It took a $27.85 beer—a Samuel Adams beer, no less—in order to get the attention of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, when it comes to price gouging at New York City area airports. That nearly $28 brew, and the resulting social media cascade as it first went viral in a consumer tweet back in July of 2021, caused the Port Authority to order an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, targeting OTG, the company that operates the restaurants and stores in the LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports. And according to the Port Authority, the above pricing was indeed “totally indefensible,” although OTG claims it was purely accidental.
“Based on a detailed review of the concessionaire’s records, the OIG determined that a total of 25 customers were charged the totally indefensible amounts of $23 or $27 (depending on size) for a beer,” said the Port Authority in a press release. “The OIG further confirmed that, as a corrective action, the concessionaire had contacted all 25 customers and refunded the entire check of their order.”
Of course, patrons have a bit of a hard time believing that a corporate behemoth “incorrectly” begins charging consumers $27.85 for a Sam Adams Summer Ale, or $10.90 for a corresponding order of French fries, rather than the reality being that they’re simply testing what they can get away with before being called out. And not to be forgotten here: The “correct” prices of $18.15 for the beer, and $8.45 for the fries would already be described as well past exorbitant on their own by almost any traveler not relying on a business expense account.
It should be no surprise, of course, that prices surged during the pandemic thanks to supply line issues. The Port Authority, which owns LaGuardia, JFK, Newark, Stewart and Teterboro aiports, likewise authorized substantial pricing increases in July of 2020, allowing vendors to add a 10% markup to items referred to as a “COVID recovery charge.” Now in mid-2022, the 10% markup remains in place. It’s unclear if it will ever be lifted, or if consumer prices on items such as beer could ever, in any reality, return to pre-pandemic levels.
As a result of the investigation, though, the Port Authority will at least be keeping a closer eye on the operations of OTG. The agency announced that it would be requiring concessionaires to conduct quarterly checks on their 40 most popular items, and would be conducting random checks of their own, with a goal of keeping pricing at the airports within 10% of “street pricing.”
I believe, however, that we’re speaking for most travelers when we say the following: We’ll believe it when we see it.