As amenities sit unused, airports reconsider their design

Airports have some of the most lucrative square footage in the world, but the pandemic has crushed that calculus.

It’s difficult to tell whether Singapore Changi Airport is an entertainment complex or an airport.

Changi features a three-screen movie theatre, an indoor butterfly garden, a rooftop pool and inventive eateries that attract as many locals as travelers.

With more than 400 shops, including Apple and Tiffany & Co. (there are two), the Changi Airport would be the fourth-largest mall by the number of tenants if it were in the United States.

An audience that is both captive and often affluent has made airport commercial square footage some of the most lucrative in the world. But the pandemic has crushed the commercial calculus at airports, and no one is sure what comes next.

The leading airport for concession and retail sales in the United States is Los Angeles International, with revenue of US$3,036 a square foot, according to a 2018 report from Airport Experience News. Chicago O’Hare clocks in second with US$2,718 in sales a square foot. By comparison, the average mall retailer is around US$325 per square foot, according to 2017 data from CoStar.

But that’s all gone now, said Alan Gluck, a senior aviation consultant at ICF.

“In general, sales are in the toilet,” Gluck said. For example, concession sales at San Francisco International Airport in May were down 96 per cent from a year earlier. Duty-free concession sales were down 100 per cent, he said, because all the stores were closed. In May 2019, duty-free sales were US$11.5 million.

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