Jan. 15--With the opening of a new spa at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport last week, travelers have yet another high-end option for their time and money.
Sure, there's still N.C. barbecue, fast food and little plastic souvenirs. But increasingly, airports in Charlotte and around the country are adding ritzy shops, fancy restaurants and more lavish things to do.
Like, for instance, relaxing in a soothing, dimly lit oxygen lounge, or getting a 55-minute private massage ($95). Those services -- as well as manicures, pedicures and other spa staples -- are now available at Terminal Gateway on Concourse D.
In Charlotte, the new spa follows the opening last year of a wine bar. Last month, Palm One, a high-tech electronics store, replaced a store that used to sell candy -- and is expected to gross four times as much as the candy store did.
"The retail is becoming a little more upscale," says airport director Jerry Orr. He said the airport and its concessionaire, HMSHost, have made great strides in increasing the variety and popularity of food offerings but see room for growth on the retail side.
Charlotte's airport has not traditionally been a place where travelers spend big money. Of the top airports in the country, Charlotte ranked No. 40 in the amount of airport sales per passenger boarded, according to a survey by trade publication Airport Revenue News. The average Charlotte passenger spends $5.51 at the airport, the survey found.
Airports at the top of the list -- Pittsburgh, Newark and New York's JFK, where customers spend on average twice as much -- typically have separate retail sections and upscale stores. Pittsburgh's Airmall -- typically credited with creating the first airport-as-shopping-mall -- has about twice as many shops as Charlotte, including Brooks Brothers, GAP and Victoria's Secret.
A little over a year ago, JFK opened a mall on Terminal 4 with fashion and jewelry boutiques. One retailer there even sells Hermes ties and Ferragamo shoes.
Airport retailing has a chance to succeed where it didn't before because people are spending more time at airports. With new security measures following the 9-11 attacks, travelers are arriving sooner. And some have long waits for connecting flights.
At the Charlotte airport's new spa, co-owner Marko Iglendza said one of the first people to walk through the doors was a man who had a four-hour layover in Charlotte after flying in from the Caribbean.
There are a few challenges to operating a shop at the airport, Iglendza says, such as getting the most use out of the spa's 1,100 square feet, a more confined space than a typical spa. Iglendza and his partner also wanted to offer close shaves using straight razors, but airport security regulations don't permit such razors past security.
Still, he says he thinks the service will be a hit.
Check Fares at Both Sites
US Airways confirmed last week that prices on its flights can sometimes be cheaper when bought through its predecessor company, America West (www.americawest.com
The two airlines merged in September, but the merging of their computerized reservations systems is expected to take at least another year. In the meantime, the company is selling seats using two different systems, which do not update changes at exactly the same time, said US Airways spokesman Carlo Bertolini.
He was unable to say how often there are discrepancies between US Airways' Web site (www.usairways.com
) and America West's, but said such differences "are the exception and not the rule."
One night last week, Travelocity.com listed a fare for travel from Charlotte to Washington in mid-February that was $100 cheaper booking through America West than it was through US Airways.
The differences have also been noted on frequent-flier Web sites.
Best advice: Check prices quoted by both reservation systems before buying. Tony
New shops, restaurants and services are landing at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, a sign that airport retail is strong despite the post-Sept. 11, 2001, shakeout, US Airways woes, high energy...
A four-year-long retrenchment in Pittsburgh has left Charlotte as the largest hub in the US Airways network, with more than 500 daily departures and 121 nonstop destinations.
As airlines have stopped serving meals and even snacks, airport concessions are evolving. Airports are beefing up to-go options, selling more snacks and even seeing a boon in sit-down restaurants.
Because Charlotte/Douglas International is a hub airport, there's less competition, and less competition translates to higher prices.