Portland, Oregon – the city that popularized gourmet food trucks and is now dotted with hundreds of them – has food trucks at the airport.
Koi Fusion and Pok Pok are the first two food cart operators to open at Portland International Airport. Three other food carts will arrive later this year – with each cart getting a six-month stint to give other local businesses the opportunity to participate.
The first two trucks to roll in are great examples of the local fare: Koi Fusion is a Korean-style BBQ with a Mexican influence. Pok Pok,– which also has popular spots in Portland and New York – is known for spicy Thai cuisine and chicken wings.
Another piece of good news – PDX has a street pricing policy, so the food served at the airport food trucks costs the same as it does out in the city.
The latest amenities on offer to travelers at airports are not inside—but out. And they’re very tasty.
Motorists waiting to pick up arriving passengers can now grab a snack or a meal from food trucks parked at a growing number of airport cellphone lots, where short-term parking is free for those who stay with their vehicles. At some airports, the cellphone lot is morphing into a full-fledged service plaza, offering everything from sit-down meals to car wash services.
“Airports have recognized that their cellphone waiting lots have great customer-service potential,” said Deborah C. McElroy, the interim president of Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA.)
The airport food truck trend started with Tampa International Airport in Florida, which began inviting food trucks to park at its cellphone lot in December 2012 during a curbside parking rule transition. That program worked so well that now a different food truck pulls into the cellphone lot—and to a spot near the terminal—each weekday, with the schedule posted on the Tampa airport Facebook page.
Other airports now hosting food trucks in their cellphone lots include Tucson International Airport in Arizona as well as the Long Beach Airport in California, which has a different group of food trucks monthly during “Truck’n Tuesday.” At Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, a vendor hauls in a food cart daily to serve hot dogs, bratwurst, mettwurst and nachos.
At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, the Twist of Spice food trailer has been serving wraps, paninis and Mexican food in the cellphone lot since January. “It not only provides a food option to cellphone lot users, but also to airport and nearby employees as well as residents,” said airport spokesman Jason Zielinski.
After seeing the popularity of these food trucks, other airports are joining in. Seattle-Tacoma International and Phoenix Sky Harbor International airports are among those exploring adding food trucks to their cellphone lots and Sacramento International Airport in California has put out a request for proposals.
In a passenger amenities survey conducted by ACI-NA in 2012, 56 airports said they had cellphone waiting lots. That number is increasing, but until fairly recently “no one has thought to capture revenue from travelers in these lots,” said Ramon Lo, editorial director of Airport Revenue News. It appears no one is yet tracking this source of ancillary revenue for airports, he said.
Not all airports are limiting the food trucks to the cellphone lots.
Sometime this year or next, Terminal 4 (American Airlines) at Los Angeles International will be getting an L.A. Gourmet Street Truck structure built to look like a food truck. “The concept and façade will change every three to four months, with cuisine from the most popular food trucks in Los Angeles rotating so that travelers get to experience it,” said LAX spokeswoman Katherine Alvarado.
At San Francisco International Airport, three food trucks park outside Terminal 1 each Thursday, drawing customers not only from passengers and their greeters, but from airport employees as well.
After a positive reaction to a four-week trial period, the airport extended the food truck service indefinitely. “This program is primarily a response to airport employee suggestions, so the airport only collects a nominal fee of $300 per month for this operation,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.
Service plazas: Beefed-up cellphone lots
FINAL APPROACH at DEN Airport – Courtesy DIA
At the end of this week, the Indianapolis International Airport plans to open a service plaza with a Circle K convenience store and 24-hour fueling station offering car washing, automobile detailing and quick-lube services. Next month, the first of two restaurants will open on the site.
“This arrangement provides a new land lease for the airport authority and, after three years, a percentage of gross sales,” said airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini. “It will generate a new source of non-airline revenue, which is a critical piece of our strategy.”
And on Sept. 24, Denver International Airport will open a 269-space cellphone lot called Final Approach. It will provide free Wi-Fi, a children’s play area, indoor seating and restrooms, flight info boards and four restaurants, including a 24-hour drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Our customers asked for enhanced service, and we are delivering,” said Kim Day, Denver International Airport’s manager of aviation.
