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Why Starbucks Is Leaving (Many) US Airports

Starbucks Leaving US Airports

Starbucks’ relationship with US airports is getting ready to change in a major way. Why? Starbucks just doesn’t get as much love as it used to.

Who Doesn’t Like Starbucks Anymore?

People still love Starbucks, but airports are beginning to feel differently. In the United States, airports are run by local or state governments, and those governments are increasingly interested in promoting local or regional brands over larger chains like Starbucks.

That locavore trend has been a big problem for HMSHost, the airport concession giant that–up until it announced the end of the partnership earlier this month–has an exclusive relationship with Starbucks. That means that every one of the 400 or so Starbucks coffee shops in US airports is there because that airport has a contract with HMSHost.

But, now that many airports want other options than Starbucks, HMSHost’s exclusive relationship hasn’t worked out in its favor. HMSHost submits bids for concessions contracts by the concourse or terminal. If an airport chooses HMSHost as their concession provider, Starbucks is the only coffee shop available.

So for airports who only want local or regional coffee chains (like San Francisco International Airport specified in this 2017 request for proposals), HMSHosts is automatically out of the running.

We don’t know how many airports have opted out of a relationship with Starbucks but we’re guessing that it’s significant since it drove HMSHosts to leave a relationship that it’s enjoyed since 1991.

The Future of Starbucks in US Airports

While HMSHost and Starbucks are parting ways, that doesn’t mean that Starbucks will be gone from your home airport by the time you fly next. Most Starbucks have 10-year agreements with the airports they’re in. So, the Starbucks you stop by on the way to your gate will be there until that contract expires.

What happens after that is up to the airport. Now that Starbucks and HMSHost have consciously uncoupled, other airport concession providers can have their own relationships with Starbucks and offer it to airports that want it. Starbucks has already entered a (non-exclusive) agreement with another large concession provider, OTG that has plans to provide Starbucks carts which will allow you to order your Starbucks via iPad and have it delivered to your gate “in the most efficient, frictionless way possible.”

This could mean less waiting in line at the crowded airport Starbucks, but we have big questions about demand, wait times, order customizability and other possible hiccups that we won’t get the answer to until OTG’s proposed Starbucks changes materialize.



But, while Frappucino purists may lose their favorite option, this coffee shirt might open travelers up to new coffee brands. Is there a local coffee shop that you hope to see at your home airport? Let us know in the comments section.


erikfos February 27, 2020

Hey great. Now I can have my double espresso order refused at Cartel Coffee in PHX, because they are elitist coffee snobs who refuse to serve it in a paper cup!

Occupationalhazard February 18, 2020

I generally don't get coffee in airports but really, not digging the "You Must Drink The Soviet Coffee We Determine You Should Drink" BS either.

cplunk February 16, 2020

@ksandness I've seen Caribou Coffee at MSP, ATL, MCI (ya, Kansas City) and most surprisingly MCT. (Yep, Caribou Coffee in Muscat, Oman!!!) While I do like the sweet milky coffee flavored drinks and never get just drip coffee at Starbucks (which isn't $4.00 BTW, it's the sweet milky that are that expensive, and actually up to $6.00 at HMSHost airport locations), Caribou Coffee is just a little too sweet for me.

cplunk February 16, 2020

I am left to wonder, all the commenters who don't like Starbucks and want a "real" coffee shop, what do you actually think they are going to be replaced with? The real bonus here is ending HMSHost monopoly!!!! They are horrible. And it's not just the Starbucks, every airport concession run by them is often just horrible. I typically go hungry on any layover less than 2 hours because I'd rather that than sit in a restaurant and wonder if my food will arrive before I have to leave on my flight.

fish3d February 16, 2020

I won't stand in line for most things...certainly not Starbucks