Quick question: Have you ever gotten together with a group of friends on a Friday night and said, “Hey, how about we all go hang out at …. the airport?”
I knew few if any folks who would enjoy a “relaxing’ night out at their friendly neighborhood airport. Most people I knew consider a trip to the airport to be akin to a stint in a maximum security prison, only less pleasant. They know they can expect massive lines, a patdown on the way through security, a long wait to get onto the plane, and then being stuck in those cramped seats for however long your flight is. If it wasn’t for the convenience of getting someplace quickly, I’m not sure I know anybody who would bother flying otherwise.
And yet, it felt odd to be walking through an airport and spotting an Outback Steakhouse. When I lived in Massachusetts, there was an Outback near my home that I could never get into on a Saturday night – it was that popular. Now if I want Outback I can go to the airport.
Most people I know limit their time in airports to the bare minimum: rush in to get your tickets and check your bags, try to speed through security as quickly as possible, then arrive at the gate in time to get on the plane before the doors close. I know people who have literally gone running down the corridor to catch their flight at the last second. Except for having a fairly lengthy layover, I don’t know anyone who would lounge around an airport in the same way they might at a shopping mall. And yet airports really don’t look much like airports anymore. They do look like shopping malls.
You have brand name restaurants, stores, bars … everything you need for a night on the town. If it’s the dead of winter in a northern city, it’s warm in there. If it’s Orlando in July, it’s nice and cool. I can’t quite figure this one out. Who goes to the airport to sit down and have a meal at Outback? Is it only for the folks whose connecting flight is four hours away? And who actually books two flights in one day with a super-long layover time? Your friendly neighborhood masocist?
Restaurants, bars and retail shops must nevertheless make big bucks at airports, because there are tons of them in every one I visit, everywhere in the country. The airport as shopping mall. And who said this recession has left consumers with their wallets closed?
The same could be said for the airlines. I can remember the days when you would actually get a pretty decent meal, for free. It was complimentary, to ensure you keep flying with them and not the competition.
Then I remember how that transitioned into a crummy little meal for free. Then it became some crackers and pretzels for free. In the zeal to keep the ticket prices accessible to the widest possible economic groups, all fringe benefits have gone the way of the black and white TV set and the typewriter. I cringe at the day when airlines start charging to use the restrooms.
I just flew on Delta. The plane left on time, they showed a movie, and I got two free drinks – though I have to ask, does airline coffee always have to be this bad?
Now Delta gives you menus to look over – “EATS,” the menu is called. From 5 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., the airline will let you buy breakfast, with the choice of a Breakfast on the Fly (a fruit and nut bar with yogurt) for $3.50, a Fruit and Cheese Plate for $6.75, or a Breakfast BLT Wrap for $6.50. I missed the breakfast hour, so my lunch choices included that Fruit and Cheese Plate again, a Chicken Salad Sandwich ($8.50) and a Kids PB&J Plate for $4.50. Quite the menu.
Even more interesting, I thought, were the drink options: a $7 Margaritaville Margarita, or such $7 “Spirits” as Bacardi Rum, Bailey’s Irish Cream Cordial, Dewar’s Scotch, or Skyy Vodka. I suppose that’s one way to make the flight go faster. I stuck with the bad coffee.
It’s easy to complain about paying for dinky overpriced sandwiches when you’re otherwise pleased to get an affordable ticket price, happy to see your plane leave on schedule, and quite ecstatic not to have crashed along the way. It’s just odd to see airports and airlines alike get into the dining business, letting you visit your favorite restaurants once you’ve clawed your way through security, and letting you get drunk on Tequila or Canadian Club Reserve Whisky during the flight, assuming you don’t want to dine instead on Old Wisconsin Beef Salami Slices or Partners Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Crackers. To each his own.
As for me, I’m old-fashioned. I prefer a restaurant on Winter Park’s Park Avenue, savoring my meal while watching the pedestrian traffic of window shoppers right outside to hitting an airport restaurant and watching the frenzied look of weary, half-awake travelers dragging three or four oversized bags as they rush frantically to their gate. Too many bad memories for me watching that one.
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