Airports are getting more love from travelers when they act like a mall.
More and more, air passengers are responding positively to the Rodeo Drive-storefronts and gourmet restaurants that continue to pop up across airports, according to J.D. Power’s annual survey of large, North American airports. As amenities on planes have been taken away, the airports themselves have gotten more luxurious.
“There is a high, positive correlation in our data between those people who are extremely satisfied . . . and the amount of money they spend in the airport,” said Michael Taylor, director of airport practice at J.D. Power. “They spend twice as much when they are extraordinarily satisfied with the airport.”
Portland International Airport in Oregon took first place among the survey’s 39,000 respondents, rated “among the best” in terminal shopping, terminal facilities and overall satisfaction.
“Twenty, thirty years ago, there was Duty Free, a kiosk and that was about it for an airport terminal,” said Bojan Jokic, co-founder of Epteca, a Swiss-based firm that works with companies to increase sales and services to travelers. “With some of these airports now, if you didn’t know you were at an airport, you’d think you were at the shopping mall somewhere.” Jokic said terminals and airports are increasingly becoming more like real estate companies than public transportation utilities.
The retail brains and developers are realizing that airports provide a huge concentration of people with, sometimes unfortunately, a lot of time on their hands.
“Airports are looking to distinguish themselves from other airports,” said Steve Baker, vice president for customer and concessions development with Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “If you are looking at a decision to go into the country or across the United States, then you are looking at how you are going to be treated in the process. A part of that process is what you are able to do in the time between flights or while you wait for your flight.”
Epteca’s Jokic said it took airports a long time to realize the value of their real estate. Copenhagen Airport was one of the first to get it more than a decade ago when it hired a new director, who had headed one of the largest department stores in the Danish city. The new director quickly realized there was an underused asset in front of him, according to Jokic.
“What you see now is the curve of their revenue is switching. Many of the best airports are making as much on non-air revenue as air traffic revenue.”
According to the Airports Council International-North America, an airport industry association, food, beverage and retail businesses paid more than $1.3 billion in 2015 to airports to operate their outlets on airport property. That represents about 15.8 percent of airport non-aeronautical revenue.
In the United States, all airports are owned publicly and operated by a city, county, or state government or airport authority, according to the association. Airports in other regions of the world are either operated by a private not-for-profit entity or wholly owned by a shareholder corporation.
Jokic predicts that with rock-bottom fares throughout Europe, some day travelers may jet to another city just to shop or eat at the terminal.
“It’s possible that airports become destinations themselves,” said Jokic. “Can it be that people might say, ‘I am going to hang out in the Munich or whatever airport?’ So with $20 flights, you can go from Copenhagen to London to go check out the airport mall?”
The Los Angeles Times ventured that part of the reason behind a rise in satisfaction toward Los Angeles International Airport may lie in a $300 million renovation to one if its terminals where “several hip new eateries were added, including SeaLegs Wine Bar and Slapfish from Huntington Beach, pie-and-coffee stop the Pie Hole, Asian food Pick Up Stix, Fresh Brothers Pizza, organic fare from Ciabatta Bar and Built Custom Burgers.”
Dulles International and Reagan National airports outside D.C. are getting in on the act.
“For the last three years, we’ve been doing a complete concessions overhaul of both Reagan National and Dulles International airports to offer broader food and retail options for our traveling public,” said spokesperson Kimberly Gibbs. “This is to improve the overall travel experience.”
The list of restaurants and shops at Dulles International Airport, which ranks 20th in the J.D. Power survey, reads like a list of Beverly Hills addresses: Burberry, Estee Lauder, Coach, Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Swarovski, Michael Kors, Vino Volo Wine Room, Chef Geoff, Bar Symon, Tumi, Thomas Pink, Montblanc and, of course, Starbucks. Even a Redskins-themed restaurant called Burgundy and Gold, including memorabilia from the NFL team, will open next year at Dulles.
The J.D. Power survey covered seven areas of passenger experience: overall satisfaction, airport accessibility, check-in, security, terminal facilities, baggage claim and terminal shopping. Respondents could choose ratings among the following: Among the Best, Better than Most, About Average and The Rest.
Here are the top 10 airports, according to the survey:
1. Portland International
2. Tampa International
3. McCarran International (Las Vegas)
4. Orlando International
5. Miami International
6. San Diego International
7. Salt Lake City International
8. Toronto Pearson International
9. Reagan National Airport (D.C.)
10. Chicago Midway
New York’s LaGuardia Airport finished last among the 32 largest North American airports.