership status. Three year passes are also available, as well as “with spouse” packages, which offer an excellent value for those who travel often with their significant other.
In conclusion, I would like to state that the United Club in Terminal E is one of the finest airport lounges that I have ever been to. It has something for everyone, from your typical business professional to families with toddlers. If you find yourself connecting through IAH in the future with some time to kill, this might be the best $50 you can spend in the entire airport.
Although I was impressed with the club overall, the poor performance of the showers and occasional delays I had to face dropped this lounge from a perfect grade to an A-. Still, this club maintained its professional quality from my previous visits and I look forward to visiting again.