You’d be amazed at what you can buy in airport vending machines

Nov 18, 2021

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In the olden days, vending machines in airports dispensed exactly what you’d expect. If you were looking for soft drinks, water, crisps or a sugar boost, airports had machines that were ready to serve you. An essential but, let’s face it, uninteresting service.

But then in 2006, Zoom Systems installed vending machines at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) that sold Apple products and our heads were truly turned. From there, vending machines in terminals started selling everything from headphones to cosmetics with various other oddities in between.

In many ways, the machines are ideal airport staples since they don’t take up a lot of space, can be maintained without a huge staff and can offer a variety of essential items that appeal to travellers.

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Below, we look at 13 other items you can buy on the fly before you take off.

In This Post

PPE Gear

As air travel slowly started to grow during the pandemic, the folks at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport wanted flyers to be ready. It became the first airport in the U.S. to install vending machines that sell personal protection equipment (PPE), including the highly coveted N95 mask £6.05 ($8.25/€7.21), a 10-pack of alcohol wipes £3.85 ($5.25/€4.59), a four-pack of disposable gloves £3.30 ($4.50/€3.93), hand sanitiser £3.11-£4.77 ($4.25-$6.50/€3.71-€5.68), tissues £2.57 ($3.50, €3.06), a reusable cloth mask £15.10 ($14.50/€12.67) and a 3-pack of disposable masks £5.50 ($7.50/€6.55).

Automated retail

The new Hudson vending machine at Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR). (Photo courtesy of Hudson)

Hudson, located in more than 1,000 stores in airports, commuter hubs, landmarks, and tourist locations selling speciality retail, duty-free and food and beverage, stepped into the world of vending at Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) March 2021.

The machines are clustered together to sell items including Plexaderm, The Art Of Shaving, eyeglass brands Maui Jim and Revo, electronic brands Sony, Belkin, Apple, Beats, and Brookstone, toy brands Kikkerland Design and LEGO and lifestyle accessory brands Happy Socks and 47 Brand. Hudson plans to bring the machines to Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).

Fresh food

A Wellfound Foods SmartFridge vending machine at BWI Airport. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson)

You’re about to board your flight and you’re starving. Or your flight has landed, you’re hungry but all the airport’s dining options are closed. But if you’ve landed at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) in Southwest Airlines’ Concourse A, you’re in luck. The Wellfound Foods SmartFridge vending machine is ready to serve you with fresh food, including a smoked turkey and apple chutney sandwich, a buffalo cauliflower salad or an avocado superfoods grain bowl.

Pizza

Pizza vending machine
(Photo courtesy of Basil Street)

San Antonio International Airport (SAT) is the first of several airports to receive Basil Street’s automated pizza kitchen (APK), which dispenses 10-inch, Italian-style, thin-crust pizza. Three flavours are available: four-cheese, pepperoni and a “Pizza of the Month,” made fresh, then flash-frozen and cooked to order in about three minutes.

Asian food

A Yo-Kai Express vending machine. (Photo courtesy of the company)

San Francisco-based Yo-Kai Express sells popular Asian dishes from a vending machine, including Tonkotsu Ramen, Shrimp Tempura Udon and Chicken Pho — cooked in only 45 seconds. The machines can currently be found at Southern California’s Ontario International Airport (ONT) in Terminals 2 and 4.

Cellphones

Straight Talk vending machines are located in XX U.S. airports. (Photo courtesy of Straight Talk)
Straight Talk vending machines are located in six U.S. airports and the Amtrak station in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Straight Talk)

After landing, you reach for your cellphone and realize in horror that it isn’t there. You’re going to be gone for a while and you need to stay in touch. Straight Talk offers vending machines that sell the latest pre-paid cell phones and sim cards at six airports, including JFK Terminal 2, along with the Amtrak station in Chicago.

Cellphone chargers

FuelRod’s mobile charging station offers rechargeable FuelRods that power up Apple or Android smartphones and tablets from a vending machine. Each FuelRod kit comes with cables for recent Apple and Android devices. Used FuelRods can be exchanged for fully charged replacements at any kiosk or SwapBox, either for a modest fee or recharged via USB using the kit’s cables. The chargers can deliver up to eight hours of additional talk time on the average smartphone, or nearly four more hours of usage on tablets — all for between £15.95 ($22/€19.44) and £21.82 ($30/€26), depending on the location.

SouveNEAR

A Nevada alphabet print. (Photo courtesy of Souvenear)

Many times we aren’t in the city long enough to buy souvenirs. Or maybe you did buy them but forgot one for a friend or family member. Either way, you’d rather not shop at some generic news store at the airport. SouveNear has vending machines in six U.S. airports that sell a curated selection of locally sourced, artist-made objects, including flair pins jewellery, t-shirts, teas, spices and gourmet food and fun stuff for the kids.

Baby Vend

This company was founded by Jasmin Smith in 2015 after being caught without diapers for her twin babies in an Anchorage, Alaska, shopping mall. She created and opened a vending machine at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) in 2019. Supplies available include diaper bags, wipes, a nose suction device, pacifiers, thermometers and teething rings.

Ice cream

(Photo courtesy of Jeni's)
(Photo courtesy of Jeni’s)

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is a local legend when it comes time to get a scoop in Columbus, Ohio. If you didn’t get a chance to sample it during your time in Ohio’s capital city, don’t worry! You can get your fix at two Jeni’s vending machines at John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CHM) — one each in Concourses A and B. You have your choice of single-serve, grab-and-go ice cream cups or a rotating selection of our ice cream sandwiches.

Electronics

A Best Buy Express vending machine at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
A Best Buy Express vending machine at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Best Buy Express vending machines are in approximately 200 locations nationwide, with about 80 per cent of them inside airports. They sell a range of products, including Bose headphones, Apple AirPods, GoPros, cell phone chargers and portable speakers, among other things.

Cosmetics

(Photo courtesy of Calgary International Airport)
(Photo courtesy of Calgary International Airport)

San Franciso-based Benefit Cosmetics has beauty vending machines in more than 30 airports. The vending machine, in the shape of a pink bus, offers its most popular products, including mascara, lipstick, custom powder, face balm, blushes and pore cream.

Flowers

(Photo by Shutterstock)
(Photo by Shutterstock)

You’ve rushed to the airport to see a loved one and realize you want to give them flowers. Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport (LAS) and BWI are among those who have flower vending machines that can help.

Featured photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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