$27 beers push New York airports to crack down on food, bar prices

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An investigation by the transportation authority that oversees three New York City-area airports confirmed customers had paid as much as $27 for a beer at LaGuardia Airport over the past year, leading the organization to announce stronger measures for protecting consumers.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said in a news release Thursday that it was tightening the “street pricing” policy that keeps concessions prices comparable to prices outside airports. The revised policy also caps surcharges at 10 percent. The authority regulates LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.

After investigating a traveler complaint posted on social media in July, the Office of Inspector General for the airport authority reported that concessions operator OTG violated its policy. The OIG found 25 patrons were charged ​​” totally indefensible amounts” of $23 or $27, depending on the size of the beer, in Terminal C at LaGuardia.

The beer that prompted the audit was a 23-ounce Sam Adams Summer Ale that cost $27.85, The City reported. The review found some beer prices included “an erroneously added surcharge on top of an inflated base price.” OTG also operates airport concessions in cities including D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston.

The OIG said the vendor has contacted customers and refunded their checks. The OIG also determined that some parts of the policy’s previous version were not specific enough, and it needed revisions for clarity to be successfully enforced. The agency has released a revised, 35-page guide for vendors.

“All airport customers should rightly expect that policies which limit the pricing of food and beverages at concessions will be followed and enforced,” Port Authority chairman Kevin O’Toole said in the release. “Nobody should have to fork over such an exorbitant amount for a beer. The Aviation Department’s new compliance and enforcement measures announced today make it crystal clear that all prices at concessions will be routinely monitored to ensure they are aligned with the regional marketplace.”

The new guidance includes thorough instructions on how to set prices for products based on comparable averages in the area, along with other measures — such as random price checks by the port authority — to bolster monitoring and compliance.

“This evolution of the street pricing policy represents months of rigorous work by the Aviation Department with the assistance of the Inspector General to put in place the procedures necessary to make it successful,” Port Authority chief operating officer Huntley Lawrence said in the release. “Ultimately, this success ensures two objectives: that airport customers are not overcharged for the goods they purchase; and that concessionaires have a reasonable chance to thrive even as they face higher operating costs than off-airport businesses.”

The bi-state agency encouraged anyone suspecting price violations to report them on social media and tag the airport.