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Why is airport food so terrible at many US east coast airports?

Healthy, tasty options are sparse at many east coast airports while other major US airports like SFO have better options. I have been baffled by this phenomenon. I invite you to share your insights/experiences on this issue
Thanks!

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  1. I too get upset with out. Too many chains, and when I do find out a unique place it doesn't seem to last.

    Here's what I propose - A tapas and wine bar at every airport using seasonal and regional foods.

    Small plates appeal to everyone, and so does wine and beer.

    I think you could do this easily and then there is a convenient restaurant that's on everyone's list to visit while traveling.

    1. are you sure about this? i went to a great wine bar in DC. not sure whether it was Dulles or the other one. We also just had a great dinner at a Legal Seafoods at Logan airport. I think my hometown airport (LAX) stinks for food!

      5 Replies
      1. re: trolley

        You are probably thinking about Vino Volo in Dulles. This is a small chain that has about 10 or so airport locations around the US. They have a nice selection of wines, pricey though. They offer a few small dishes but don't really have a kitchen so the food is mostly simple things that can be prepped ahead and served cold like a cheese or meat plate, or just reheated. I also like them because they are comfortable and relaxing compared to the other airport bars which are usually overcrowded and have blaring TVs.

        Other than that I don't have a lot of great memories of east coast airports. They seem to go more for chains and quick and easy food. The Legal Seafood restaurant in Boston is an exception (I think they might even have two locations in different terminals). Very good airport food.

        The west coast does seem to have better options. San Francisco airport is a little different because they seem to encourage local restaurants to open branches in the airport there is a lot of variety. Sea-Tac is probably my favorite airport for food. Once you get past security for all terminals you walk into a huge food court with lots of choices. The most formal restaurant there is a local seafood chain and the food is always excellent and the prices do not seem to have that airport upcharge. Portland has Rogue Ale House and a few other choices as well.

        O'Hare airport in Chicago is amazingly bad in terms of food choices considering it is one of the busiest airports in the world. Minneapolis, however, is surprisingly good too.

        I've spent most of the last ten years doing a lot of business travel, in case you couldn't guess.

        1. re: pamf

          yeah, i guess i had wine and a cheese plate. not much for food there, huh? hey, pour wine in front of me and everything becomes great!

          the thing about SFO and Sea-Tac (the latter i haven't been to but i can speak to SFO since i used to live in the Bay) is that food is their thing, or at least in SF. i know SFO tries to boast what they're famous for and really it comes down to the golden gate bridge, fog, and food. i remember reading about this about a decade ago in the SF Gate when they were redoing the airport...

          1. re: trolley

            SFO just opened another remodeled terminal this year with another batch of restaurants. I think you are thinking of the International Terminal that was built about a decade ago. There is a large food court there and it is outside security so it is accessible to all travelers.

            I live in the SF Bay Area, so I don't really eat at the airport, usually just a little something for breakfast if it's an early flight.

            1. re: pamf

              yes. exactly pamf. and if you can go to the cheese board, arizmendi's or tartine before you go the airport why bother eating there? man, i miss the food in sf!

              1. re: trolley

                SFO is a major transfer airport for people heading out on international flights. Lots of people end up there with relatively long layovers, so for those folks all of the food options are quite nice.

      2. I haven't found much difference between East Coast airports and airports elsewhere. What I have found is that there are two worlds that run by distinctly different rules: There is "real world," which is populated by people who can go elsewhere if the food at a restaurant or other establishment is plain, uninspiring, and expensive, and there is "airport world" where the restaurants, fast food places, delis and mini-groceries have a captive audience. Short of an expensive cab ride, and plenty of time, as a traveler, you can't escape "airport world."

        I used to go to a top notch deli near my home and custom design a delicious lunch for consumption on the plane. Then the shoe bomber and the terrorists with the liquid explosives and others of their ilk made anything soft and/or plasticky--or wet--"SUSPECT"--like brownies, fudge, cheese, sandwiches meatballs and soft drinks. Several people have said that you can bring such items with you, but I have found that bringing such foods with you is likely to cause problems, and it is a real hassle.

        So, the triumph of "airport world" is complete. One of its ancillary rules now is that you MUST buy all foodstuffs from the ridiculously overpriced, under-qualitied vendors of "airport world," which exist throughout the world.

        The exceptions are the few airports like Singapore's where the government regulates prices, providing that vendors may not charge more than the average price for food or restaurant items back in the "real world," adjusted for rental costs of airport space. This ups the price a little, but, amazingly, not that much. (And no, I do not normally favor price regulation. It generally lowers quality, but perhaps it is necessary where there is no price or quality competition, like in "airport world." Anyway, it works at Singapore's airport.

        "Airport world" is a classic example of monopolies in action.

        Many years ago, Chicago columnist Bob Greene wrote an article about O'Hare Airport, home of the $6.00 hot dog. I can't imagine what hot dogs must be going for there now.

        4 Replies
        1. re: gfr1111

          i have never had difficulty bringing food on a plane and I travel often. I usually carry cheese, crackers, trail mix, and fruit and, if it's a long flight, a manageable sandwich or wrap from one of my favorite boston places (michaels, curry's or seven subs and I have the them cut the sandwiches and wrap the individual halves). I've never been questioned, stopped or bothered about my food. On the other hand, it isn't convenient for everybody to prepare in advance and it's too bad there aren't better, healthier and more affordable options.

          1. re: gfr1111

            I just came back from a trip where I had a hunk of cheese, several different sticks of cured meats and bag full of pastries. It was no problem getting it passed.

            It's not unusual for me to fly back with room temp safe items. I always make sure things are wrapped clearly and I pull it all out and have it sitting to be xrayed through on top of my bag. I'll try to pre-empt by mentioning it as my bag gets into the machine.

            At most it's an extra 5 minutes after the bag goes through and they question me. Once in a while, they'll want it run through again with just the item in the bin. The extra 5 minutes is well worth it to me for the good food. Never really had a problem but I always exhibit calmness,patience and a willingness to explain what's in there.

            1. re: gfr1111

              I've never had any trouble bringing solid food through security (although my yogurt was rejected one morning). There are many threads on chowhound about what foods to take when flying.

              SFO also has rules about businesses charging more at the airport than they do at locations outside the airport.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Vancouver has that as well. I typically have an 8 hour evening layover, and get a nice dinner in the International terminal.

            2. I'm actually amazed that the food is as good as it is in any airport (domestic or otherwise).

              Think about it. What motivation is there to make decent, much less good, food at an airport concourse. You literally have a captive audience. People are either waiting to bored and/or tired, or are delayed, or on some god-forbidden layover. People ain't going nowhere, they're board, and what do people generally do to pass the time when they are board? Eat.

              There are also constraints with eating establishments -- at least the ones past the security checkpoints. Most notable constraint? Real silverware.

              But with all that said, like I mentioned up above, I'm still amazed that the food is still as good as it is. Yes, the prices are high (even though some airports have "street pricing"), but generally the food is pretty darn passable given the circumstances.

              1. I don't see much difference. The main reason why airport food is mostly bad is because the restaurants don't have repeat customers and they go for the lowest denominator: cheap ingredients delivered by Sysco.