Getting your Starbucks fix before your next flight is getting ‘a latte’ more difficult

Feb 5, 2020

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We hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but getting your Starbucks fix before your flight is about to get a latte more difficult.

The operator of 400 Starbucks locations throughout the country, HMS Host, has ended its agreement with the international coffee chain, according to Skift. The concession company has been the only one to partner with Starbucks at U.S. airports for almost three decades. In the past, many airports chose to work with HMS Host because of Starbucks’ clout — but today, it’s shaping up to be a different story.

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Since many U.S. airports are run by governments — whether city, county or state — they’re focusing more on bringing local coffee companies to airport concourses, rather than big, national chains. Take, for example, Chicago Midway (MDW) and Austin (AUS), two major U.S. airports that don’t have any Starbucks outposts. Instead, the former serves Big Shoulders Coffee, roasted in Illinois, and the latter serves Austin Java, among others.

Related: Would you eat at an airport even if you aren’t flying? New Orleans is betting yes

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is another example. Back in 2017, the airport filed a proposal stating it is “committed to the participation of local owners featuring local concepts in its concession opportunities” and, as a result, “SFO’s food and beverage program is largely local ….”

While you may have a harder time collecting those coveted bonus stars, don’t be totally despresso about your Starbucks (or lack thereof) just yet. Since a lot of these locations have 10-year agreements with their respective airports, they’re not going to close for quite some time. Plus, “concession companies [such as OTG or SSP America] will now be free to bid for Starbucks airport locations,” Skift added.

So, your favorite airport Starbucks could survive the transition — it may just be operated by a different company. Spokesperson Jory Mendes told TPG on a phone call that, while HMS Host is no longer the exclusive industry partner, they will continue to do business together. They’re also looking into alternatives with different operators, as well.

Here’s how it works: Each concession company makes agreements with either a local or national brand, and then they compete against each other to operate those stores on their behalf. Since the airports typically award these bids as large groups rather than one-offs, a concession company usually ends up operating all of the stores in a concourse or terminal.

Related: The best credit cards to use at Starbucks

We asked for more clarification (read: to find out what airport Starbucks locations could close so we can plan our early morning flights accordingly). But Starbucks could not, unfortunately, elaborate on which locations are expected to close.

HMS Host is planning to work with “emerging coffee brands” as well as some new concepts, including “innovative mobile cards that move from gate to gate” and “coffee shops built for speed” Skift reported. So, while you might not see as many Starbucks along your travels, you might just find your new coffee shop brewing along the way.

Featured photo by Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

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