Bradley Airport’s Makeover: Will You 'Love the Journey'?

Photo by Rollin Tebbetts

It may sound like a spa — a luxury lounge, massage and rocking chairs, relaxing colors on the walls, and a choice of craft beers. Few would guess it’s Bradley International Airport.

Connecticut’s biggest airport is in the midst of a makeover that’s come just in time. Terminal B was a vacant, long-standing eyesore until it was demolished in February, and travelers, in the most recent airport satisfaction study by J.D. Power & Associates, ranked Bradley a below-average airport.

Hungry? Bored? Here are things to do near Bradley airport.

The Connecticut Airport Authority, which owns and operates Bradley, and its executive director, Kevin Dillon, are on a mission to change public perceptions about the airport.

“We’re trying to rebrand the facilities,” Dillon says. “We want people to associate Bradley with comfort and convenience.”

Many business travelers already regard Bradley as a convenient airport, he says, and now the CAA is working on the comfort aspect while using the marketing slogan “Love The Journey.”

Dillon says there’s no “obvious feature” for Bradley — such as Nashville airport calling itself the gateway to Music City — so “we’re trying to orient around the comfort of the terminal and the trip.”

Improvement of customer service is “a big focus,” and airport officials are trying to get airlines and federal security screeners to adopt the same philosophy, he says.

Rendering of a first-class passenger lounge scheduled to open by the end of September. Image courtesy of Bradley International Airport

“We’re opening a first-class passenger lounge by the end of September and putting in more relaxing colors in the terminal, more massage chairs and more rocking chairs,” Dillon says. “We will have two new concessions this year — a Phillips Seafood restaurant and a Two Roads [Brewing Co. location] — and we will be introducing a new elevator and information booth in the near future.”

The 2,100-square-foot lounge, called the Escape Lounge, will be in the East Concourse at the entrance to gates 1 through 12 and open to passengers of all airlines. CAA officials thought such a lounge was needed, particularly for premium-class passengers on new nonstop Aer Lingus flights to and from Dublin, Ireland, that are scheduled to begin Sept. 28.

The lounge, built and operated by a United Kingdom-based company’s U.S. subsidiary, MAG USA, will offer complimentary food and drinks, Wi-Fi, and newspapers and magazines. The price — $40 daily for an advance booking and $45 for walk-ins — may be too steep for many travelers, but welcomed by other fliers like George Hurden of Cheshire, who takes about 30 flights annually from Bradley.

Hurden, a regional sales manager for a plastics machinery company, praises the airport for ample parking, ease of travel to and ease of getting in and out, but says its biggest need is a club that passengers of any airline can use for work space during flight delays.

In January, a room for nursing mothers opened. It includes a comfortable chair, a table for diaper changing, a corner table and a sink. A vending machine that sells items for infants will also soon be installed at the airport.

Rendering of the planned $225 million ground transportation center, slated to open by the end of the decade. Image courtesy of Bradley International Airport

On part of the site where Terminal B stood, airport officials are designing a new, $225 million ground transportation center that will connect directly to the passenger terminal and house all rental car companies under the same roof. Currently, the companies are scattered around the airport, and renters must take a shuttle bus to their facilities. Construction is expected to begin in 2018, and the center is slated to open two years later.

The changes throughout the airport may come just in time for frequent flier Peter Behuniak, the president of Criterion Consulting in Glastonbury, who averages about 25 departing flights from Bradley annually. He calls the airport “schizophrenic,” because it has a “clean, efficient, comfortable and modern” new terminal, and had a vacant old terminal that was “an eyesore” for years before its recent demolition.

“Parking is adequate, and I love the accessibility of the terminals — no traffic jams, no waits for shuttles, and manageable lines,” he says.

All the sprucing up and new customer-service touches can only go so far, however. Passengers complain that there are not enough nonstop flights to a variety of U.S. cities.

“I would like to see more airlines, more flights and better schedules with better fares,” says Newtown-based frequent flier Chris DeAngelis, who says he departs on eight to 10 business trips annually from Bradley. “I think Bradley should exert leverage over the airlines to make it a much more attractive airport for the business traveler. Bradley should be taking shares from New York airports. I have the clear impression Bradley is getting the leftovers and not being managed for success as a regional business travel hub.”

