More COVID-19 relief for airport concessionaires, taxis moves forward

People wait for their luggage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, May 9, 2021.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

People wait for their luggage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, May 9, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Measures to extend COVID-19 relief for airport restaurateurs, shops and taxi drivers at Hartsfield-Jackson International is moving forward.

Two Atlanta City Council committees voted in favor of a measure Wednesday to extend rent relief for airport concessionaires for 18 months until June 30, 2022.

The relief measures will go to the full council for a vote.

The pandemic has been a drag on airport businesses and drove hundreds of restaurants and shops in the terminals and concourses to temporarily close. By April 2020, about 300 of the airport’s 340 concessions had closed, but many have since reopened. About 90 are still temporarily shuttered.

“Now that they’re looking at resuming operations, we want to continue with this relief,” said Hartsfield-Jackson interim general manager Balram Bheodari.

The relief would reduce rent due through the 18-month period and further offset rent through federal relief funding for concessionaires. Airport officials have said they aim to use the federal relief funding to reduce concessions rent to zero.

Rent due from concessionaires from July 2022 through June 2023 would also be adjusted.

The airport is also reducing concessionaires’ parking fees and suspending fees for marketing and storage.

Council member Amir Farokhi asked about the reason for the length of relief, pointing to a rapid increase in air travel in recent weeks with big crowds expected for Memorial Day weekend, adding that rent relief for 18 months “may be out of sync with a return to traffic.”

But Bheodari said if the airport only did month-to-month extensions, concessionaires without a longer-term commitment from the airport may not want to invest in inventory or hiring to reopen and continue operating.

“We are very aggressive with our financial relief for our concessionaires,” he said, adding that he does not want concessions to shutter without the airport being prepared.

Bheodari said the airport later this year plans to contract out for new concessions locations, as well as for concessions to replace airport smoking rooms that closed to comply with a city smoke-free ordinance.

The airport also plans to move forward with a massive contracting effort for concessions across the airport as existing concessionaires’ contracts expire. Hartsfield-Jackson had started a process to do so before the pandemic, but canceled the procurement last year after COVID-19 caused a steep drop in travel, and it extended contracts for existing concessionaires.

For taxi drivers, Hartsfield-Jackson plans to continue to allow the use of vehicles up to 10 years old through 2021, instead of the previous age limit of 7 years.

“The taxicab industry continues to experience severe hardship due to the pandemic and low passenger activity,” the airport says in documents submitted to the city council, adding that taxicab company owners cannot afford to buy new vehicles at this time. The measure, which the transportation committee voted in favor of sending on for a full vote to city council, “will ensure an adequate supply of taxis to meet any potential increase in demand as the economy continues to rebound.”

While Uber and Lyft also offer rides at the airport, some seeking to use those rideshare services have encountered long waits and higher surge prices. Uber has offered a $1,000 signup bonus to drivers after losing many due to concerns about safety and lack of demand last year.