Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l Offers Passengers a New Place to Escape

All story photos © 2016 Dana Wheelock
© 2016 Dana Wheelock
Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Published in: 

With huge windows and plenty of open space, the mezzanine in Terminal 1 provides the best airfield views at Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP). And until recently, 5,000 square feet of the prime airport real estate was used for storage. 

That’s right, storage. 

Project: Common-Use Passenger Lounge
Location: Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l Airport
Lounge Operator: Manchester Airport Group
Build-Out Contractor: Jacobs
Food & Beverage Partner: HMSHost
Lounge Size: 5,000 sq. ft.
Capacity: 140 people
Entry Fees: $40 in advance for adults, $30 for children 6-12; $45 at the door
Amenities: Tended bar; hot & cold meals; all-day snacks; separate areas for working, socializing & eating; high-speed Wi-Fi
Photo credits: 2016 Dana Wheelock

Late last year, however, MSP began leveraging its second-story asset to create a new “luxury amenity.” It now leases the mezzanine space to MAG USA for an upscale common-use passenger lounge. MAG USA is the U.S. subsidiary of U.K.-based Manchester Airport Group, which owns and operates four British airports, including Manchester Airport and London Stansted Airport. 

Today, the room-formerly-known-as-storage-space is a newly appointed spot for weary travelers to rest, eat and recharge. “I think it makes us a much more attractive option,” says airport spokesperson Phoebe Larson.  Because MSP serves a great deal of business travelers, yet also accommodates many families, officials strive to offer amenities that appeal to everybody, she explains.

The lounge, which opened in mid-December, is designed to benefit orgination/destination and connecting passengers alike. While local travelers may come early to dine at the lounge before their flights, other passengers will benefit, too, notes Larson.  “When you have a long layover and you’re in an airport with more amenities, you are happier,” she explains. 

Although common-use lounges are popular overseas, particularly in Europe, only a handful of U.S. airports contain them. (See our March/April 2014 edition for coverage of Atlanta International’s lounge. For insight about the Canadian market, consult our article about Winnipeg International in the March/April 2015 issue.) 

MSP’s Escape Lounge is open to any traveler on any airline for a daily rate of $40 pre-booked online or $45 at the door. As such, it offers an alternative to airline lounges that typically require annual subscriptions or the purchase of premium class flights. While Delta Air Lines has a large presence and lounge at MSP, the airport wanted a similar option for travelers flying on other carriers as well as Delta fliers who don’t have a membership for the airline-specific lounge. 

The Escape Lounge’s daily fee includes high-speed Wi-Fi coverage, free use of iPads and printers, and quiet areas to read or relax. Complimentary drink options include premium coffees, Fiji water, sparkling waters, and select beers and wines. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, as well as snack foods throughout the day. Larger meals are available for an upcharge. 

MAG USA partnered with airport concessions veteran HMSHost to supply food and beverages for the lounge. A company chef reviews the menu regularly and sources everything for the kitchen from standard staples to aeroponic salads and herbs.

“Essentially, passengers can get a full meal at the Escape Lounge, along with local beers and excellent wine selections,” says MAG USA Chief Executive Officer Rosemarie Andolino. “If you do the math, it’s one of the best deals in the airport. All of the food is fresh and delicious, including an array of pastries for the sweet tooth. Guests can sit, relax, eat, and drink all they want in a quiet and comfortable environment with TVs and iPads, Wi-Fi access, magazines, and also keep an eye on the progress of their aircraft’s departure on flight information displays.”

To mitigate noise and distraction from the outside terminal, designers equipped the lounge with a sound-lock vestibule. With the number of passengers growing at U.S. airports, it can sometimes seem impossible to escape the cacophony of sounds within a terminal to make a phone call, have a quiet conversation or soothe a headache, note MAG personnel.  

International Operator, Local Manager
In addition to MSP’s new Escape Lounge, MAG also operates five similarly branded facilities in the U.K. airports it operates. Andolino joined the company last year, after serving as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, where she oversaw the management and operation of O’Hare and Midway International Airports. 

