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Concessions revenue from food, beverage, retail and services at U.S. airports hit $1.5 billion in 2011, up 12 percent from the year before, according to Airports Council International-North America, which represents the vast majority of governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports.

At O’Hare, where once there was little more than hot dogs and souvenir shops, domestic terminals are now dotted with restaurants led by celebrity chefs such as Rick Bayless, piano bars, and a tranquil aeroponic herb garden — a miniature forest of green on a quiet mezzanine level.

“It’s pretty amazing. … I didn’t expect that to be here,” said grad student David Janesko, 30, reading a book in a comfy lounge chair beside the garden on his way to see family in Pittsburgh.