Review: Escape Lounge Hartford-BDL

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The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express offer an amazing slew of airport lounge benefits. In addition to Delta Sky Club access and Priority Pass Select membership, American Express has gotten a ton of kudos for its trademark Centurion Lounges.

Perhaps one of their biggest unsung heroes, however, is their access to the boutique Escape Lounges. While they are currently few and far between, we’re seeing more and more of these pop up, with locations in the following airports:

  • Hartford, CT (BDL)
  • Reno-Lake Tahoe (RNO)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
  • Oakland, CA (OAK)
  • Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP)
  • Ontario, CA (ONT) – opening “soon”
  • East Midlands, UK (EMA)
  • London Stansted, UK (STN)
  • Manchester, UK (MAN) – T1, T2, and T3

I’ve reviewed the MSP location in the past, but being based out of Hartford, I’ve spent countless hours hanging out in Bradley International’s Escape Lounge. Like, trading-healthcare-tips-with-the-employees countless hours. And I figured it was high time for a review.

So if you work for ESPN, in the insurance industry, or for one of the plethora of universities in the area, this one’s for you.

Access

Anyone with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express can access the lounge at no charge, and can bring two additional guests for free. Non-cardholders can pre-reserve a spot for $40, or access it real-time for $45.

That said, Bradley isn’t exactly a hub airport, so if you have to pay out of pocket for lounge access due to an extended airport stay, chances are you’ve had a pretty rough day already.

Location

BDL’s Escape Lounge is located in Terminal A (really, the only terminal unless you were arriving on an inbound Norwegian flight in 2017), close to Gate 1. Technically, I think this area is called the East Concourse, but that’s really just a fancy way of saying “turn right after security.” The lounge is in close proximity to the Air Canada, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit gates – although nothing is really too far away from anything else at BDL.

Check-in is usually pretty straightforward – I’ve been asked to show my boarding pass and American Express card, but nothing more. The staff seem to fulfill a variety of roles, based on what’s needed, so I’ve occasionally had to wait if the check-in agent was pouring a Blue Moon – but the wait has never been more than a minute.

Escape Lounge check-in, buffet area and bar

The lounge is technically open from 5 AM to 8 PM daily, although it’s not uncommon for the staff to extend the hours when flights are delayed.

Setup

The entire lounge is about the size of your standard fare suburban Starbucks, with various forms of seating. It’s not huge, but for an airport the size of BDL, it certainly does the trick. I’ve never had a problem finding a seat, even during peak hours.

There are some cozy (ish) secluded window seats:

…as well as some more “traditional” dining tables, and tarmac-facing window seats:

And if things get really crazy here (they probably won’t), there’s a long hightop toward the back:

The tarmac views themselves leave something to be desired – if you spot a 747 at BDL, something has gone horribly wrong – but the positioning of the lounge isn’t bad. And hey, you can keep track of the parking and rental car shuttles:

The maple leaf is about the most exciting livery view here

There are two restrooms here. They’re certainly a step up from Starbucks, if we’re continuing with that analogy:

And unlike MSP’s Escape Lounge, you don’t have to leave to access them. The only downside is that they are both one-person shows, if you will, so there is sometimes a 1-2 person queue during peak times.

All in all, the setup of the lounge is totally serviceable, if lacking the aspirational spas and nap rooms, while the decor reminds me of an “after” shot in an episode of Flip or Flop. And for a publicly accessible lounge in a regional airport, that’s more than okay.

Escape Lounge Food

In my opinion, this is where Escape Lounges really shine. Their rotating menu consists of various small dishes, served up in cast iron pots or mason jars:

And mercifully, they actually include a range of options that are at least reasonably healthy.

But if you subscribe to the “calories don’t count in a lounge” philosophy, don’t worry – there is no shortage of mac and cheese and dessert. Below is a sample of hot dishes that I had during a relatively recent visit:

The chipotle street corn, salmon, and macaroni and cheese are all surprisingly good – and not just lounge-good – as are most meals that I’ve had here. I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of the above items if I were paying out-of-pocket at a mid-tier tapas restaurant.

