Airport food gets an upgrade in time for holiday travel

Americans spent more than $2 billion in 2018 on terminal concessions including food and beverage

Airports are taking a more farm-to-terminal approach to concourse cuisine.

Continue Reading Below

Dining halls with locally sourced food and drinks have landed at airport terminals across the country just as more than 55 million Americans gear up for holiday travel.

Americans spent more than $2 billion on terminal concessions including food, beverage and retail services, according to 2018 data from the Airport Council International.  And concessions across the country are ramping up their offerings from basic grab-and-go salads and sandwiches to more exotic offerings like sushi flown in directly from Japan to Newark International Airport in New Jersey; New Orleans-bred beignets in the Big Easy; and forthcoming avocado toast for a pre-boarding brunch in Boston.

Americans spent more than $2 billion on terminal concessions including food, beverage and retail services, according to 2018 data from the Airport Council International.

“Now you’ll see healthier options, local food, beer and more self-service options in places where it's expensive to do business,” Seth Kaplan, founder of Airline Weekly, an online publication, told FOX Business, adding that the meal options across the country are moving beyond fast food and chain restaurants, particularly at major transit hubs. Airports are capitalizing on their city’s culinary culture. The brand-new $1 billion terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport features more than 40 food concession options, including beignets at the iconic Cafe du Monde, creole food at Leah's Kitchen, ice cream from Angelo Brocato's and cocktails at Bar Sazerac.

The new airport terminal is gearing up to be a dining destination for non-travelers as well. In an effort to boost food tourism, the airport will reportedly soon join other airports nationwide allowing people to access the concourse without plane tickets. Currently, a boarding pass is required to pass through to eat and drink.

THREE US AIRPORTS NOW LETTING PASSENGERS THROUGH SECURITY WITHOUT A TICKET 

In New Jersey, airport concessions operator OTG spent $120 million to revamp its food program at Newark International Airport's Terminal C two years ago, giving United Airlines flyers access to a smorgasbord of food no matter which terminal they’re flying out of. Fresh fish from Tokyo is flown in several times a week for sushi served at its Tsukiji Fishroom. It’s part of the terminal’s Global Bazaar, an upscale grab-and-go food court offering worldly bites like Tel Aviv-inspired street food like falafel, hummus and shawarma sandwiches from Flora Café, with a menu created by New York City-based chef Einat Admony. And for those who don’t want to bring baked goods through TSA, celebrity pastry chef Jaques Torres’ Melange Bakery & Café is serving up new pumpkin and hazelnut pies and pastries made in-house for under $10.

“We’re delighted to offer our customers a variety of culinary experiences that follow current food trends and menus that emerge from the many destinations we serve,” Jill Kaplan, president of New York and New Jersey for United Airlines, told FOX Business. “We are focused on the importance of offering food choices that provide healthier options at various price points which are produced at the terminal and provide high-quality offerings.”

At Philadelphia International Airport’s Terminal F, travelers can get an authentic taste of a Philly cheesesteak without leaving the airport at Tony Luke’s, which some Yelp reviewers have dubbed better than the famed food tourist rivals Pat’s and Geno’s.

And next year, Boston Logan International Airport will reportedly welcome six new local vendors from Boston Public Market, including lobster rolls from Red’s Best, avocado toast from Mother Juice and ramen from Noodle Lab.

AIRLINE CATERING WORKERS TO DEMONSTRATE AT 18 AIRPORTS DURING THANKSGIVING TRAVEL

Still, affordable staples from fast food franchises like Chick-fil-A and pretzel shop Auntie Anne’s — both now open at New Orleans' new MSY airport — still continue to curb pre-flight cravings. National brands represented around 60 to 70 percent of food sales at U.S. airports, according to data from airport food-service company HMSHost, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The Business of Food explores the rapidly changing $1.5 trillion food industry every Tuesday on FOX Business.