When the customer left, I flagged over the barmaid. Did you just sell a $19 salad? She rolled her eyes and nodded her head. It's ridiculous, she told me. I always make sure I say the price out loud before ringing it up. Customers yell at me all the time when they hear the price, she said. I told her it was a shame that she had to take the brunt of it all, but I didn't mean it.
In reality, customers have every right to be upset. It's absolute insanity. And it didn't stop with the salad. Next door at La Provence, simple sandwiches were over $14 with tax. One man scoffed at the price. Don't bother, he said, waving off the girl who was reaching for the display case. That's too much for a sandwich.
Anyone who has been to Terminal 4 at LAX knows that it is one of the worst of the larger US airports in which to have a layover. It is extremely small and tight and is essentially a single hallway. Even if you wanted to go outside of security to another terminal, the layout of LAX makes that difficult as you currently need to walk a good distance from one to the other (although as we reported a few weeks ago, this is in the process of changing).
Those limited options, combined with high overhead, have turned something basic - getting something to eat at the airport - into a traumatic experience. To those of you who might recite the classic refrain, “Well, Will, that’s just the way it is at airports these days, stop bitching,” I ask you to wake up and recognize that this is not the way it has to be. It would be easy for me to point to airports around the world in Europe and Asia where this type of price-gouging is not as prevalent, but we don’t even have to go across an ocean for an example.
Look no further than the movement at Phoenix Sky Harbor, where some restaurants offer “street-level” pricing. That is, the food costs exactly what it would cost if you went to the same restaurant in the city. In fact, Sky Harbor is home to the cheapest airport beer we've ever seen.
The only reason airport vendors get away with it is because we enable them. And I get it, because sometimes we truly have no option other than to go without, and a hungry traveler is no doubt a cranky traveler. I don't suggest we punish ourselves. I do, however, think we seriously need to consider the direction our actions are taking us here in the States.
We need to react the way the man did to the sandwich, and there needs to be a huge movement towards bringing your own food to the airport. At least then, we limit our food spending to layovers. Grabbing a quick bite at the airport shouldn’t only be for the luxury traveler, and every time we buy a $19 salad, we take another step towards ensuring that air travel will never get more affordable.
[Photos: Will McGough]