Airport to its food and drink vendors: get back to normal hours or face a fine

May 23, 2022

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It’s been one of the biggest pain points for flyers as air travel has rebounded over the last year. Looking for a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat? There’s a good chance you’ll have to search for a short line or wait in a long one.

Now, though, at least one airport is pushing back.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) has warned its vendors, beginning June 1, they could face penalties if they aren’t open during the hours they’re supposed to be.

Passengers wait for a flight at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Local news station KTVK/KPHO in Phoenix was the first to report the news of the pending crackdown, which TPG confirmed after reviewing city records and video of an airport administration meeting.

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At the public meeting last week, airport officials said, despite passenger traffic largely returning to – and in some cases surpassing – 2019 levels, retailers all too often still have their doors closed.

While this can mean fewer shopping options, the more immediate concern for passengers involves the food and beverage spots. As of last week, the airport reported nearly a quarter of its food and beverage vendors had not yet re-opened from pandemic closures.

Finding a drink or something to eat can be even more challenging depending on where in the airport you go. In Phoenix’s Terminal 3, for instance, the airport says only about two-thirds of its food and beverage vendors are open.

On top of that, anyone who has flown in the last year knows things can be even worse if you have an early morning or late night flight. Well, not anymore – at least that’s what the airport hopes.

PHX officials have warned the vendors they’re going to be roaming the airport terminals starting next month looking for concessionaires that are not living up to the hours of operation in their contract. They’ll also be using video technology to monitor when vendors’ lights go on and off.

Food and beverage retailers could face a $1,000 fine for not being open; retail shops could face a $100 fine for contractual violations. Restaurants could also face violations for not returning to full menus that offer accommodations for passengers with dietary restrictions.

The reason these problems exist, airport officials say, is probably one you’re familiar with at this point: staffing challenges. The problems have plagued industries across the country during the pandemic. And Phoenix is far from the only airport impacted.

Just last week, I was waiting on a flight in the E-concourse at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. on a weekday morning, and a key breakfast spot was closed. Such closures inevitably mean foot traffic then stacks up at nearby locations – the line at the closest Starbucks was a non-starter for me.

Related: Avoiding long lines during your travels

In Chicago, for instance, as of April, 8% of food and beverage spots at O’Hare International Airport (ORD) remained closed, along with a tenth of those at Midway (MDW), according to numbers city aviation officials shared with TPG, while noting some airport concessionaires were “facing challenges in recruiting employees.”

Related: Starbucks continues rollout of mobile ordering at US airports

As so many businesses have seen, it’s not an easy task. It’s harder at airports, Phoenix officials pointed out, mentioning how airport restaurants often have similar wages to businesses out in the community, but with additional challenges in parking, getting a badge and going through security each day.

Customers wait in a long line for McDonald’s at an airport in 2021. (Photo by Edward Pizzarello/PizzaInMotion.com)

At the same time, ahead of a busy summer travel season, Phoenix Sky Harbor is now making clear, it expects these vendors to live up to their contracted hours of operation.

Featured image courtesy of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

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