The high price of airport concessions – $20 for a sandwich? often get people pretty riled up. These inflated prices have long been an irritating part of air travel. But recently, pricing at La Guardia Airport in Concourse C got so out of hand, that the Port Authority of New York had to step in. After multiple travelers complained on social media of being charged up to $27 for one beer, New York state regulators have now pledged to get the price gouging under control.
Unfortunately for travelers, price gouging is a phenomenon that happens all around the country. Reports of passengers paying $30 for a plate of fries and a Diet Coke, or close to $10 for a small cup of grapes have recently been in the news. Amid widespread inflation, this finally caused some airports to say “enough is enough!” The crack down on vendors taking advantage of distracted and stressed travelers. Here’s what you need to know.
Some unscrupulous vendors have been using Covid-19 as an excuse to overcharge you
Yes, this is a real thing. One offending vendor at LaGuardia included a “Covid-19 Recovery Charge” on menu items of an additional 10% that didn’t go to tipped employees, and wasn’t explained.
How do airports manage food prices and why is this a problem?
Well, it turns out that the airport system largely has looser regulations compared to prices you’d otherwise find outside the airport. Pricing at the airport is somewhat ephemeral – with airport authorities generally allowing concessions to tack on anywhere from 10-15% over what they call “street prices” – or those prices you’d pay outside the airport at the same vendor. These costs help vendors ostensibly cover overhead and expensive airport rents.
Let’s break it down. Say you’re a big McDonald’s fan and often enjoy a Big Mac meal. In your neighborhood, the meal may cost you in the ballpark of $7-8. At Oakland International Airport, that same meal will run you 10% more – the allowable increase from the “street” pricing to your airport pricing. At Atlanta Hartfield you’ll pay even more – 15% more.
Anything more than 15% should set off alarm bells, and might be more of an ethical issue that needs to be addressed.
How customers can cope with high concessions prices
It’s not sexy, but you’re free to bring travel-friendly snacks through security with you. We usually bring some easy-to-tote snacks from the grocery store or Target. The deli section often has compact, well-sealed options. To safe-guard against any spills, just pop those treats in a gallon-sized ziplock and you’re good to go.
The hardest part about this strategy tends to be planning (for most of us). When you’re rushing to pack for a trip, you likely don’t have the easy, travel-portion sizes on hand. Make snack purchasing a part of your travel routine, so you don’t have pesky hunger pangs and travel stress tempting you to spend $40 on a burger at the airport.
This system is not without its bugs, of course. If you like to stay well-hydrated, you’re still going to have to pop into a shop to purchase water after you clear security to avoid getting a bottle confiscated for being over 3oz in size. Same goes for coffee. But it looks like the biggest offenders have been restaurants and not the smaller concession stands where folks usually grab water. Also, we’re happy to report that Starbucks and other large chains with airport outposts, appear to be somewhat above the fray – showing more incremental increases at airport locations.
Leverage social media and be the squeaky wheel
We know that a good part of the reason that price gouging was addressed at La Guardia was due to social media outcry. When a complaint (or series of complaints) go viral, the authorities tend to listen.
We’re happy to report that the same restaurants charging customers obscene prices at La Guardia are now charging (on average) about half as much as they were prior to the social media outcry and subsequent investigation. So, at least for now, it does seem like “the customer is always right” maxim is holding up.