Flight delays mean big business for vendors at airports

Thursday, October 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Terri Langford / The Dallas Morning News

NEW YORK – Passengers hate them. Airport vendors love them. If there's one area where this year's record flight delays are paying off, it's in the nation's airport terminals, where stores and restaurants are cashing in on the extra minutes passengers spend waiting.

"We love delays," said Joseph DiDomizio, executive vice president of Hudson Group, which owns the Hudson News stands in airports, including Love Field and Dallas/Fort Worth International.

"Not cancellations," he added quickly from his booth at the annual Airports Council International conference in New York. "Delays."

The air travel industry is coming off a record summer of flight delays, and there's no end in sight. At D/FW Airport, for example, 81 percent of its nearly 21,000 flights in July arrived on time, and 80 percent departed on time, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Other large airports didn't fare as well. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport reported only 50 percent of its more than 25,000 flights in July arriving on time and 55 percent departing on time. The numbers at New York's La Guardia Airport were 65 percent for on-time arrivals and 76 percent for on-time departures. Los Angeles International Airport had 67 percent of its arrivals on time and 71 percent of its departures on time. Atlanta reported 74 percent on-time arrivals and 75 percent on-time departures.

Retail development inside airports is a relatively recent phenomenon and one that has helped generate millions more for airports through leases and advertising revenue. At D/FW Airport, where 60 million passengers arrive and depart each year, advertisers pay millions annually just to lease empty wall space.

For travelers passing through D/FW these days, Dallas souvenirs are not enough. Today's customers want something more in the "guilt gift" department, said Scott O'Donnell, considered by many to be the godfather of the airport movement after he transformed Pittsburgh International Airport by adding dozens of familiar mall stores.

"We make far more money now with improved choice," said Jack Graham, planning director of the Los Angeles airport system.

Demographics reveal a retail and advertising gold mine inside airports because they are filled with high-income frequent travelers who have money to spend. And thanks to the numerous flight delays, passengers have even more time to burn their cash.

Location is crucial for vendors. Passengers often don't know how long their flight is going to be delayed.

"They want to stay at the gate because they don't know when their plane will leave," said Michael Taylor, who studies travel trends for J.D. Power.

So more retailers are designing spaces near the gates and silently celebrating all those late takeoffs and arrivals.

"There's no doubt that delays help," admitted Kristin Rhyne, president of a start-up business for airports – a combined manicure/makeup/massage salon called Polished.

When researching passenger tastes, she found delays were the No. 1 reason passengers said they would use her business, which opens its first salon at Logan International Airport in Boston this fall. The second most popular time would be "between flights," she said. And the third is before a flight.

She said there are two types of customers: the business traveler who likes the convenience of better stores and services in an airport and those who would use retail options in an airport because they don't have a lot of time to shop before showing up at the terminal.

"It's like the ATM of 15 years ago," she said. Back then, passengers couldn't count on an ATM machine to be located in every airport. That's changed. "Now I go to the airport without money," she said.