Virtual Road Trip: Starbucks Locations in Airports Offer Respite for Travelers


For many, summer adventure begins under blue skies and the promise of an open road. Others may begin in a frenzy in the grey light before dawn, frantically packing before catching a cab, a bus, a shuttle (or sometimes all of the above) to get to the airport on time.

Starbucks has been serving air travelers since opening its first airport location in 1991 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with licensee HMSHost. In more than 20 years, Starbucks and HMSHost have opened more than 280 stores at 78 airports in the U.S. and Canada.

During that time, air travel has changed dramatically. Additional security has increased the amount of time passengers spend at airports, while airlines have cut back on complimentary food and services. Airports have responded to the changing nature of air travel by offering passengers more services and amenities, such as high-end shopping, salons, fine restaurants, free Wi-Fi and art galleries.

Jon Wagner, senior designer for Starbucks Licensed Stores, and his Licensed Stores Design team have created unique store experiences in airport locations across the U.S.

“Air travelers today expect a higher level of design,” Wagner said. “They are looking for experiences in our stores that represent the surrounding environment.”

Wagner shared some of his favorite airport destinations.

Los Angeles (LAX)

Los Angeles International Airport is the sixth busiest in the world and serves more than 60 million passengers with flights to 30 countries. Its Tom Bradley International Terminal, which opened in the summer of 2013, offers 60 new restaurants and luxury shops, including two distinctive Starbucks stores that cater to international travelers.

The Starbucks® store at T51 celebrates the craft of coffee making. Wagner and fellow designer Jennifer Porteous drew inspiration for the design from the pattern of foamy milk at the top of a handcrafted Starbucks® beverage.

“I took an image of latte art and stretched it over the plan,” he said. The bubbles are represented by the open cells of the steel canopies that shelter the store.

The location at T61 offers a casual California vibe, taking its design cues from Los Angeles street art. Its mural wall is a collage of Starbucks stores from the Los Angeles area overlaid with a graffiti-inspired painting.

Portland (PDX)

After a short hop up the West Coast, travelers can enjoy a respite at Portland International Airport (PDX), consistently ranked the nation’s best for its convenience, amenities, and food and beverage offerings. The new Starbucks store design recollects the early days of the jet age with a replica of an aluminum airplane wing extending high above the bar.

The store design is a throwback to the history of shipping and aeronautics in the Portland area. The two-story location takes advantage of its height with the look and feel of a flight hangar, its walls clad in wooden boxes that look as though they could contain airplane parts and supplies.

Washington Dulles (IAD)

Airline passengers can relax and unwind at Washington Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. in northern Virginia is home to Starbucks first airport Starbucks Evenings location. The store offers a full menu of Starbucks food and beverages, as well as an enhanced menu in the afternoons with small plate food items and thoughtfully selected wine and beer.

The design references Virginia’s wine country with two walls clad in oak wine barrels that were used to age chardonnay. Customers often take photos of a wall decorated with vintage suitcases.

“Starbucks airport locations serve diverse needs of air travelers – from individual business travelers to large groups of vacationers,” he said. “It’s our goal to create store designs that help all travelers relax and connect.”

Did you know?

  • There are 17 Starbucks stores at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
  • Look closely at Portland’s PDX store, and you’ll see that the flight number on the wing is the year Starbucks was founded.
  • Starbucks has served more than 40 million beverages in more than 20 years at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

For Your Travels

Next time you fly, enjoy on-the-go refreshment with Starbucks VIA Refreshers™ instant beverages made from green coffee extract and real fruit juice. Available as a five-pack that will slip easily into your carry-on luggage in Very Berry Hibiscus, Strawberry Lemonade, Valencia Orange, and Cool Lime flavors.

Next Stop

Our virtual road trip continues as we take customers around the world on a tour of Starbucks stores this summer. Next week, we’ll get a kick out of some South America’s most distinctive stores.

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Thriving partners: How Starbucks is radically improving the retail partner experience