A Battle Is Brewing Over Expensive Bottled Water at LAX

Two retailers at LAX are fighting over the price of bottled water—and for once, one of them is actually on the side of customers.

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Mar 9 2015, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user nexeus_fatale

For those of us who have easy access to parasite- and sewage-free tap water on any given day of the week, the bottled stuff is beyond unnecessary. We're not even talking about Japanese "jewelry water" like Fillico, which prices its blinged-out bottles at upwards of $100. Even the standard-issue bottles are helping to destroy the environment, along with our wallets.

But those same bottles are now at the center of a lawsuit between two retailers at the Los Angeles International Airport—which isn't exactly known for bargain-basement prices in the first place.

The upscale boutique chain Kitson has accused the New Jersey-based Hudson Group—which operates everything from those ubiquitous Hudson News airport kiosks to food court outposts and duty-free shops, as well as two Kitson stores at LAX—of gouging fliers for bottles of water.

According to the LA Times, the dispute began when Hudson reportedly balked at pricing one-liter bottles of SmartWater an above-market $2.55 per liter—demanding that Kitson charge $5 instead. Kitson has claimed that Hudson wants to maintain a monopoly on water pricing, because its newsstands charge upwards of $5 for water themselves.

Admittedly, this is a hike from the still-overpriced norm. TIME points to a 2009 study that found that every major American airport charged $2.60 or less for bottled water, while some airports, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, capped prices just above street rates.

The dispute at LAX might not be an exclusively American problem. One user of the forum FlyerTalk complained of spending 33 kroner (about $4.75) on a 700-milliliter bottle of water at the Oslo Airport—and this was in 2009. Another claimed to have spent 7 euros (about $6.50) on a small bottle of Perrier at Charles de Gaulle.

This isn't the first tiff between Hudson on Kitson, which apparently wants out of its lease rather desperately. In January, the retailer accused Hudson of repackaging expired candy and overpricing other items—not even at Kitson stores. In response, a Hudson spokesperson told the LA Times that the prices for the disputed items had been lowered, and denied the allegations about selling old candy.

But shouldn't schmucks who choose to fly be subject to the pricing whims of their retailers, however inflated they may be?

Not so, says Kitson—this is a rights issue. "Water is one of the most basic necessities for travelers and Hudson is taking advantage of the post-9-11 airport restrictions," Kitson attorney Steven Bledsoe told the Associated Press.

It's hard to put a price tag on the essentials, but someone's got to do it.