You’ve likely seen pictures of empty concourses and TSA lines as global air travel grinds to a near-halt with airplanes being parked in the desert and some carriers transitioning to hauling cargo. All this hasn’t resulted in a total shutdown of airport retail and restaurant operations in most cities, as janitors, gate agents, security personnel and other airport staff continue to eat—with social distancing—even as passenger volume plummets.
Third-party airport delivery provider At Your Gate has seen some employees choosing to stay at home, but founder and CEO P.J. Mastracchio said the brand was still operating at near 75 percent of its pre-crisis volume. With most business and personal travel now canceled, he added that current sales are coming primarily from airport employees, as well as airlines like Delta placing orders for staffers that it’s trying to keep happy, healthy and well-fed amid the pandemic.
“We were down only 25 percent last week, in large part because our employee customer base is so big,” Mastraccio said. “They don’t want to leave the breakroom and go into the airport, so there’s only pickup … so they order ahead and we bring it to them.”
In response to the crisis, At Your Gate has waived delivery fees at some of the 10 North American airports it operates within and implemented no-contact protocols for the protection of its staff and customers. It has also launched a variety of promotions aimed at driving whatever volume still remains, while also expanding partnerships with certain credit card, rental car agencies and airport concessionaires.
With most large third-party delivery services avoiding the airport restaurant scene and its largest competitor, D.C.-based Airport Sherpa, ceasing operations in recent weeks, At Your Gate now finds itself as a critical service to keep the meals flowing in airports that are reeling from across-the-board reductions in non-essential travel.
Looking into the future, Mastracchio expects the crisis to have a lasting impact on customer behavior, predicting there will be fewer airport restaurants in operation when things eventually return to normal. With At Your Gate—along with more traditional delivery brands—so heavily based on its workforce, the company is working hard to keep as many of its employees paid. He added that the government relief package is a huge boon to his operation, and will help ensure the company survives this current moment.
Beyond that, Mastracchio said it’s hard to forecast what comes next, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see some regional airports close, with larger hubs consolidating remaining flights into a smaller number of concourses.
He added that the situation at airports changes by the hour. Shortly after our interview last week, Mastracchio said the company has “paused” deliveries at the Newark, JFK and LaGuardia airports that have been most impacted by the desperate situation in New York.
“For us as a business long term, we’re here now in a time of need for others,” Mastracchio said, emphasizing that he does not view his brand as any sort of first responder. “People are hungry, we’re bringing them food, and we think that’s going to become more of the norm. I think [delivery] will become more of the norm, and we just need to weather the storm.”
Check out our previous story on At Your Gate, including its backstory and expansion plans.