The place to refresh before a (busy) day in London

A crew member, as is typical on international flights, offered landing cards and customs declaration forms during our final approach in to London. She strolled through a second time shortly thereafter, but now presenting pamphlets informing premium passengers of access to expedited immigration and a (mysterious) arrivals lounge. I was eager for the former — Heathrow is notorious for its long waits early in the morning — and curious about the latter. Because there wasn’t a lot of available information, the cynic in me expected a lame continental breakfast stuffed in to a closet. That would’ve been better than nothing… but man, this was even better than something!

united airlines polaris business diamond soft special arrival perks
The key to a higher flyer post-arrival higher flyer experience

Like most everyone else after a relatively quick transatlantic redeye, my mind was foggy and nose runny when we deplaned in Terminal 2. Even with the help of a special pass leading to the front of the queues, the challenge of navigating the airport is still daunting. It’s no secret that Heathrow can be an utterly disorienting experience, and this invitation wasn’t particularly forthcoming with directions. It just read “give this card to the representative standing by the Fast Track lane.” Cool, but uh, then what? There’s no indication of whether or not to go landside, and the airport employees standing by weren’t sure either. Walking with the hope of stumbling upon some signs is never the best plan of action — what if you pass the point of no return? — but that’s what I begrudgingly wound up doing. You’ll eventually find your destination after immigration and customs and the baggage claim, so all’s well that ends well.

lhr arrivals lounge exterior entrance

The lounge is located in the main arrivals hall of Heathrow’s Terminal 2. You’ll have to bear to the left once landside, and you should come to it after a few steps. If you reach the Priority Pass/Plaza Premium lounge, you’ve gone too far.

lhr arrivals lounge exterior welcome sign

Access to this lounge is carefully regulated; elite status will not get you in under any circumstances. Instead, you have to have flown business or first class on either United or Air Canada that same morning (you are required to have landed before noon, and the lounge closes at 2pm, for what it’s worth). It doesn’t matter whether or not you flew on a paid revenue ticket or an award, but you have to have been seated in the pointy end of the plane. If you flew a different Star Alliance carrier (i.e. not United or Air Canada), you will be denied entrance.

lhr arrivals lounge exterior restrictions sign
If you didn’t fly in a premium cabin on either of these airlines, you won’t be invited

When I approached the check-in desk, the receptionist asked to see my passport and boarding pass, and then she cross-checked those with the flight manifest. They’re genuinely serious about who gets in!

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The check-in desk
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A reverse angle of the lounge’s entrance

Perhaps it’s a good thing that so few people are allowed access. The lounge is small and is inherently resource-limited, so if the place is swamped, management still might struggle to provide good experiences to customers. After the morning rush at 11am — which is about when I arrived — there aren’t as many guests, so my experience may not be typical of those who get in at, say, 8am.

There are four shower rooms, for example, and at any given moment during my stay, only one was was occupied. Assuming it’s quiet like this, you’ll immediately be escorted behind the reception desk, given a brief tour, and then offered complimentary presses for your clothing. This all makes for superb service, especially if you find yourself in a wrinkled outfit after a redeye. Who knows if you’ll get anything near as attentive during rush hour though?

lhr arrivals lounge shower corridor
Walking to shower suite number 2

lhr arrivals lounge shower entrance

I was assigned the second suite, and while it was a bit on the small side, it came with a full-sized shower, a toilet, and plenty of amenities. Most importantly though: it was squeaky clean.

lhr arrivals lounge shower toilet first view
The first view walking in
lhr arrivals lounge shower first view
First view of the sink
lhr arrivals lounge shower first view reverse angle
Looking back at the sink (and the door through the mirror)

The room probably could’ve been laid out a little bit better…

lhr arrivals lounge shower toilet design fail
You have to step over the toilet to get in to the shower? #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmm

…but otherwise, the overall aesthetic is minimalist and sleek. Simplicity is beautiful, and the whites, blacks, and wooden accents go a long way. Of course, none of this would matter if the main attraction was lackluster, but fortunately the shower too was excellent.

lhr arrivals lounge shower

lhr arrivals lounge shower head
If the shadow isn’t any indication, the rain shower head is massive

