Shopping at “America’s Friendliest Airport” ….

Phoenix Sky Harbour Duty FreePhoenix Sky Harbor grandly bills itself as “America’s Friendliest Airport” and it is true that this southwestern hub does get high marks from passengers for its customer service. In fact, in a survey conducted in 2010 by US new website the Daily Beast the airport came out top in the entire country, scoring well in areas such as minimising delays, avoidance of accidents, security and wait times, baggage claim, and a subject close to our hearts, shopping and dining.Reaching the grand old age of 75 last year, Phoenix Sky Harbor has certainly come a long way from its early days in the 1930s. Back then it was little more than a one-runway airstrip in the desert, which was very popular with eloping couples, who would get married at a nearby chapel (Arizona being one of the few US states not to require couples to wait three days before tying the knot). In fact, last year the airport handled over 19m passengers with over 1,200 aircraft leaving and arriving from the 3,000 acre-site airport each day.

Phoenix Sky Harbor boasts no fewer than three terminals (Terminals 2, 3 and 4). If you are wondering what happened to Terminal 1, it was demolished in 1991 and the other terminals were never renumbered. Readers will be pleased to learn the selection of stores and restaurants in at least two of the three terminals is a cut above the average US airport. Indeed, a US trade magazine voted Phoenix Sky Harbor as having the best overall concessions programme of any large airport in the US last year.

>Terminal 2 (Alaska, Continental, United)

Built back in 1962, Terminal 2 is the oldest terminal at the airport and it shows. The retail offer is the smallest and most lacklustre, running to just five stores in total. Travellers will find two places to stock up on newspapers, candy and soft drinks (CNBC and the pre-security Press Express), and two stores to buy souvenirs and gifts (Indigenous at Gate 8 and the Phoenix in the Main Lobby area).

It won’t take long to exhaust these retail options so why not check out what is happening at the airport’s museum exhibition? It is located at the pre-security checkpoint and currently features the work of contemporary quilt-maker Ruth Garrison until May 2011. If cross-stitch isn’t your thing, grab a beer and watch a game at the Phoenix All Stars Sports Bar, or indulge that sweet tooth with some lemon zest cookies at the Paradise Bakery.

Terminal 3 (American, Frontier, JetBlue, AirTran, Hawaiian Airlines)

The shopping in this terminal is a big, big improvement on its older sibling. We particularly like the toy store called Curious Creatures situated in the Main Lobby area, and two shops, Desert Images and Desert News & Books, which are both dedicated to Arizona’s stunning desert scenery, the real star of so many classic Hollywood westerns.

One of the best stores for Native American art and crafts is Talking Hands, which sells comparatively inexpensive Indian jewellery, drums, rattles, traditional southwest native pueblo pottery, ceremonial Kachina Dolls from Arizona’s Hopi tribe, Dream-Catchers (to ward off sleeping children’s nightmares) and Navajo folk art. For a more contemporary, New Age take on Native American handicrafts check out Earth Spirit, where jewellery is very much to the fore.
Golfers will be pleased to learn this terminal has its own PGA Tour Shops and holidaymakers heading for a beach holiday might want to browse the Southwest Pizzazz outlet, which specialises in resort wear.

There is a definite Mexican feel to the dining options in this part of the airport with outlet bearing names such as Blue Burrito and the Taberna del Tequila, but if nachos and Margaritas aren’t up your street, there is also a burger joint (Wendy’s) and an Italian restaurant (Sbarros) among the other restaurant choices.

Terminal 4 (British Airways, Air Canada, Southwest Airlines, US Airways)

Built as recently as 1990 at a cost of $248m, Terminal 4 is the newest of Sky Harbor’s three terminals and features the best shopping choices, which is not surprising as it handles about 80% of the airport’s passenger traffic. One of the highlights of the retail line up is Pueblo Spirit, which sells a colourful range of Native American artwork, books, photos, jewellery, as well as Mexican native handicrafts. The store is affiliated to the acclaimed nearby Heard Museum, which showcases Native American art, history and culture.

The See’s Candies outlet boasts a wide assortment of sweet treats to please chocolate lovers: top-rated lines include peanut brittle, nuts and chews, molasses chips, and walnut square bars (see www.sees.com for more details). Other stores jostling for passengers’ attention in Terminal 4 include Borders Books, Hudson News, the self-explanatory In Celebration of Golf, Drugs & More and The Team Shop, which sells merchandise and apparel connected to local Arizona sports teams.

Duty Free Americas runs the duty-free concession in Terminal 4 and offers a solid selection of premium liquor, tobacco, fragrances, cosmetics and accessories. The retailer claims to offer price savings on liquor and tobacco of anywhere between 25-50% depending on where you call home, and reductions of 15-20% on fragrances and cosmetics. Brands stocked include Johnnie Walker, Absolut, Chanel, Estée Lauder, Cartier, Lancôme, Coach and Movado.

For a full run down of the excellent shopping line up in this terminal click on the airport’s website, www.phxskyharbor.com, which features some useful interactive maps to show you exactly where all the stores and restaurants. It is worth doing a little homework before you travel to this enormous airport as it can take 10 minutes to get from one side of Terminal 4 to another, and switching terminals can take considerably longer despite there being an inter-terminal shuttle.