The cost of the approximately $5.5 million facility at DEN was paid for by the site operator, Pacific Convenience & Fuels, and airport officials said that in addition to generating more than 100 jobs, Final Approach is expected to generate $2.3 million in gross sales and more than $421,000 in revenue for the airport in its first year.
When grandma is flying in for a special occasion, you’ll find a spot in the airport’s short-term parking garage, go into the terminal and wait where you’ll be sure to see her when she exits the secure area.
But if it’s “just” a friend coming in for the weekend or a spouse coming home from a quick business trip, these days you’re likely to wait in your car in the cellphone lot, have your friend or family member call you when they’ve landed and then drive over and make a quick pick-up at the curb.
Cellphone lots offering free, short-term parking near airports are now available at most large, medium and many small airports. But just ten years ago, none of these lots even existed. Their presence at airports is the result of two post-9/11 trends we now take for granted: heightened concerns about security outside the terminals and the growing number of people using cellphones.
After 9/11, motorists waiting for passengers to arrive were no longer allowed to clog up roadways outside airport terminals by idling for a long time at the curb, or leaving a car parked outside baggage claim and running inside to greet a passenger. It’s hard to believe now, but in the “old days,” many airports would let you do that.
To cut down on congestion caused by drivers who instead began circling terminal lanes over and over, in 2004 airports such as Los Angeles International and Seattle-Tacoma International came up with the idea of directing drivers to free, off-site parking lots where they could wait for an arriving passenger with a cellphone to call for a pick-up. At least a dozen airports had cellphone waiting lots by the end of 2004 and today it’s rare – and irritating – to find an airport without one.
“Security concerns and technology have definitely driven the rise of this airport amenity” said Debbie McElroy, spokesperson for ACI-NA, the organization that represents most North American airports.
But so has economics. In the past, many airports gave drivers a grace period in the parking garage, anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, to allow them to go into the terminal and meet a passenger. But most of these free parking sessions have been eliminated as airports try to maximize revenue generated from their parking garages. “Airports still want to provide good service to their communities,” said McElroy, “so when they cut free parking they’ll often add a cellphone waiting lot nearby.”
And while many cellphone lots are put on property an airport wasn’t using for anything else, the lots do have costs. “You have to establish them, maintain them and make sure you have periodic security checks,” McElroy said. “And in some airports, the lots are on land that could otherwise be put to use generating some sort of revenue.”
But cellphone lots are now so popular that many airports are now expanding theirs and adding amenities for waiting drivers such as free Wi-Fi, vending machines, restrooms (portable and permanent) and electronic reader boards displaying up-to-date flight arrival information.
At Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, community outreach coordinator Allan Siegel says the airport offers a flight-status screen as well as emergency services for vehicles with a flat tire or dead battery. And at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, there are flight information display monitors, restrooms and regular food truck service offering Mexican food, Panini sandwiches, salads, appetizers and drinks.
Tampa International Airport has vending machines, restrooms, real-time flight information, free Wi-Fi, and electric vehicle charging stations in its cellphone lot and, before the holidays it began a 30-day experiment with having food trucks on-site as well, a different one each day.
The experiment has been such a success that the trial period has been extended. The airport is even posting the food truck schedule on its Facebook page.
“Other airports are watching Tampa to see how successful they are in doing this,” said McElroy, “And I think there’s probably room for other airports to contract with vendors to offer more services and amenities at their cellphone lots as well.”
What others kinds of services and amenities might be added?
Tim O’Krongley, assistant aviation director for the San Antonio Airport System, said there’s been some discussion about adding food truck service at San Antonio International Airport. And when Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opens a new, larger permanent cellphone lot next spring, free Wi-Fi and some food options may be added as well.
But here are some other options that might make cellphone lots even more enticing: drive-through espresso stands, exercise stations, playgrounds, fresh flower stands and coin-operated car washes and vacuums to encourage drivers to clean up their cars before going in for the pick-up.
What amenities would you like to see at an airport cellphone waiting lot?