LAX Concession Battle: SSP Protests, Claims HMS Host Stole Its Ideas

There's another twist today in the never-ending saga over the $600 million LAX concessions contract. SSP America has filed a protest, alleging that the airport screwed up when it shut the company out of bidding last month.

Rival firm HMS Host -- which has been at the airport for 45 years -- won the largest share of the business. Two other firms that are also at the airport -- Delaware North and CMS/Camacho -- won the rest. A victory for the status quo.

Host was nearly tossed out of the airport last year. LAX officials, who had grown tired of Host's stale and uninspired food and beverage service, awarded the $600 million contract to SSP. But thanks to heroic efforts on the part of its lawyers and lobbyists, Host managed to get SSP's bid thrown out.

In the second round, Host stepped up its game -- partnering with Campanile and La Provence Patisserie to offer a higher-end dining experience, which is what the airport seemed to be going for. That won over LAX, but it has SSP charging theft.

In its protest letter, SSP accuses Host and Delaware North of "desperately trying to mimic SSP's winning concept."

SSP also suggests that LAX officials awarded the contract to Host and Delaware North due to "a sense of fatigue and capitulation to the entrenched incumbents." SSP alleged that the airport gave SSP lower grades this year for its financial stability than it received last year -- though its financial condition has improved.

LAX defends its work.

The airport "conducted a thorough and fair process," said Mike Molina, deputy executive director, who served on the contract panel. "I'm confident our selections will represent a significant improvement for our passengers."

SSP's protest is expected to go the Airport Commission on May 16, after which it will go to the L.A. City Council. Molina said he hoped the whole process would be finally wrapped up by June.

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