When big brands merge, big things change, and if the new United Club lounge at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is any indication, sometimes big changes can be good. At 13,300 square feet, it’s more than four times the size of the previous United Club, and with its airy and modernized design program, it’s also serving as a primary aesthetic guide for United’s $50 million plan to redesign and upgrade its other United Club lounges in San Diego, Seattle, Houston, London, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Boston.
“The club in Terminal 2 was the first club for the new United brand, so it was really important that we embodied what the new United was going to be,” says Kate Gebo, vice president of corporate real estate for the airline. “This means clean, bright, open, and modern.”
The lounge at O’Hare was reopened in December 2012, and the updates to the other lounges are expected to wrap in 2014. However, the plans for the redesign were launched all the way back in October 2010, shortly after United joined with Continental, a merger which itself triggered a large-scale rebranding and livery change.
The previous United Club at O’Hare—one of the busiest airport hubs in the country—took up 2,300 square feet in the lower level of Concourse F in Terminal 2, with a diminutive design schema to match. The new lounge is still accessed through the concourse’s lower level, but after visitors are greeted there, they’re then directed to an escalator that climbs to the new lounge on the upper level, with floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views of the surrounding airfield.
Hand-Carved Stone Wall
Jet Engine-Inspired Coffee Tables
Suspended Metal Screens
GKD Metal Fabrics
“Crinkled” Glass Wall
Joel Berman Glass Studios
Spherical LED Lights (above bar)
Custom Boeing Dreamliner-Inspired Restroom Mirrors
The new lounge is done in clean, crisp lines and comfortably hosts up to 300 guests. “We’ve tried to incorporate some aviation elements into the design itself,” Gebo says. “The planter tables are fashioned after an aircraft engine, and some of the shades and lighting elements in the space remind you of that same aircraft casing.” The restroom mirrors in the lounge are likewise shaped with the same dimensions as the windows of a 787 Dreamliner.
Additionally, the various chairs and seating areas in the lounge feature comprehensive access to plugs and chargers—a hot commodity in any airport. “Customers want to be able to plug in easily so [that] they can relax, whether they’re at the bar, in the buffet area, or by the windows looking at the airfield,” Gebo says.
While the lounge at Terminal 2 reflects modern aesthetic principles and expectations, its design also pays historical homage to both United and Continental through a series of large art pieces spanning the back wall. Each one displays an enlarged period photograph from the merged airlines’ archives.
With its modern finishes, digital adaptability, and myriad amenities, the new United Club at O’Hare is not only indicative of a change in brand but a change in air-travel habits. “Connections are downtime for our customers, so our goal with these lounges is to make that downtime as productive as possible,” Gebo says. “This lounge provides them the space to be able to recharge, relax, and get work done in a club environment.”