You might assume given the size of Stansted that you would have a few lounge options to choose from. I know I did, and I was surprised therefore to discover that there is in fact, only one. Of course, it’s less surprising when you remember that Stansted is all about budget airlines, short haul destinations, and package holidays.
Then again, since budget airlines don’t tend to operate many lounges or have frequent flyer programs, customers of these airlines are prime candidates for lounge programs like Priority Pass. There’s still a significant customer base therefore, for lounges in airports like Stansted. Not to mention the presence of Emirates, who occupy a small area of the Escape Lounge lounge, dedicated to their elite tier and premium cabin customers. These guests are accustomed to some of the best airline lounges around the world, so you’d imagine that this lounge would be pretty good… right?
If you hold a lounge membership card, more than likely you’ll be able to access the Escape Lounge, since any of the following programs are accepted: DragonPass, Diners Club, Holiday Extras, Lounge Pass, Lounge Club, Lounge Key, and Priority Pass.
If not, prices start at £29.99, and you can either pay on arrival, or prebook via the Stansted Airport website.
Where is the lounge?
Getting there is a breeze, albeit via an arduous journey through duty free and the meandering retail avenue — a renovation project which completed this year.
The lounge is clearly signposted once you’re through security and entering duty free, and there’s only one direction you can go from there, until you reach the main departure lounge. Once there, head to the far side towards Pret a Manager, down the corridor, and take a right before you reach the toilets. You’ll see roller banners marking the entrance, after which is the staircase and lift that take you down to the lounge reception.
Note: If you see a sign at the top of the steps indicating that the lounge is at capacity, double check this at the front desk, as it’s not uncommon to find that the sign is still up, even after the crowds have cleared.
Arriving at the reception desk, first impressions are good thanks to welcoming staff who quickly and efficiently check you in. If it’s your first visit, they’ll be happy to provide a rundown of the layout and some of the lounge’s amenities.
Unfortunately, first impressions of the space itself aren’t so positive. Although the lounge only opened in 2015, it’s already starting to show its age compared to newer lounges, which have moved the game on significantly. It did receive a facelift at some point in recent years to tone down the original lime green colour scheme, but this hasn’t done it many favours. It’s less garish now, but leaning more into pale blues and greys has made it feel quite cold and bleak.
The layout is similarly unimpressive. The uninspiring rectangular shape could have been forgiven if character had been introduced in other ways. It wouldn’t have taken much: some elevated sections, a few separation walls, perhaps a quiet area or room. Instead, the whole space is wide open, with little more than a few dividers between the centre walkway and the dining section.
None of the seating options are particularly comfortable, and the general trend is firm and upright. The high-back swivel chairs aren’t too bad if you can get one, but there aren’t many to choose from — most are out-of-bounds in the Emirates area. No matter what, you’re going become familiar with your neighbour, as all of the lounge seating is tightly packed.
Food & drink
I’d like to say things improve in the food department, but unfortunately it’s much the same. I’ve always visited in the evening, so I can’t comment on breakfast, but I was left disappointed with the lunch and dinner options.
For Entreés, I’ve found the typical selection to be:
- Chicken drumsticks
- Potatoes (boiled and mashed)
- Mushroom carbonara
- Cauliflower, chickpea, tomato and spinach squash
Soup is usually on offer too, along with a basic sandwich selection, salads, and sides. The general theme here is ‘bland’, with most dishes having little to no taste. The sausages, mashed potato and gravy aren’t bad, but I’ll generally skip the other options.
It took a few visits before I was able to sample the jam and scones, as they were plagued by flies on more than one occasion. I should have taken the hint, as once I did eventually try them, I found them to be very dry and heavy.
The fruit juice had suffered the same fate as the scones, so I’ve generally stuck to the soda dispenser on subsequent visits. The well-stocked bar is your other option, and while I haven’t used it myself, it looks to have a decent selection. Most drinks are complimentary, with the exception of some premium spirits.
Anything else to note?
Amenities include an extensive selection of magazines and newspapers — more than you’ll often see in other lounges — as well as a departures board, TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, and printing facilities.
On my last visit, the Wi-Fi was out of order. I wouldn’t ordinarily highlight this, since data roaming is cheap these days, but cellular signal in this lounge is almost non-existent. Neither of the two carriers I’ve tried (EE and Three) have any usable reception towards the entrance, and even towards the windows at the far end, it’s limited.
Guests are encouraged to exit the lounge and head upstairs to the terminal facilities for toilet access, however disabled toilets are accessible directly from the lounge itself. Unfortunately, these aren’t the cleanest and could do with some maintenance.
I want to draw attention to the opening times — or rather, the closing times — as they might catch you out somewhat. Technically, the 7pm closing time listed on the Escape Lounge website is correct, however, food and drink is cleared away at 6:45pm, on the dot. That in itself isn’t the end of the world, but they stop replenishing the food even sooner.
Realistically therefore, you’re looking at some lukewarm leftovers at 6:30pm, and then very little after that. This would be fine if the lounge was open until late, but 7pm is early evening when you consider that many flights depart 2, 3, and even 4 hours later.
I understand wanting to be efficient about preparing the lounge for the next morning, but it’s all a bit regimented and doesn’t make for the most relaxing visit. The only upside of this, is that in the final hour, the staff are very proactive in keeping the lounge tidy.
Overall, I’d hoped for a better experience at Stansted’s Escape Lounge. It was probably a decent offering when it first opened, but has since been surpassed by its peers at other budget-friendly airports like Luton.
Layout and catering aside, I can’t help but feel that this lounge is hindered by trying to serve too many people. With so many membership programs accepted, the lounge is designed for capacity, so the quality of the seating suffers. The introduction of Emirates means further space constraints, so additional subpar seating gets crammed in. And looking forward, Stansted’s passenger numbers are set to increase, so availability will become even more limited.
Despite my criticism, the Escape Lounge is usually still my go-to on occasions when I don’t have time to visit a restaurant, or want to get some work done. The main departures lounge at Stansted is very crowded, and the gate areas aren’t particularly pleasant places to spend time, so while I wouldn’t pay for entry, it’s worth considering if you’re a Priority Pass member.
Overall, I’d score the Escape Lounge at Stansted 3 out of 10.