While the germaphobe in me isn’t a fan of having to step over/near the toilet to enter the stall, everything on the inside makes it easy to forget about that potentially nasty inconvenience. As someone who prefers powerful water pressure and scalding relatively hot temperatures, rain shower heads are overrated. Because the water is designed to be dispersed over a larger area (as opposed to being shot out from a single spout), it feels like being dribbled on. I just don’t understand the appeal of that sensation… Fortunately, the rain shower head in this lounge is one of the best I’ve used. It’s strong enough to wash away the fine layer of grime that accumulated over the course of the plane ride (that recycled air can be pretty gross, and cabins aren’t known for their hygienic standards, either), and warm enough to rejuvenate in the process. The Cowshed toiletries were top notch too; I’m seriously considering buying some for my shower at home.

lhr arrivals lounge shower toiletries
Despite the names, you won’t have a cow after using these

Plush towels, a lux robe, and some sturdy slippers are provided for afterwards. Simply put: they’re perfect.

lhr arrivals lounge shower slippers
These will go a long way in helping you feel like a million bucks

Still scruffy and with breath that could have killed a small animal, the shower rooms at the United Arrivals Lounge proved their dependability again. They’re well prepared to help with personal hygiene, with a variety of amenities and toiletries stored near the sink.

lhr arrivals lounge shower sink

lhr arrivals lounge shower amentities
A toothbrush and a razor and the appropriate creams and some q-tips and some cotton balls and a nail filer and… well, what more could you want?

There’s a small closet built in to the door. My understanding is that if you decide to take advantage of the clothing service, an attendant will place your freshly-pressed items in there while you’re indisposed. You don’t have to worry about your privacy being violated, because while there are two doors (both within the door, #doorception), you can only open the one on your own side.

lhr arrivals lounge shower closet space
Empty hangars, but nice that they are there nevertheless

Because there weren’t a lot of other lounge customers, there was no rush in the shower room. If you’re haggard from a night of flying, you can take your time freshening up and then leave feeling, looking, and smelling good. This convenience is the biggest attraction of the arrivals lounge, and whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you can benefit a lot from what’s offered here. Instead of being in a fog all day, you can be sharp for a professional obligation or a visit to a tourist attraction.

After walking out of the bathroom, the receptionist invited me to use the rest of the lounge. The style in the private shower, with straight lines, lots of whites, blacks, and some other accentuating textures, carry on to the public spaces. You’ll pass through an entryway that leads to a bigger room — complete with a variety of chairs, a literature rack, a flat screen, and a buffet — that has the air of an American Express Centurion Lounge with a more minimalist aesthetic. Who would have thought that someone could legitimately compare one of those to a United Club?! But of course: how excellent that you can.

lhr arrivals lounge seating area first view
Entering the lounge’s seating area
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The first main view of the lounge
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Some high top seating…
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…with plenty of functional plugs for charging your devices
lhr arrivals lounge seating area first view reverse angle
Looking back at the entrance to the room
lhr arrivals lounge seating area 4
A seating area near the door underneath a television screening the BBC
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A respectably stocked literature rack

Other guests definitely thought I was weird when I sampled the four different seating options — standard dining chairs, barstools, armchairs, and loungers — in as many minutes. In my defense, I was curious to see if United sacrificed function for form when building the lounge. It did not, and its interior designers deserve commendation for investing in such stylish yet comfortable furnishings. Spending hours in any one of those chairs wouldn’t have been a problem at all. There are plenty of universal electrical outlets around too  another underrated and too-frequently-forgotten feature.

If only such high praises could be offered for the internet connection, but alas. Despite joining a password protected network advertised as being “high speed,” emails and websites struggled to load until an error message appeared, informing me that the connection attempt was “illegal.” Huh? Repeated attempts were fruitless, and there was no discernible explanation either. It’s not like there were too many users online; there were fewer than ten other guests!

