I carry a fair amount of stuff in my flight bag that can be considered pilot supplies. But nothing is more important to me than something to eat or snack on. Let’s face it, you can carry a headset or an iPad, but you cannot eat them.
So why is airport food so disappointing?
I have been flying for over thirty five years, and in those years I have discovered some trend analysis that has allowed me to figure out this perplexing dilemma. Make no bones about it, airport food (or as I call them, pilot supplies) is not good, here is why:
You Are Trapped
When you come to the airport as a passenger, you are stuck at the airport. You forget about the food option and now you are going to pay for it. (Literally). You cannot go anywhere else and the airport guru’s know this. All venues that sell a product at the airport, whether a toy, soda, or meal, pay the airport a percentage fee based on sales. This in turn is passed onto the customer. This is why if you order something from a chain restaurant, it costs more at the airport.
Repeat Business Means Nothing
Depending on how often you travel, and where you are traveling to, repeat business is not a factor. No one will admit this merely because no one addresses it at the airport. For example, if you go out to eat at your favorite chain place at home and have a terrible experience, you can say something or complain and chances are good it will be corrected. Why? Because they want you to come back, that is the name of the game. A repeat customer is the most valuable asset a food establishment can have.
At the airport, chances are you are in a hurry and won’t even eat that piece of pizza till after you get on the plane. Then you are stuck with it. This next sentence is highly controversial, but I am going to say it anyway. At some, not all, but some places, the people they hire could care less if you ever came back at all. (And it shows). Why? Because tomorrow will bring back a new batch of a gazillion people that are all in a hurry and are all hungry.
The fact will remain unchanged that who you hire will be the face of your brand. If your people don’t care and management is not around to make sure they care, you are in trouble. This is not a new problem, but it is more difficult at the airport environment.
Some restaurants have some sort of value proposition plan combined with service to entice you to buy. After all, the name of the game is repeat customers right. But because the prices are higher at the airport, the value proposition usually goes out the window.
In some countries, which I will not name, the value proposition does not exist at all. The bottom line is you are going to pay up a lot more with no increase in portion size or quality.
I have this unique angle on this which my wife hates but seems very logical to me. I use the McDonalds quarter pounder as a benchmark. I can buy a quarter pounder with cheese meal just about anywhere and I will get a good standardized product. So if I go to another place an order a hamburger, and that hamburger is twice as much as the quarter pounder, then it needs to be twice as good or have some sort of extra value proposition attached to it like phenomenal service or something similar.
I face this exact dilemma at home as well, but it seems to be always worse when you are traveling because you are not home. The simplest of fast food fares has still proven to be the most difficult to get right.
Of course this is probably silly of me to add, but I understand that hiring good people is always a challenge. It always has been and in fact I think it is getting worse with our latest generation. But how about hiring people that can communicate effectively or speak in a complete sentence. I am not asking for much but you would be amazed.
Eating right while traveling has always been a major challenge, finding all three of these concepts together does not make it hard. After four days of traveling and dealing with it all, there is nothing better than sitting down to a home cooked meal.
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