And if you find yourself experiencing cheese cube withdrawals (this is a domestic lounge, after all!) there’s usually a plate available like this one:

…and a sometimes-not-picked-over selection of breads:

Pretzel rolls included!

For those of you concerned with the most important part of the meal – dessert  – they’ve got you covered, and not in a packaged food sort of way. In addition to the selection of rotating mason jar items, the lounge has a milk and cookie bar:

It’s worth giving due credit here – the Escape Lounge addresses the serious issue of cookie diversity that is prevalent in airports worldwide. Obviously peanut butter is the best choice, with oatmeal raisin coming in at a close second.

And obviously I’m prepared for the controversy that comes with this statement 😉

(In all seriousness, heads up if you have a nut allergy – you may want to steer clear of this area depending on the severity.)

If your sweet tooth hasn’t been sufficiently satiated, there’s an omnipresent Starburst jar waiting for you, although it often seems to be disproportionally stocked with the orange and lemon flavors. But you can still get to the cherry ones with some digging.

Not pictured is the adjacent jar of Jolly Ranchers. Cumulatively, there’s probably enough sugar in here to trigger an FDA raid, but at least you won’t go hungry.

Escape Lounge Drinks

The limited bar seating indicates that you won’t exactly get a hopping bar scene – head over to nearby Two Roads for your best shot at striking up a conversation – but the free and premium drink menu should be enough to take the edge off of a stressful day. You can view a sample menu here – but you’re probably no more likely to find Dogfish in the U.K. than you are to find Bitter in Hartford, so keep in mind that menus will vary by location.

Here is a premium (ish) wine and spirt menu:

…and a premium beer and cocktail menu:

…as well as the complimentary offerings:

As far as non-alcoholic options go, there’s a (mediocre) latte machine, as well as a soda fountain, but there isn’t a whole lot else in the realm of self-serve beverages. So that’s a slight miss.

I don’t typically like to drink a lot pre-flight, especially when I’ve barely left home yet, but I did order a vodka soda for, you know, the sake of the blog:

It actually tasted a little worse than it looks, but I think that’s the fault of the Svedka more than that of the bartender.

Speaking of bartenders…

Escape Lounge Staff

The staff here are some of the best that I’ve encountered in domestic lounges. They’re always really enthusiastic about the product and have no hesitations showing new visitors around. I’ve had staff go above and beyond on numerous occasions, from keeping the lounge open to existing guests for an hour past close after a delay, to letting me charge my phone on their only iPad charger.

Occasionally, I’ve had someone get a little overzealous – like, I really don’t need Bailey’s in my coffee at 6 AM on a Tuesday just because it’s five o’clock somewhere – but for the most part, they’ve been delightful.

Escape Lounge WiFi

Honestly, there’s not much to say here. It works, it’s fast, the passwords are posted everywhere, and I’ve done everything from blogging to Netflix with no hassle.

Bottom line

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – you’re not coming here for spa showers or VIP facials. But for a domestic lounge that anyone can access, at a reasonable price point, with a generous guest policy, this is about as good as it gets. The food is great, the wifi is totally functional, and the staff really go above and beyond.

As a matter of fact, the more I visit Sky Clubs, the more I find myself pining for those little cast iron pots and enthusiastic welcome greetings.

And I’ll continue to feel that way even if they run out of cherry Starbursts.

Has anyone been to this Escape Lounge? What was your experience? 

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Comments

  1. As someone who fits into one of the occupations you mentioned, I have been to this lounge quite a few times and was pleasantly surprised, most notably by the cookie bar. Great review! If anyone is looking for something more substantial, the Sheraton attached to the airport has a restaurant 90 seconds past security.

  2. As a fellow Hartford based traveler, it is great to have this lounge now that the Admirals Club is gone.

    But, I must take issue with two things:

    1. When running through the list of industries in the Hartford area, you forgot our aerospace companies (Pratt & Whitney, UTC Aerospace and Sikorsky), which, I can assure, account for a large portion of the travelers coming into and out of BDL (especially those connecting to an international flight in IAD, ORD or DFW); and

    2. In terms of passenger aircraft, BDL is not terribly exciting (except when JFK shuts down), but we routinely get large freighter aircraft on the ramp, including B747-8Fs and Antonovs (good for moving large jet engines and BLACK HAWK helicopters).

