Turning Fliers into Buyers Detroit Metro is the latest airport to strike a balance between moving planes and moving merchandise.
By Thomas Mucha

(Business 2.0) – Few air travelers willingly spent much time or money at the old Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. It was a textbook example of what was wrong with airport design: crowded, cramped, and dirty. Stores and eateries were merely outposts of last resort for grabbing a cling-wrapped sandwich or an overpriced pack of Tums during a mad dash to the gate. Retail space was an afterthought.

But today's airport planners recognize that they have something no mall can ever hope to attract: a captive audience. Passengers typically wait around for two hours before a flight, about twice as long as they did before post-9/11 security procedures were instituted. As architects discovered through pioneering airports in Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., if you give people attractive options, they will indeed spend more. Airport retail is still small--the 81 highest-grossing U.S. airports bring in $3.5 billion a year, compared with a whopping $1.23 trillion for all retail outlets and shopping centers in the country--but it is efficient. Airport stores average $1,000 in annual sales per square foot, approximately three times what shops at enclosed malls take in.

Detroit's new concourse, which opened in February 2002, is one of the latest airport spaces to take full advantage of fliers cooling their jets. The mile-long terminal--with a name to match, the Edward H. McNamara Terminal/Northwest WorldGateway--packs in 69 shops and restaurants among 97 gates. An open layout and visible tram system provide travelers quick access to their gates, which encourages them to kill time shopping and eating. How's it working? Detroit Metro tied for second in the United States in the latest J.D. Power passenger satisfaction survey (after years at the bottom), and a typical traveler now spends $4.91 at the airport, 29 percent more than at the old terminal. -- THOMAS MUCHA