Is Airport Food Always This Bad?

I just paid 4.10 euros ($5.90) for half a focaccia sandwich and a cup of coffee near the gate to the airplane for the second flight of my trip.

The price was outrageous, and the sandwich was barely mediocre. But given the value of my time, plus the hassle of going through security again, it wasn’t sensible for me to go to the main part of the airport to grab breakfast.

My demand is quite inelastic, and the near monopolist at this smaller airport is taking advantage of that. I know that the price in the main part of the airport is lower for the same quality food, and the average quality is better too. I wonder: is this generally true?

The only exception I’ve ever encountered to this rule is the superb Wolfgang Puck restaurant inside security in the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare Airport.


O'Hare has great food options in general. The TF Green airport in Providence, RI also has a few nice places inside security and prices are pretty reasonable.


Personally I've always wondered why San Francisco's airport inside security restaurants are so much better than Atlanta's. (For example, Terminal 1 in SF has Perry's, which has a great wasabi tuna sandwich).

Perhaps it's similar to why SF is a walking city and Atlanta is a driving one. Atlanta was rebuilt after cars were common, so it was arranged for drivers. I believe SF started out with just one terminal and then kept expanding in a haphazard manner so there is no central dining area. Atlanta's airport was arranged from the beginning to be a large airport and has a central area and tram to take you to the different terminals. More incentive for the good restaurants to stay in that central area to get more foot traffic, where as there really isn't that option in SF.


yay for price discrimination!

Tracy Thomas

I fly a lot, and in general, I agree with you that airport food is almost always as bad as you say, especially near the gates. My home airport is Portland, Oregon - they are a great exception to this awful rule. 3 (or is it 4) brewpub restaurants - 3 of them local brewpubs, and outlets of other local restaurants all near the gates, and a walkway between concourses inside of security so you can examine all the options.


It seems that the city has a lot to do with the quality of the airport food. In Austin, the city is pretty picky about granting permits to set up shop. Almost all of the places to eat inside security are local restaurants. The fare is everything from local barbecue to pizza and not a McDonalds in sight. The prices are pretty high, but at least the food is good!


With few exceptions (like SFO mentioned above), you should stick with branded fast food in airports. If you hadn't had a focaccia from that place before or otherwise knew it to be exceptional, getting a known quantity is much safer than rolling the dice when you don't have time to recover from a bad meal.

What drives me nuts are the places (like, well, focaccia vendors...) who go on about the "freshness" of their food. In most cases, airport customers are in a hurry almost by definition; if freshness was a concern, we wouldn't be eating at the airport.


Anyone notice how the price of beverages increased since the ban on liquids? I finally got fed up and now bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain after I go through security (If I remember)


SFO has done a complete overhaul of its food options since 2000. It used to be pretty dreadful in some terminals.

There are good choice pre-security in the international terminal and near the gates for Alaska/Southwest/Continental in terminal 1, and good choice post-security in all the terminals. Many operators were worried when rules changed after 9/11 because they couldn't have knives inside security for a while.

Aaron H

The McNamara terminal in Detroit Metro Airport, which services Delta (formerly Northwest), actually has a very good selection of restaurants in the gate area, and has no food choices at all before security. I suspect that as new terminals are built in the post-9/11 era, this will become the norm. Especially because you are no longer allowed to bring any beverages through security.

The prices are definitely inflate to a degree -- maybe 25% more expensive than in the real world -- but it is not the $28 tuna sandwich that Jerry Seinfeld used to talk about.


FYI, the Wolfgang Puck branded sandwiches at airports are not good.

A number of airports have outside price guarantees, meaning there is no obvious markup over outside world prices.

Eric M. Jones

Many posts here seem to think that the traveller is at the mercy of the food vendor. But you can bet the food vendor pays a very high price for his space in the terminal, and probably goes through the security nonsense too.

I also feel the same way about complaining about the food on the airplane. Whatever you get to eat while flying at 85% the speed of sound 10 kilometers in the sky is a miracle, but perhaps not a culinary miracle.

Me; I'd take a food pellet and a knockout pill and be done with it. Sorry if I drool on you.


MSP (Minneapolis) has some great food options beyond security and very few before security (I think they just opened a new restaurant before security b/c they realized the imbalance). In addition to the usual chains, there are two outposts of the local French Meadow Bakery (organic, great salads, sandwiches, and desserts - and very vegetarian friendly), plus a D'Amico takeout place (also local).

Unfortunately, I typically fly out of Richmond (RIC), where the options are minimal. Thankfully they realized that they needed three Caribou Coffees - one on each concourse and one before security - rather than forcing people flying out of one concourse to down their coffee quickly before heading for the TSA checkpoint.

Chris Luccy

The most mind-boggling to me is LAX. While their separate terminals for different airlines makes the security more bearable, the lack of a central location past security results in far fewer food options than most airports. Add in that most of the restaurants that do exist close at 10:00 sharp, it makes food options for red eyes almost non-existent. I can't figure out why the restaurants don't see this lack of supply and stay open later with their jacked-up prices... I guess they make enough during the day that it's just not worth it. Worst pricing I've seen there; $4 for a normally $.75 bag of pretzels.


Try Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International airport's then, some people said they're better than most airports, though locals still say they're overpriced and not good enough.

Joe D

If I could just put my carry-ons in a locker once past security (what happened to lockers? You've already *been* through my bag!), I wouldn't mind heading to a restaurant in an outside-security area (especially if there was a "no-bags" line-hop option for the return trip).

Who else hates putting their bags down into "What got spilled there?"


I have fond memories from my travelling days of "Blue Burrito" at the Phoenixe airport - I think in the United Terminal. Does anyone know if it's still there?


New Orleans (MSY) has some very good places, and many before security. It makes sense, as NOLA is a food city, and they want to promote that brand.


The Albuquerque airport has some some excellent New Mexican food before and after the security check-in. Perhaps a tad more pricey than outside the airport, but not outrageous by any means.

PHX - miserable.
JFK - miserable and very expensive.


I agree that Portland OR has some good options. And there is a chain at some airports - usually grab-and-go rather than sit-down - they have a variety of fresh fruits, salads, low-fat yoghurt, and so on. Can't recall the name. Cibo, maybe?

On the other hand, we all know that calories on the road don't count. Right?

Tony C

Had a three hour layover in Milwaukee recently and was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant Nonna's and the bookstore - Renaissance used and rare books. They are doing a pretty good job of making sure that travellers on ATA or other hub airlines aren't too leery of choosing a flight with Milwaukee transfers.