Andolino reports that MAG USA invested $2 million in the Escape Lounge at MSP. The facility can accommodate up to 140 passengers, and personnel will monitor admission numbers closely to avoid overcrowding, she notes. While the company is considering membership and loyalty programs, executives plan to stick with the current daily entry model for now.

“Michael Henning, the new general manager at MSP’s Escape Lounge, used to work at HMSHost and is from the local area; (so he) knows the community well,” says Andolino. “He has great energy and years of hospitality and customer service experience. It’s nice to have someone who truly understands travel and airports and hospitality working with us.”

Engineering giant Jacobs designed the lounge with separate spaces for various uses. Some areas are designed to cocoon, some to reflect and some to socialize, explains the company’s senior project designer, John Trosino.

Jacobs also translated what MAG had already developed in its U.K. lounges for the U.S. market. “We had to adjust some of the materials for the American market; but the MAG Escape brand is strong, and that made it easier,” he notes.  

Trosino predicts that customers will notice and appreciate the design team’s finer touches and diversity of space. “We modulated the lighting from area to area,” he details. “There is a hospitality-based illumination pattern throughout the lounge, which allows you to feel as if you are moving to very different areas.”

Staffed and self-serve areas with food and drinks were designed for easy access, and furnishings were designed and organized to facilitate personal electronic devices, Trosino adds. “The Wi-Fi system is brilliant, which is a great relief,” he emphasizes. “Guests can recharge any device anywhere in the lounge. There are USB plugs at every seating arrangement.” 

Above all, the Escape Lounge is aptly named, he notes: “It’s a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the concourse and affords travelers more choices. There are a variety of spaces to eat or read or work, and those spaces are attuned to those behaviors. It’s a nice range of possible options.”

Enticing Passengers & Vendors
Project planners felt it was important to provide visibility into the lounge for potential customers, so they consequently highlighted the space’s transparency. For tenant spaces directly on the concourse, designers often use a combination of patterned and clear glass to attract passengers inside; but they used almost all clear glass for the lounge’s entryway and windows, explains Trosino.   

The entrance for the new lounge is adjacent to a staircase and elevator, but the hallway leading to the entry door was originally less than 48 inches wide. “When I went to the airport for the very first time and looked at the space, I was concerned about that first impression,” recalls Trosino. “You want potential guests and customers to see what they’re getting. It needed a very public entry area; we wanted to ensure that the first impression was a good one.”

Trosino and his team consequently lined the entire entry wall with mirrored panels to give it the illusion of a wider space. Signage, which is expected to be complete in March, will further help direct travelers’ eyes up toward the second-story lounge.

“We’re still getting the word out,” says Larson. “We’re trying to get people to understand that they can go up to the mezzanine, and we’re expecting signage and branding to (help) get people up there.” 

The new common-use lounge is located next door to a 12,000-square-foot sports concession that opened last spring. The PGA Experience features golf-oriented retail and food/beverages, plus a putting green, computerized course simulators and other hands-on golf options. (See our September 2015 issue for more details.)

Both mezzanine-level options are part of a larger effort to expand concession offerings at MSP. The airport plans to add 50 new restaurants and retail stores this year alone, reports Larson. “We just signed a contract with a craft brewery, a tech store, a food truck food court and local bakeries,” she details. “All of our construction should be wrapped up by 2017 to 2018. We’re going to be a new airport.”

In the meantime, enthusiasm is still running high about the new Escape Lounge. “Everyone at the airport and in the local community is excited, and the feedback from passengers has been really positive,” reports Andolino. “It’s a little slice of luxury, right there.” 

MAG plans to add a similar slice at Oakland International Airport, where it is partnering with Jacobs in building out a smaller Escape Lounge, which is scheduled to open later this year.

During February, MSP’s Escape Lounge discounted its entry fees to $25 at the door and $20 when pre-booked online. If you mention reading about the facility in Airport Improvement magazine, the lounge will extend its introductory prices through the end of March.



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