The $18 Airport Salad

Posted in At the Terminal, Domestic US, LAX

How much should a salad cost? $5? $10? $100?

“Should” is a dangerous game to play. Free-market economists would tell you that salads should cost as much as the market is willing to pay. At Terminal 4 in LAX, Campanile is charging $18 for a salad (plus tax) and the market seems prepared to pay it. One writer over at Jaunted is very, very upset about this. The salad in question? Campanile’s Whole Leaf Caesar Salad with red onion, shaved parmesan, garlic croutons, cracked black pepper, and chicken. To be fair, the salad costs only $14 without the chicken. You don’t even get a bunch of ingredients in there. It’s just a Caesar salad with chicken.

The writer of the article goes into price-gouging and how we enable airport vendors to charge higher prices once we get past security because we willingly pay those prices without a major protest. He mentions that we have to fight back and Phoenix Sky Harbor is setting the right example by offering food that has no mark-up over what it costs at the non-airport version of the restaurant. Here’s the thing, though… that salad? It costs exactly as much as it did when Campanile had a brick and mortar restaurant. Crazy, right? This guy’s outraged, but at the same time his points are all rendered moot by the actual facts.

I’m not defending a salad that costs this much. I, for one, wouldn’t spend that money for lettuce and dressing with a few extras thrown in, but that’s not to say that other people (*cough* business travelers with expense accounts *cough*) wouldn’t think twice about dropping that money for a well-made salad with high quality ingredients.

The topic of paying what amounts to a Traveler Tax just because you’re eating inside an airport is a contentious one. I’ve never understood why vendors get to overcharge in comparison to other locations, but in this case, there’s no overcharging. That’s just the cost of the salad — at LAX or anywhere else. Does that make it right? No. Does that mean there’s less to quibble about? You better believe it.

If you don’t want to pay $18 for a chicken Caesar salad, don’t order it. We all are imbued with the inalienable right to pick and choose what we spend our money on and if you’d rather spend that money on a neck pillow that you’ll inevitably throw away soon after you land, then so be it.

Would you pay $18 for a salad at an airport? Let me know in the comments.


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  1. I actually CAN understand a slight premium charged in airport locations versus off-airport spots. I mean, there are additional expenses to running a restaurant at an airport that are not incurred off-airport: FAA background checks for all employees, airport badging fees, employee parking expenses, etc. You also have to use airport approved suppliers, so there could be additional expense in that. That can reasonably equate to a higher price than you’d find in a chain’s other locations. Of course those markups in many cases seem to defy reasonability, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect exactly the same prices.

    • I agree with you, HunnerWoof. I accept slightly higher prices for the added overhead costs. I don’t, however, understand that MASSIVE price increases. McDonalds is a great example of this. A Quarter Pounder extra value meal costs $1.50 more at LAX than at the closest McDonalds outside the terminal. Multiply that by the number of customers ordering every day and the extra overhead is not only paid for, it becomes a major profit center. Including the price of doing business into products is reasonable, but only to a certain extent. This salad, though, doesn’t even have the overhead added in — perhaps because it was already overpriced to begin with?

      • Absolutely, the term “reasonable” is key to my opinion. And, the salad is just a case of what is often too typical of LA’s “aspirational” food scene. Overpriced nothing that somehow that somehow takes off just by virtue of its hubris.

  2. We are discussing food here where unless you are connecting through that airport you have the option to bring your food from home. I am not suggesting people start bringing their own salad from home to eat on the plane but I want to touch on another point here. Let’s talk about bottled water. 🙂 You can go to Costco and buy 35 bottles of mineral water for $4.35. Since we are not allowed to bring our own water passing TSA we have two options: drink the metal taste water from airport water fountain or pay $4.50 for 1 bottle of mineral water. Well, I guess that $18 salad is not so bad when compared to the price we pay for water. The point here is that TSA has their rules and I get that they are trying to ensure we are safe. However, they are enabling airports to rip us off with crazy prices at a situation where we don’t have an option. Same with airlines. They decided to not serve food as part of their service on planes. Well, you can bring your own and stink the entire plane or buy a $18 salad on the airport or survive on a small bag of peanuts. We just flew to Hawaii with two young kids. From SEA to HNL is almost 7 hours and if you are in coach you get peanuts. You have no choice with kids to either bring your own food or spend a fortune at the airport before you take off.

