Atlanta airport restaurant prices to be monitored

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

If the prices at airport restaurants seem high to you, you’re not alone.

A city of Atlanta audit found that while Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is generally effective in managing its concessions, it hasn’t been consistent in checking restaurant prices to ensure they comply with the airport’s standards.

Just how much is too much to charge for airport food? The Atlanta airport’s standard is that airport restaurant and eatery prices should be no more than 10 percent higher than prices at street locations of the same or similar restaurants.

But for the past eight years the airport hasn’t had a contractor to monitor the “street plus 10 percent” standard.

The result, according to the city audit: A sampling of a small portion of menu prices showed that about half of the 22 items checked had prices that were more than 10 percent higher than local prices.

Examples, according to the audit report: An Asian chopped chicken salad that typically goes for $7.49 costs $9.29 at the airport. A combo meal with a local price of $6.76 costs $7.99 at the airport. A chicken entree that costs $8.69 at a local store costs $9.99 at the airport.

Concessionaires initially submit their prices for approval when they start their contracts, but after that the airport “relies on other concessionaires to monitor their competition’s prices or their own personal recall of prices,” according to the audit report.

The 22 items sampled were not a statistical sample, but were instead done during an airport walk-through, according to city auditor Leslie Ward. The airport “was unable to provide the approved prices” for the menu prices reviewed, so it’s unclear whether the prices were out of compliance.

“We simply reported it as an observation and recommended better monitoring for compliance,” according to Ward.

Hartsfield-Jackson acknowledged that from 2008 to 2016 it did not have a contract for monitoring prices, and that work was done in house “with limited assigned personnel.” At the same time, Hartsfield-Jackson notes that monitoring prices “requires constant vigilance on the part of the airport.”

The airport recently struck a contract with Evaluation Systems for Personnel Inc. for $340,000 to conduct at least 300 market basket pricing surveys a year.

According to airport documents for the contract: “There is a distinct perception among the public that airports are overcharging.”

Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie said the airport can fine concessionaires who overprice and “force them to change their prices so it’s in line.” He said the airport will also work with the contractor to determine prices of staple items like bottled water.

“We want to ensure we have someone in place to have constant oversight of pricing,” McCranie said. “People who are shopping here at the airport want to ensure they’re not being gouged.”

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