I’m of an age when I remember when airport eateries were utilitarian affairs, where you were lucky to get a snack bar, a generic fast-food joint and an unbranded, Soviet-style restaurant as your only food options. Those days passed after airports realized that one, airline revenues continue to drop as carriers consolidate and cut service. And two, with tighter security, travelers are spending more time in facilities and demanded better dining choices.
Most airport restaurant concessions are still run by companies including HMS Host, Delaware North, OTG and SSP. They sign contracts worth millions of dollars with airports. But instead of offering the overpriced, bland food of the past, they are working, with national, regional and local brands to bring a mix of eateries that will appeal to a diverse passenger base.
One of my personal favorite changes is the growth of higher-end restaurants that offer not only a great meal, but also a respite from the masses in airports. One of the top on my list is the partnership between OTG and JetBlue in that carrier’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The partners wanted to bring a sense of place to T5, and worked with iconic New York City restaurants to recreate outposts of those outlets at the airport. Some of the concepts include: Revolucion, a Mexican restaurant created by Chef Roberto Santibañez; 5ive Steak, a high-end steakhouse; and AeroNuova, a modern Italian restaurant from Chef Mark Ladner.
Other great concepts include: SSP’s Le Grand Comptoir at Houston Intercontinental; HMSHost’s Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at Chicago O’Hare; and the iconic Encounters restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport.
Check with your local airport to see the status of its concessions contract, and whether local restaurant companies are moving in.
Benét J. Wilson is co-editor of AirwaysNews.com and blogs at AviationQueen.com. She has been an aviation/travel journalists for more than 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @AvQueenBenet