    • Water prices at airport are definitely egregious, although I bring an empty bottle with me and fill it up past security. At some airports, like O’Hare in Chicago, they actually have those great new water fountains that accommodate water bottles. I don’t find the water to taste much different than it does at home.

    • I agree, the price for water is a bit much, but not quite as egregious as you suggest (not sure comparing airport to Costco is fair). Look at bottled water in a convenience store, you will generally pay about $2.50 per bottle unless they have some deal going on. Again, it’s about the convenience, or in the case of the airport it’s about the lame security policy. As Jason pointed out, more and more airports are installing water bottle refill stations in an effort to reduce plastic bottle consumption, and the water is generally as good as what I get from the tap at home.

      Now, as for food on planes, you open a whole different can of worms than overpriced airport fare. Airplane food is one of those “cant wins.” People will whine when they get it (and it tastes like garbage) and whine when they don’t get it. I don’t see the issue with having to tote your own snacks onto a flight, especially with kids. I mean, really? Your small kids are going to eat and enjoy whatever garbage the airline would be serving? Your kids must be in the top 1% then from my experience, as most tots have pretty picky palates and preferences and wouldn’t touch an airplane meal with a 10 foot pole. So, pack some granola bars, crackers, chips, trail mix, PB sandwiches and even some sweet treats. Cheaper. Better. And not that difficult. This is easily done for flights other than long international hauls, and in those cases crappy meals are still provided.

      A much better option than forcing a transportation company to become a caterer, which usually provides pretty dismal and disappointing results.

  3. @HunnerWoof: Sorry I probably did not explain correct. My kids are not allowed to eat airline garbage food if we travel on coach. They eat if we fly business class. I totally agree that airline food is terrible. My point here is related to having a 7 hours flight from SEA to HNL and not serve anything. In that case if you are connecting to that flight (which was my case) unless you bring lots of snacks you will have to pay the $18/salad at the airport. Our total travel time considering two flights and layover was well over12 hours so not much snacks can handle in that case. We ended up paying $10 for a individual size pizza at the airport that was terrible but kids were hungry and did not want snacks anymore.

    Regarding the water, my point is that if TSA rules allowed me to bring my own water I would get one from my house that I bought at Costco which cost me $0.12/bottle instead of paying $4.50 at the airport. Sometimes I am traveling for business and the last thing I will remember to bring is an empty bottle of water to fill after security. In that case I pay the $4.50 and expense it 🙂

  4. Like you said, his argument goes out the window when you realize that’s what the salad cost in the regular restaurant.

    That said, there are plenty of airports that overcharge for crappy food (I’m looking at you, OAK), which is why I really appreciate airports that 1) have a great food selection and 2) charge the same prices as outside the airport. PDX was one of the first to do this (if not the first), and PHX has followed suit. Leaving PHX in the evening is much more pleasant when I know I can go to La Grande Orange, Four Peaks, or Cartel Coffee on the way out.

  5. The point is moot when we all know what the prices are and what we can or can’t bring through security. Unless you’re a complete virgin to airports and flying, most of the known world is familiar with no liquids through security and anything past security is going to be jacked up to ridiculous prices. It’s called capitalism. Is it fair? Yes. Is it price gouging? Yes. But they must get a crowd or they couldn’t afford the rent in an airport for their food/water selling. You bring an empty bottle and a small bottle of concentrated Crystal Light stuff to squirt in your water and tada! you have flavored water the way you like. You can bring in your own ingredients to make a cesar salad, just make sure each is under 3 oz. and pre-packaged salad dressing from McDonalds. Heck, buy some lunchables from the store. Perfect size and pre-packaged to make security happy. Now you have all the food you could eat. Traveling should be a fun challenge, not a whine-fest.

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