The Bisoux restaurant at La Guardia Airport in New York includes iPads for ordering. Delta Air Lines upgraded the dining and shopping areas in its terminals.

Ozier Muhammad, New York Times

Hot new NYC spot: La Guardia?

  • New York Times
  • January 21, 2013 - 7:44 PM


NEW YORK - On a recent business trip to New York, Joe Pullin of Novi, Mich., did something he would have considered unthinkable not long ago.

Rather than rush off the plane and into a cab headed into Manhattan, he lingered at the arrival gate at La Guardia Airport, stopping for a leisurely lunch at Bisoux, a French bistro, and using the iPad mounted on his table to order his meal, check his e-mail and pay the bill.

"I'm very impressed. I think it adds another dimension to this airport that never existed before," said Pullin, a consumer electronics executive and frequent business traveler.

About 38,000 travelers pass through Delta Air Lines' two terminals at La Guardia each day. That they may be glad to spend more time there is good news for Delta and OTG Management, the airport restaurant company that owns and operates all the concessions in Terminals C and D.

With two dozen restaurants, cafes, food courts and bars in the terminals, sales per passenger are well above other airports, said Rick Blatstein, chief executive of OTG. "We're in the $9, $10 and $11 range," he said.

That is about $3 to $5 above the $5.80 spent, on average, by travelers at other large airports in the United States, according to Airport Revenue News.

Blatstein attributed the higher passenger spending to several things, including new restaurants linked to locally known chefs, dining and shopping areas incorporated throughout the terminal and waiting-area iPads that give travelers easier access to it all. If he so chose, Pullin could have used his table-mounted screen to order reading material from a nearby newsstand and have it delivered to the restaurant.

"We wanted to create the desire to go to the airport early, not because you need to get to the airport early but because you think, 'I'll get there early, plug my laptop in, get a glass of wine and relax before my flight,'" Blatstein said.

The upscale features are part of a global trend, and even small airports are getting in on the act. Long Beach Airport in California is completing work on a $45 million project to give its waiting areas more of a resort feel. There's a wine bar by the outdoor fire pit and the restaurants are local establishments overseen by an airport executive chef.

"Our mission is to provide services above our customers' expectation," said Mario Rodriguez, the airport's director.

The upgrading at airports large and small could mitigate the deteriorating experience of air travel, said Curtis Fentress, an architect who has designed many large airports over the last 20 years.

"We're trying to put the romance of travel back into the passenger experience," Fentress said. "Increasing amenities with retail, bringing retail that is not just food or fast food, but food that is appealing and upscale, I think there is a trend toward that."

At La Guardia, the interior space in Delta's two terminals was reconfigured and food and shops were brought all the way into the gate area. Most of the rows of fixed plastic upholstered seats were replaced with bar-height stools that tuck into clean white countertops fitted with electrical outlets and USB ports.

There are cafe tables where travelers can face one another. All the new seating includes space to tuck away luggage from traffic areas and every one of the new seats has an iPad so passengers can play games, browse the Internet or see what's available for sale nearby.

OTG paid $50 million to remake the terminals, as part of its deal to be Delta's exclusive concessionaire. Along with rent, OTG pays an undisclosed percentage of its total revenue to Delta.

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