Last month, I started a discussion on social media, regarding the lack of local/real/healthy food offerings at major international airports, worldwide. Travellers from all over the world flooded my inbox, tweeting, sending e-mails, and messaging on Instagram — all agreeing that the lack of ‘real food’ at airports worldwide was something they considered a big problem in the passenger experience.
By ‘real food’ I’m referring to food (big or small, fast food or not) with actual fresh, and organic ingredients. Not only do airports already struggle to offer this in any of its food outlets, but there’s also a significant absence of local food (local to the country of which the airport is situated in) inside terminal buildings.
Upon any visit to Barcelona, Spain, you’ll more than likely indulge in authentic Spanish dishes, given the city is a tapas paradise… but from the moment you enter the Barcelona airport terminal, you’ll feel a world away from actual gastronomy. The same scenario applies to a huge number of airports around the world. As a passenger, you’ll struggle to find a decent pizza in Rome or Milan’s airports. In Toulouse, France — home to a huge variety of traditional French food — there’s a measly excuse of a ‘Niçoise salad’ in the fridges of one of the terminal’s chain coffee-shops, but that’s all you’ll find.
However, if there’s one guarantee in the current airport food experience, it’s the consistency in the ever-growing presence of Burger King’s, McDonalds and similar brands. What’s worse is, these American fast-food junk giants are often in airports that are situated in foreign cities buzzing with authentic, local and successful fast-food options.
It’s worth highlighting that there are several difficulties food outlets face at airports, that they wouldn’t face in the ‘real world’. Restaurants have to bring everything into the airport through a security channel (one dedicated for stock). There are also further security constrains, such as how knives must be attached to a wall in all food outlet kitchens — but these limitations are nothing new, and certainly do not rule out the opening of anything remotely decent.
Of course, it can’t be ignored that, as with most areas of aviation, everything comes down to profit. Giant chains are economically safer for airport operators, and Burger King and its fast-food giant friends are paying top-dollar to establish their presence at major airports worldwide. However, given that its 2018, and that 47% of the 18-34 age-group are consciously changing their eating habits towards a healthier diet, isn’t it time for airports, specifically state-owned airports, to step up, and begin to allocate and incentivise restaurant space for local, authentic, healthy (fast) food?
In Vietnam, US fast food chains are struggling to compete with the local competition — and the same applies to the competition inside the terminal building. At Ho Chi Minh City’s airport, local brands have a strong presence — and such a decision by the airport authorities is frequently praised by both locals, and international passengers alike. For Vietnam, it means a passenger flying between Sydney and London via Ho Chi Minh City can have a taste of famous Vietnamese cuisine during a swift 75-minute flight connection stopover. The passenger wouldn’t have been able to sample Vietnamese food in this way, had the airport only maintained a food outlet portfolio of McDonalds and KFC.
Hamad International Airport is another example of a relatively new, state-of-the-art terminal, lacking a variety of ‘real’ food options — but home to a Burger King. While there is stunning gourmet food on offer in the lounge, including the best Hummus you’ll find in the Arab nation, the majority of passengers are not travelling in premium classes, and hence, rely on airport food outlet offerings.
What’s more, Doha has an incredible amount of hugely popular food outlets around the city, ranging from Qatari-founded locally-famous burger joints, to Qatar’s first 100% Vegan restaurant ‘Evergreen Organics’ (which would undoubtedly be a hit with healthy-eating travellers). With this in mind, the airport could very easily increase its variety by ‘bringing in’ some of the amazing food outlets already hugely popular outside the terminal.
Yes, airport operators are continuously working to design an airport experience that reflects normal life. They’re ensuring terminals have showers, quiet zones, children’s play areas, business centre facilities, and more. But when it comes to the food offerings inside of the airport terminal, the general theme around the world is a lack of variety, lack of authenticity, and lack of healthy options — and this needs to change.
-The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir