Airport food delivery apps make it easier to buy and fly

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The Airport Sherpa app debuted at Baltimore-Washington Airport last month.

Two new apps are bringing airports into the modern world of on-demand delivery service.

Airport Sherpa, which launched this month at Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI), and AtYourGate, which is slated for an August launch at San Diego Airport, will provide food and retail delivery to their customers' gates. Better yet, customers can order from any terminal in the airport, meaning they can enjoy food from their favorite restaurant in a given airport no matter which airline they are flying.

"Our goal is to help facilitate travel and make it a little better," said David Henninger, the president and cofounder of AtYourGate.

He compared the service his company will offer to delivery apps such as GrubHub and Postmates, to which many consumers have grown accustomed outside the confines of an airport.

But once inside a terminal, Henninger said, flyers still have little choice but to leave their gate and go stand in line for food, a magazine or whatever else they might like.

"And you're stressed and you're anxious about when is the plane going to leave? And will there be a gate change? And do I have time to do all this?" he said.

Airport Sherpa was first to launch, and company cofounder Patrick DellaValle said the July 11 rollout went smoothly.

On day one, the app was working with approximately 35 of the restaurants and shops in BWI, which is about half the total number; more have been signing on each week, he said.

Airport Sherpa promises to deliver food within 15 to 45 minutes, and the app is programmed to know when a flight is delayed, a gate location is changed or a connection is altered. The app also enables users to order food for pickup or delivery up to a week in advance.

The AtYourGate service will soon debut at San Diego Airport.
The AtYourGate service will soon debut at San Diego Airport.

At BWI, Airport Sherpa is partnering with Fraport USA, known until recently as AirMall, which runs the airport's retail concessions. Airport Sherpa said it plans to expand to between 10 and 15 other major U.S. airports by the end of 2018. Among them will likely be other airports that Fraport serves, including Boston Logan, Cleveland Hopkins and Pittsburgh, DellaValle said.

Air Sherpa delivery fees range from $3.99 to $7.99, depending on the distance from the vendor to the recipient. DellaValle said he expects Air Sherpa to do about 70% of its business in food, with the remainder coming from retail items.

AtYourGate expected to be live in San Diego by the end of August, in a second U.S. airport by the end of the year, and in at least six more next year.

The company is promising a delivery time of 30 to 45 minutes, and when a flight is delayed, AtYourGate will check with customers to see if they would like delivery to be held until shortly before boarding.

Delivery will cost $6.99 per order, but for that fee, AtYourGate can bring food and retail items from more than one vendor.

One notable difference between AtYourGate and Airport Sherpa is that AtYourGate has partnered with the app Grab, which already provides mobile ordering for pickup service at 18 U.S. airports, including San Diego. That means that AtYourGate customers will feel like they are doing business with Grab from a consumer-interface standpoint. To make a delivery order at participating airports, they'll download and use the Grab app.

Travel technology analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research said he expects gate delivery services to be well received both by the traveling public and by airport vendors, assuming that the logistics of making deliveries within the sometimes-challenging environment of an airport are well handled.

The apps, he said, will open up a wider variety of eating options to travelers and also conserve time for business travelers who like to get work done during a layover.

"We sit at the gate because we are concerned about our flight or because that is where the power outlet is," Harteveldt said. "With these new services, gate time is no longer downtime."

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