Dillon says Bradley — which draws 80 percent of its passengers from Connecticut and 20 percent from western Massachusetts — competes for passengers with New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports and Boston’s Logan International Airport.

“What we are selling is convenience, ease of getting to the airport and navigating our parking, check-in and security,” he says. “Getting to the airport, finding parking at a reasonable price, struggling through crowded ticket counters and going through security are things that work to the detriment of New York airports. There’s a night-and-day difference in TSA wait times at Bradley compared to New York airports.”

A passenger’s average waiting time to get through security during Bradley’s busiest period — 5:30 to 7 a.m. on weekdays — is less than 20 minutes, Dillon says.

Seven airlines — Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, OneJet, Southwest and United — now operate 100 flights outbound and 100 inbound flights daily at the airport. American has the most departing flights — 30 percent of all Bradley departures — and is tied with Southwest for most seats on all departing flights.

The Aer Lingus service that begins at the end of this month marks the first daily, nonstop flight from Bradley to Europe since October 2008, when Northwest Airlines stopped flying to Amsterdam. The Aer Lingus flight will depart Bradley at 6:10 p.m. and arrive in Dublin at 5:20 a.m. From Ireland, the Bradley-bound flight will leave Dublin at 2:40 p.m. and arrive at 4:40 p.m. All times are EST.

The Connecticut Airport Authority, which also operates five state-owned general aviation airports, is working hard, Dillon says, trying to convince airlines to add more nonstop flights, or create new routes, from Bradley. Nonstop flights to Pittsburgh, Denver and Los Angeles were added this year, and Bradley officials are pushing for nonstop service to San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Austin, Milwaukee and Jacksonville.

Photo by Rollin Tebbetts

“Trying to go west from Bradley can be challenging,” DeAngelis says. “Airlines route you through Newark or Philadelphia — or, even worse, Atlanta — on the way to Chicago. Chicago is one hour and 45 minutes by air. There is no need for a two-hour stopover in Philadelphia.”

Bradley has seen a decline in total passengers since the airline industry reduced the number of flights and cut aircraft capacity systemwide less than 10 years ago. The airport accommodated about 6 million passengers last year — 1.2 million fewer than in 2006. The number of passengers, though, grew 8 percent in 2014 and 1 percent last year, and, if growth continues as expected, a new terminal, Dillon says, may need to be constructed by 2025 on the site where Terminal B stood.

Behuniak is a passenger who says he sometimes chooses New York airports for cheaper fares, but “the savings is usually not enough to justify the added travel time, parking expense and overall hassle.”

Dillon says average airfares at Bradley compare favorably with New York-area airports. U.S. Department of Transportation statistics for last year’s fourth quarter, he says, show that Bradley’s average airfare was $393.23, compared with $366.46 at LaGuardia and $416.50 at JFK. However, JFK handles far more international flights — many with high fares — than Bradley.

According to the 2015 J.D. Power & Associates North America Airport Satisfaction Study, Bradley ranked No. 22 of 33 medium-sized U.S. airports. The study, which surveys passenger satisfaction, gave Bradley a score of 744 of a possible 1,000; the best score was Dallas Love Field with a score of 792, and the average score for all 33 airports was 752.

Michael Taylor, J.D. Power’s director of the airport practice, says the study, released last December, showed Bradley needs improvement in its terminal facilities and retail shops, including food and beverage establishments. The airport received high scores for accessibility and passenger drop-off and check-in.

In the future, some passengers may be looking to be dropped off even sooner for their flights — to gamble. MMCT Venture, a joint Mohegan-Mashantucket Pequot company, is seeking a site for Connecticut’s third casino to compete with a planned MGM casino in Springfield. To the dismay of some local residents, airport officials met privately in executive sessions to discuss establishing a casino at the airport.

Connecticut Airport Authority spokeswoman Alisa Sisic says negotiations will continue with MMCT “for the potential development of a gaming facility” at Bradley, but airport officials have withdrawn the planned ground transportation center as a site for a casino.

“It has become clear that the timeline of any potential development will not be compatible with the construction schedule for the transportation center,” Sisic says. “However, we look forward to continuing negotiations with MMCT regarding other potential on-airport sites.”

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