WHEN Heathrow airport opened, in 1946, the only retail facilities were a bar with chintz armchairs and a small newsagent’s. The first terminal was a tent, a far cry from the four halls, resembling vast shopping malls, at the London airport today. Retail spending per passenger is the highest of any airport. This summer’s consumer crazes include Harry Potter wands and cactus-shaped lilos.
Heathrow’s journey from waiting room to retail paradise is the story of many airports. Before the 1980s, most income came from airlines’ landing and passenger-handling charges. Then “non-aeronautical” revenue—from shops, airport parking, car rental and so on—rose to around two-fifths of their revenues, of $152bn worldwide in 2015. But amid signs that non-aeronautical income is peaking, especially in mature aviation markets such as North America and Europe, the industry fears for its business model.