- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Airline passengers who show up early to pass through strict new security checkpoints are giving big sales boosts to airport restaurants and shops.
After check-in, many passengers pass the time waiting for their flights by grabbing a hamburger at McDonald's or peanuts and a magazine at a newsstand.
Although the number of passengers is down nationwide by 12.9 percent from a year ago, retail sales at airports in the Washington area are up as much as 9.2 percent.
"The bottom line is that even though there are less people traveling, they are spending more time and more money in airports once they get there," said Sonya Buckman, spokeswoman for the Hudson Group Retail Specialists Inc., which manages the Hudson News store at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. She did not have sales figures for the store.
At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where the number of passengers has dropped about 26 percent from a year earlier to 1.1 million in March, "retail sales are doing great," said Matt Ehrie, general manager for Westfield Concession Management Inc. The company manages stores at Reagan and Washington Dulles International airports.
"Some of the new security procedures require people to get here early," Mr. Ehrie said. "The dwell times in the airport have increased, and that certainly helps out the retail sales. It's certainly helped retail get back on its feet."
Retail sales at Reagan Airport are up 9.2 percent in April compared with a year earlier.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the airport was closed for 23 days and reopened in phases during the next seven months.
The number of passengers nationwide in the second half of September dropped by about 50 percent while airlines racked up multibillion-dollar losses. Passengers have returned gradually but still represent only a little more than 87 percent of their numbers before September 11.
Airport retail and food sales were sluggish for the first six months after the attacks both locally and nationally. Sales rebounded faster than the number of passengers.
Federal regulations require that all baggage be searched for bombs or weapons by the end of this year. While most in the airline industry worry about longer passenger delays, Mr. Ehrie sees more profit ahead.
"It sounds like with some of the new security procedures, dwell times might increase again," he said.
Other airports report similar results.
Bill Casey, general manager of Dulles Airport operations for HMSHost Corp., said food and beverage sales were strong. "At Dulles, our capture is definitely up," he said. "We're serving more customers."
From mid-April through mid-May, food and beverage sales at the airport rose 5 percent from a year earlier.
Retail sales also have increased. "Year to date, we're up 3.8 percent," said Stephanie Powers, general manager for Westfield Concessions Management's retail sales at Dulles Airport. "Overall, things are fine."
Most of the sales are by passengers who have been screened through checkpoints, in what airport personnel call "post-security" areas, said David Milobsky, HMSHost spokesman. The "pre-security" areas, or parts of the airport that do not require screening, have not experienced the same increases in sales.
"To play it safe, people are arriving at the airport earlier, and they try to get through security as soon as possible," Mr. Milobsky said. "They're getting through security faster than they anticipated, and it gives them more time to shop or grab a bite to eat."
The increased food and retail sales run opposite to the trend in passenger numbers at Dulles Airport, which are down 8.7 percent compared with a year earlier. About 1.4 million passengers used Dulles in March, the last month figures were reported.
Bethesda-based HMSHost Corp., the nation's largest airport concessions manager, is reporting solid sales.
"Our first-quarter results were better than we expected, and I think the dwell times have a lot to do with that," Mr. Milobsky said. The company manages food and beverage concessions at all three major airports in the Washington area.


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