  3. One thing that annoys me about U.S. lounges is that beer/wine/spirits are generally kept behind a bar, rather than made freely available. In Canadian and European and Asian lounges, you can get a beer — even draft beer — and mix a drink yourself. Given that the U.S. also has its absurd tipping culture, this is annoying because it means you really have to keep paying $1/drink despite being in a “free-at-consumption” lounge. (Also, it’s nice not to be judged if I want a couple of beers!)

  4. I spend a similar amount of time in the Escape lounge at London Stansted. Food as not as good as yours but staff are similarly outstanding and its a decent experience for a PP lounge at a low cost airport.

    Maybe its time for a review!

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed that the Starburst jar is always yellow-heavy. You can tell how recently they’ve filled the jar because the red always go first, then the pink, then the orange. I had no idea that Central Connecticut was so lemon Starburst averse.

  6. I live in West Springfield, MA, so I fly out of Bradley most of the time. I was thrilled when this lounge opened! The food is great-the bread pudding with berries in the morning is awesome, and the staff is so friendly! It’s the best lounge use I get from my AMEX platinum card!

  7. It’s a great little lounge and the foods is frankly is excellent for the airport. The lounge was very busy when we visited on the weekend post-fourth of July, but the extremely helpful (and very hardworking staff) found us a seat within a couple of minutes. We could only see two (possibly three) staff working the entire lounge, but they were hyper-efficient and friendly. We left a tip with each of them on the way out because they were so good.

  8. While it’s never been Centurion Lounge-crowded in the afternoon before the EI flight, it does get busy then, but I’ve been always able to find a seat at this lounge.

  9. @Bill – So funny, my senior prom was at that Sheraton many moons ago (and I haven’t been back since)! Good reminder.

  10. @Ryan – Touche (and I have more than one engineer friend at Pratt/Sikorsky who would probably agree with you). I promise that the oversight is a reflection on how little time I spend here, rather than how I (obviously) feel about the aerospace industry.

  11. @James – I wonder if the food quality in the U.K. has to do with the fact that those lounges take Priority Pass, and therefore cater to a larger crowd?

    In any event, do it!

  12. Great review! I love your writing style, Steph. I have friends who fly in and out of BDL quite a bit and I will make sure they know about this.

  13. Thank you for the wonderful review, Steph. We’ll make sure to always have plenty of freshly baked peanut butter cookies waiting for you at Escape Lounge BDL! Our ONT location opens on January 7. We hope to welcome you there as well soon. Thank you for your loyal patronage.

  14. I was there last Thursday (6 Dec 2018) around 4 PM, and it was quite crowded. The staff were overloaded, but cheerful and enthusiastic.

    The food was little cast-iron pots with 50 grams or so of baked macaroni & cheese in each. There were also salads in little glass cups, though the “Caesar salad” I chose seemed to have kale instead of romaine.

    There was one espresso machine, which made only the euro-sized serving (130 ml or so) for a latte, though the provided cups were US 12-ounce ups able to easily hold double that. And the slow delivery and small size meant there was a line to use the machine even at 4 PM, with sunset approaching. I imagine it would be much worse in the morning.

    I look forward to visiting it again when I am next in BDL. I hope they add a second espresso machine by then.

  15. I live in Reno and use the RNO lounge every time I fly out, usually for 10-30 mins. It’s very nice to go in and grab some juice or a cappuccino from the machine.

  16. That tapas method of serving food is something some airlines should look at. I’m looking at you BA! Though I suspect if you scaled it up too much cleaning all those dishes would become to time consuming.

  17. I went to gain access yesterday at London Stansted on a STD to AGP flight. They wanted THIRTY pounds for on the door access and the lounge had NO restrooms so I declined. Charging that amount for a lounge with no washrooms whatsoever is obscene.

  18. @ RH – Was that during the Romaine “epidemic”. I live near BDL and all stores stripped romaine from the shelves… but I agree, IMO Kale is not even close to Romaine.

  19. @MW – You’re right, I had forgotten about the romaine salmonella scare; that’s probably why they didn’t have romaine.

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