Art galleries…Swedish massages…walking paths…shopping galleries. No, that’s not a report of someone’s summer vacation. It’s what you can find in modern-day airports. Travel to Asia and the Middle East and that experience is amped up with flight simulators, movie theaters and swimming pools.
But for most of us, our needs inside the airport are more basic than that. My favorite time killers at the airport are eating and drinking. If my toddler is with me, I look for a space where he can watch airplanes and run around without crashing into other people. (OK, one time I paid for a shower at the Hong Kong airport and it was awesome.) But mostly it’s about eating and drinking.
Airports are where real-life ceases to exist: Calories don’t count, money loses value, and time expands and compresses at random. It’s the place where most of us expect to spend money, and it’s maybe even a place where can secretly indulge without guilt.
Airport concessionaires love that. After all, the only thing better for sales than a captive audience is a really bored captive audience.
So what do people really want at the airport and how are airports responding? Here’s an airport amenities guide to how concessionaires are responding to changing trends.
Connectivity is probably the number one goal right now. More and more, we’re seeing free Wi-Fi inside airports and power port towers to keep our devices charged.
OTG Management, which operates concessions in 10 airports around the country, recently invested $50 million to deploy thousands of iPads and seating equipped with power outlets and USB ports. So far, they’ve rolled out 2,500 to date at five airports and they’re expecting to have 7,000 iPads in place by the end of the first quarter of 2014.
“Airports aren’t malls,” explains Rick Blatstein, founder and principal owner of OTG. “You saw this trend but customers have a different mindset. They’re not there for shopping and browsing, but to fly…our objective is to provide a good experience, from the time they get through security and get on the plane.
Airports where OTG operates concessions—including those in JFK, LaGuardia, Reagan, and Minneapolis—have iPads scattered in restaurants and seating areas. You can browse the web and track your flight, but most important, you can order food, drinks and retail. Meaning passengers are entertained and concessionaires are just one click away from making a sale.
And most people don’t mind the blatant sales tactic. We’ll put up with a lot for convenience and expediency, and if that turns into a mini-feast or shopping trip via our iPad, I’m all for it.
That’s why, a few years ago when flying out the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, I was so vastly disappointed. It wasn’t just the huge crowds and long lines. It was that there was NO FOOD AFTER SECURITY.
Between the chaos of checking in, meager offerings before security and nothing but a duty-free shop inside, the terminal was a real embarrassment…especially for an airport presenting itself as an international gateway.
Fortunately, LAX stepped up the challenge of being a gateway airport and embarked on a $1.9-billion project to revamp what is now known as New Tom Bradley International Terminal. Operated by Westfield Concession Management and partners, the facility now has a host of dining and retail concessions post-security, open seating areas with power ports, and free Wi-Fi.
More Local Restaurants
As we’re seeing in airports around the country, Westfield is emphasizing the local angle, with 22 Los Angeles brands, including Kitson LA, Umami Burger, 800 Degrees, and Ink Sack. Sprinkled within are chain restaurants (hello, Panda Express!) and several upscale international shopping brands like Burberry and Emporio Armani.
The local trend is becoming a go-to for airport concessioners. According to QSR Magazine, HMSHost, which operates concessions in about 70 domestic airports, local brands comprise about 40 percent of dining options at the average airport.
At SFO, it’s more like 85 percent local dining options, and QSR reports that after that transformation happened, sales went up by 55 percent.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where concessions are operated by Delaware North Companies, is 100 percent local. So if you don’t have time to check out The Salt Lick in Driftwood, don’t worry…there’s one at the airport.
Last year, Delta partnered with OTG Management to transform Concourse G of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to bring in local chef concepts—including restaurants from The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern (who is now a Minneapolis resident), a Twin Cities craft brewery, and a local pizzeria, among others.
According to Airports Council International, when longtime Minneapolis institution Surdyk’s Flights Wine Market and Bar, opened inside the airport in July 2010, sales increased more than 266 percent over those of the toy store previously in the same location.
Goodbye Airport Markups
Then there’s one movement in airport concessions everyone will welcome: Street pricing. OTG Management is leading the trend toward more reasonable pricing at airport restaurants, aka, no more $24 sandwiches in restaurants.
“There’s no reason you can’t have street pricing inside an airport,” says Blatstein. “Anytime someone says you can’t, don’t listen to them. They don’t have to pay for advertising and marketing, they can have fresh food and small kitchens. Customers don’t like to be ripped off.”
And last, but definitely not least, keep your eyes open for airport canine ambassadors. That’s right, LAX and Miami both have pooches who wander through the terminal looking to de-stress passengers with free pets. It may not be an amenity you ever thought you needed, but hey, it’s free and it’s adorable.
What’s important to you in an airport? Answer in the poll below.
For the latest airport news, check out:
- The Weirdest & Wackiest Airport Amenities
- 60 US Airports to Get TSA PreCheck Before 2014
- Local Dining at Airports
- TSA Sticky Fingers, Worst Incidents of Theft at Security
By Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com