The worldover, consumers are protesting over exorbitant ‘high-altitude pricing’ of food items at airports and demanding down-to-earth, affordable ‘street pricing’ at airport restaurants. And airports in many countries are responding.
In China, for example, the Shanghai Development and Reform Commission recently promised to make sure that the vendors at the two city airports — Shanghai and Hongqiao — slashed prices. Food chains operating in airports will soon offer prices that are comparable to the prices at city outlets, the commission promised.
Interestingly, the concept of bringing down skyrocketing prices of food items at airport restaurants was first introduced
in Pittsburgh in the US in the 1990s. As angry passengers expressed displeasure, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a local
newspaper, launched an aggressive campaign on the issue, forcing local authorities to respond.
When the authorities signed a contract with the company that would manage the airport concessions, they made sure that the contract contained a clause that made it mandatory for airport outlets to sell at ‘ street price’.
That was not all. The Allegheny Country Controller monitored these prices so stringently that the company overseeing the retail outlets had to offer a “no rip-off guarantee” to customers. Anyone who believed they had been overcharged could call a toll-free number and get a refund. Many US airports followed Pittsburgh.
In India too, airports have always been pricey when it comes to food. But in recent times, modernisation of the airports has not only meant paying user development fee, but also paying an exorbitant price for eating at the airports. And in most cases, it is not by choice, but out of sheer compulsion that passengers taking low-budget airlines or waiting for delayed flights pay through their nose.
This is nothing but sheer exploitation of the consumer and the government is a mute spectator.
In recent months, I have received a number of mails from readers complaining about the outrageous rates charged for soft drinks and foods. Says Chetan Pandit, who has been complaining against this: “Airports that facilitate air travel, are not a luxury, but a necessity. And those that run the facility have a duty to provide basic refreshments and food at reasonable prices.”
Is anyone listening?
(Puspa Girimaji Senior journalist, consumer affairs specialist)