While technical difficulties can frustrate even the most patient of people, the excellent buffet can improve the mood of anyone. Most everything you could want was offered in some form or another, and the quality of the dishes were high. This was far from a “lame continental breakfast stuffed in to a closet” and my expectations had correspondingly been blown out of the water. The coffee machine was a good first impression, which was one of those electronic baristas capable of brewing a variety of beverages (including tea, too)…

lhr arrivals lounge dining coffee barista
Note the tea poking off to the right

There was a large selection of soft drinks in fridges beneath the buffet…

lhr arrivals lounge dining beverage fridge
Notice the gallons upon gallons of water on the bottom shelf

…But perhaps the most clever options came in the form of two build your own beverage stations. There were recipes and ingredients for mimosas and bloody marys, and while I didn’t have any, the novelty of the concept is worth highlighting. Too bad this isn’t more common in the United States.

lhr arrivals lounge dining orange juice
Orange juice for mimosas (sparkling wine not pictured)
lhr arrivals lounge dining bloody mary mixer
The bloody mary station, complete with vodka, hot sauce, and eight other garnishments

Regarding things you could eat, the usual suspects of basic bread and pastries were accounted for…

lhr arrivals lounge dining bread
Surprisingly fresh bread and bagels, still warm from the oven
lhr arrivals lounge dining muffins
The muffins, pictured here, were fabulous
lhr arrivals lounge dining pastries
These pastries were kept under a heat lamp, and the croissants were baked perfectly

But the chefs also prepared some creative fruit dishes, like yogurt parfaits and smoothies. It’s not too often that you’ll see something like these on the menu in a domestic United Club.

lhr arrivals lounge dining fruit snacks
Fruit and fruit pastries, all served chilled
lhr arrivals lounge dining yogurt
Aw man this was some good stuff

If all that isn’t enough for you, you can also order eggs a la carte (!!!). That prospect was too good to turn down, and I’m not ashamed to admit to eating a lot more than originally intended. My meal in the Arrivals Lounge, which included sunny-side-up eggs, some toast, a blueberry muffin, a couple of parfaits, and more than a few smoothies to wash it all down, put the “Rustic Omelette” from the plane to shame. Unless you prefer sausage and omelettes reheated at altitude (that were prepared 12 hours earlier in Newark) or don’t have a lot of time on the ground, I’d recommend holding out on breakfast until landing in London.

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My comparatively “meh” breakfast on the plane

After my feast, I tried yet again to access the internet… and surprisingly connected immediately. Everything (the entire unread inbox and a dozen tabs or so) loaded in seconds. The wifi was blazingly fast all of a sudden…until it wasn’t and the rejection memo appeared yet again. Gah!!!

By this point, it was thankfully time to leave.

The United Arrivals Lounge at London Heathrow is a must-visit. Although it’s not the biggest and it’s not without its flaws, you won’t notice any of that unless you’re really looking hard. You’ll be too grateful for the services catered exactly to you: a weary traveler in desperate need of a wash and a decent breakfast. The lounge executes perfectly in that sense, with its excellent showers and toiletries, plenty of amenities to help you freshen up, and a continental breakfast that puts domestic United Clubs to shame. If you have the time before heading in to London AND you have the requisite qualifications to enter, you owe it to yourself to stop here for a bit and recharge before the rest of your day. You’ll be so grateful you did!

The good, the bad, the ugly of the United Arrivals Lounge at London Heathrow

  • The Good
    • After a night flying across the ocean, I can’t think of anything better than this lounge. It’s awesome.
    • The breakfast options are varied, healthy, and tasty. Those aren’t three characteristics typically associated with lounge food.
    • The toiletries and amenities in the shower rooms are top notch. You’ll go from haggard to fresh real quick!
  • The Bad
    • The lounge is rather small. While that wasn’t an issue during my stay, it could easily get crowded — which would torpedo the experience — a little bit earlier in the morning when there are more flights.
    • The quality of the internet coverage was spotty. There seemed to be deadzones throughout the lounge and random instances of throttling.
  • The Ugly
    • Ugh, why can’t all of United’s lounges be as nice as this one?!?
    • Did the toilet really have to be placed so close to the entrance of the shower? #hygiene

“A Weekend to Europe” Trip Report

Have you visited the Star Alliance Arrivals Lounge at London Heathrow? What are your thoughts?