Some airport restaurants and shops still closed amid labor shortage

Job seekers meet with recruiters at ATL Airport Career Fair at Georgia International Convention Center on June 20. Airport concessionaires are having difficulty hiring enough workers to reopen all the shops and restaurants. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Job seekers meet with recruiters at ATL Airport Career Fair at Georgia International Convention Center on June 20. Airport concessionaires are having difficulty hiring enough workers to reopen all the shops and restaurants. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

More than a quarter of concessions in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remained closed last week despite the airport pushing for them to reopen by Aug. 1 to serve the growing crowds of travelers.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused most to shut down as travel plummeted last year. About 110 of the 385 restaurants and shops remain closed in late July, according to Hartsfield-Jackson. That’s a slight improvement from a month ago.

On Monday afternoon Aug. 2, multiple restaurants and eateries in the terminal remained shuttered.

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Some concessions at Hartsfield-Jackson remain closed.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Some concessions at Hartsfield-Jackson remain closed.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Combined ShapeCaption
Some concessions at Hartsfield-Jackson remain closed.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Airport officials say they expect all stores to resume operations. But how quickly that will happen remains to be seen.

Concessionaires are struggling to hire enough workers to fully reopen amid a tight labor market and face the challenge of also hiring enough workers to have backups for those who call in sick. That’s a particularly prominent risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when exposure to the virus can require quarantining.

The shuttered storefronts have led to long waits at the locations that are open, frustrating some travelers looking for food, particularly those rushing to connect between flights with limited in-flight service.

Concessionaires who endured financial struggles when travel plummeted are hoping for leniency in the airport deadline.

Airport management has “had frequent conversations with the concessionaires” about the problems of reopening, said Hartsfield-Jackson assistant general manager Myrna White. She said airport management is “willing to look at all options that are on the table.”

“We are fully cognizant of the challenges they’re having,” White said. “This is a national issue.”

Hartsfield-Jackson is hosting monthly job fairs this summer. The most recent fair on July 27-28 drew about 700 job seekers. Past job fairs have attracted thousands, but hiring managers said the smaller job fair drew candidates that were a better fit for the positions.

Some companies made on-the-spot offers to candidates, many of whom are getting multiple offers. That adds to delays as companies then must wait to hear back about which offer the person accepted. Hartsfield-Jackson plans to hold its next job fair Aug. 25 at the airport.