To be fair to Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley, he did not tell DAA chief executive Dalton Philips during the Oireachtas transport committee hearing on Wednesday that he ran a “department store glorified”. He claimed that Philips was “more interested” in operating one and “more interested in the retail offering” than the entire aviation part of the business.
The theory is understandable. Airports have always been inordinately proud of their retail ‘offers’, taking advantage of the high-end image of any ‘luxury’ names they manage to attract. Sure, most non-business passengers don’t want $300 sunglasses, they want a Penneys holiday shop conveniently located near their door, but never mind. We’ll get by with sufficiently chilled water, a giant bag of Haribo Starmix, and maybe the odd gift that can survive take-off in an overhead locker.
Philips, which was due to leave for Greencore soon, came to DAA from retail. He is ex-Walmart, ex-Brown Thomas and ex-Morrisons, where he once found himself on the verge of receiving the public’s wrath from the late Ken Morrison, its former chairman and son of the supermarket chain’s founder, who said at his 2014 agm, “I’ve got something like 1,000 oxen and after listening to your presentation, Dalton, you’ve got a lot more bullshit than me.”
The members of the Oireachtas transport committee were kind to Philips in comparison. But despite recent failings in the airport system, Dooley’s remark seems a bit of a stretch, if only because it would be an insult to department stores to conclude that Dublin Airport was ‘glorified’.
If Philips was more interested in its commercial offer, wouldn’t that be better? These days, even souvenir shops look like jaded facsimiles of themselves. As for WH Smith, well, it’s not the best of British imports – in 2019 a survey by Which? the magazine voted it the worst chain on the British high street, citing “crampy and messy” stores.
As the chaotic non-processing of passengers shows, airports bear the scars of the pandemic in every corner. The disappointing retail experience, for those making it airside with time for more than a frantic restroom stop, is no exception. Anyone trying to get out of Dublin Airport this summer can avoid disappointment by stocking up on reading materials and Tic Tacs in advance, then reducing any remaining waits. If your flight takes off with you, you’ll be fine.