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The Real Reason Why Airport Food Is So Expensive

The Real Reason Why Airport Food Is So Expensive

Travel itself is expensive as you try to get the best prices for flights, hotels, rental cars and the rest. Then you get to the airport and you’re suddenly surrounded by high prices that you can’t bargain with. But why?

Even something as basic as a bottle of water gets costly because you can’t bring your own through security. So you either risk bacteria at the water fountain or find $3 to pay for a bottle that would cost you only a dollar outside the airport.

And for food, many people assume that the inflated prices are created just because you’re at the airport. But the truth is a little more nuanced. Although it may seem like you’re paying a 300 percent markup for items just because they’re at the airport, it’s actually because the airport has significantly higher operating costs than anywhere else.

In a Wall Street Journal article, an airport store operator is quoted as saying that products at airport stores because products are shipped in small quantities, delivered at off hours and go through several security screenings throughout the process. Furthermore, airport rent costs more and off-airport warehouses are needed to store items due to limited storage space on site. And most retailers also pay for employee parking and security screening. So you can see how things begin to add up.

Until you see other curious things that make airports seem greedy. Like a lawsuit filed by Kitson because the shop wanted to charge $2.55 for water and the operator of the LAX-located store insisted it sell for $5. Or if you consider that PDX has always had street pricing in place at its restaurants, since the 1980s. And travelers at PDX appreciate the diverse range of food that is available.


Given more information, it seems like the best one can do is hope that other airports learn to drop prices to have happier customers.


[Image: Ankur94527/Wikimedia Commons]



View Comments (7)


  1. CosmosHuman

    February 25, 2018 at 3:17 am

    PIT has fair prices as they won’t allow vendors to ripoff travelers.

  2. AlwaysFlyStar

    February 25, 2018 at 3:56 am

    Such a dumb article. Everybody knows that airport operating costs are generally going to be higher. And there are many airports where they are required to charge the ‘street’ price, and yet, amazingly, restaurants still set up there, which they presumably wouldn’t do if they were not making money. So even with any added expenses, they don’t need to charge you what they are often charging you. But they do it because they can, and that is ultimately the real reason airport food is so expensive.

  3. PHL

    February 26, 2018 at 9:10 am

    “…the best one can do is hope that other airports learn to drop prices to have happier customers.”

    Not gonna happen.

    The airport customers are a captive audience. Not one item in the airport is a necessity. You can eat, drink and buy things for your trip before getting to the airport. A $5 bottle of water is excessive considering it costs them about 20 cents, but if you’re really thirsty and can’t wait until on the plane where it’s served free or don’t trust the public water fountains, you’re left with no choice.

  4. PHL

    February 27, 2018 at 7:48 am

    PIT also lost US Airways because they had ridiculously high fees for airlines to operate. Now half of PIT is closed off, which is a shame for such a beautiful, functional modern airport.

  5. infinite97

    February 27, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    Happy to claim PDX as my home airport. It’s complete BS to pay ~$6 for an iced coffee at LAS Starbucks.

  6. tassojunior

    February 27, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    I’m always surprised when I find good fast-casual food in airports at street prices. Chilpote at BWI and Pot Belly at MID come to mind as favorites.

    Rent is often not more in airports. Airports take a loss on concession rents. Certainly not as high as expensive center city rent where the places make a profit.

  7. Gigi2018

    March 22, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Airports that have fair price policies get thumbs-up from me. It’s written into the terms of the lease.

    Of course it’s not just food that’s subject to price gouging.

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