Why the food at the Philly airport has never been better

The falafel was crispy on the outside, folded into warm pita with char lines from a grill, and accompanied by a crunchy green salad. Baristas standing before a pristine wall of white subway tiles poured hot La Colombe coffee. Steamed shrimp dumplings were juicy and firm in translucent wrappers alongside a bowl of vegetable ramen with edamame, seaweed, and a soft egg. Sunlight poured in from windows on all sides, the departing gate was steps away, and outlets for phone charging were everywhere.

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Seasoned travelers can summon memories of Philadelphia International Airport as it was decades ago: the dark, ill-lit corridors, grim terminals, yellowed fluorescent lights, and palettes of brown and gray. As renovations have started taking the terminals away from the atmosphere of the old PHL, executives say the infusion of new eateries is a crucial step toward shaking off the airport’s age-old reputation as one of the nation’s worst.

“What we’ve always heard is people get here early,” James Tyrrell, chief revenue officer of PHL, said as he stood in the newly renovated Terminal B. “So many of those people — everyone from families going to Disney World to business travelers to young people with disposable income — they end up with extra time here, and they want choices. They haven’t always had that.”

 In Terminal B, much of the gate seating has been replaced with high-top tables and chairs, and bars were moved right into the waiting areas at some gates. Instead of cramming into plastic chairs that put them shoulder-to-shoulder with other travelers, passengers can order drinks and food from cushioned stools, charge phones and laptops, pay with touchscreens without waiting for checks, and order to-go meals. Vegan and vegetarian options are plentiful, and drinks can be customized using a range of liquor.

“It’s a modern setup,” Tyrrell said. “People don’t want to sit next to each other in those traditional gate seats, but they will here. It creates a whole different environment. People interact with each other more, like you’d see in a bar.”

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