As reported last week by the Seattle Times, the addition of McDonald's to the restaurant roster at Sea-Tac would solve the airport's "longstanding hamburger problem." But fans of the fast food chain say the dearth of options now available to travelers seeking a breakfast sandwich is equally problematic.
"When I fly out of Seattle on business I stop at McDonald's for a Egg McMuffin on my way in and eat it on the airplane," an online commenter wrote after reading the Times' coverage of the Port of Seattle's decision to indefinitely table McDonald's proposal to move into a vacant space near the children's play area. Commissioners faulted the application for ignoring social-justice concerns.
McDonald's is so ubiquitous in American airports that its menu items have become integral to many fliers' standard travel routines: When Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this year kicked out McDonald's to make room for a a restaurant serving bison tartare, the local Business Journal reported the changeover provoked "some wailing and rending of garments." Still, a number of airports manage to get by without a McDonald's outlet, including three of the nation's ten biggest airports: The Golden Arches don't glow in Vegas, Charlotte or Phoenix.
But Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport is preparing to welcome McDonald's later this year, and quick-service biscuit specialists are already stationed in Las Vegas and Charlotte. Travelers at McCarran International Airport and Douglas International Airport can breakfast at Popeye's or Bojangles.
Travelers tend to be finicky about their morning meals: Robert Thibodeaux, a Delta frequent flier, told the Star Tribune that he always starts a flying day with a McDonald's sausage-and-egg biscuit. "The consistency in business travel is a really big thing," he said. "I can't afford to not be fed or have something that doesn't sit well."
Airport spokesman Perry Cooper contends the lack of Egg McMuffins at Sea-Tac shouldn't inconvenience passengers.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at Sea-Tac, where passenger traffic peaks between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. "Our busiest period is the morning every day, as we have nearly all of our gates with overnight aircraft waiting to take off," Cooper says. Pre-noon sales account for half of Sea-Tac food sales, he adds.
"It would be a financial mistake for places not to sell breakfast," he says.
It would also violate airport rules: Every vendor at Sea-Tac is required to keep breakfast hours, so most of the restaurants devise breakfast items in accordance with their guiding culinary concepts. Qdoba serves an egg-and-salsa burrito, and Wolfgang Puck sells breakfast pizzas. Cooper guesses at least half a dozen airport restaurants offer what travelers would consider a traditional egg sandwich.
"I can't believe someone could not find an egg sandwich," Cooper says. "They must not be looking very hard or are not venturing out very far. I'd encourage people to walk further down the concourse if they don't see the choices they want."
For many travelers though, an egg-and-cheese combo from Great American Bagel can't quell an Egg McMuffin craving. As a Stanford researcher demonstrated in a 2007 study, when children are asked to rate identical chicken nuggets, they consistently prefer nuggets presented in McDonald's packaging. Although the study didn't extend to adult eaters, it seems an egg sandwich by any other name might not satisfy.