A drone-lit, FAB-ulous and (Brewery) X-rated experience in Ontario

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It’s well into a Thursday evening at Brewery X at Ontario International Airport and the bar and restaurant are full of travellers like me chilling out over a beer and a bite before their late-night flights.

I’m supping on a beautifully named Come Fly with Me (a light and easy 4.2% ABV American lager), an airport exclusive produced by the Brewery X team from their Anaheim, California brewery.

The airport Brewery X is a joint venture with Ontario International Airport and the partners are rightly proud of it. At the FAB Awards on Wednesday night, the outlet was named Americas & Caribbean winner in the hotly contested Airport Bar or Pub of the Year category and earned a well-deserved Highly Commended accolade in Airport Customer/Hospitality Initiative of the Year.

Ontario International Airport and Brewery X representatives celebrate their joint success at the FAB Awards 2024, led by airport CEO Atif Elkadi (centre)

Sitting here over a pint – make that two, I’ve just moved onto a Battlesnakes 4.9% ABV Bohemian Pilsner – it’s easy to see why the judges were so wowed. In fact the real thing is even better than the impressive entry. There’s a nice pre-travel atmosphere with sport on the screens, music playing, dazzling interior design, plus a superb range of fine craft beers (plus hard seltzers, wine and spirits for those who so desire).

I’m chilled too. Almost as much as this beautifully crisp award-winning Pilsner in front of me. Yep, exhausted, after putting in some ultra-long shifts at our annual Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) + Hospitality Conference & Awards in Ontario, but the combination of a laid-back Brewery X vibe, the prospect of getting home, fond memories of the past few days and the satisfaction of a job well done are more than enough to compensate.

{Ontario International Airport lit up FAB with this amazing drone show during the SSP-sponsored Welcome Reception a world first for an aviation industry conferencethat brought the respective ONT, FAB and SSP logos to life in wondrous fashion}

It’s almost impossible to describe my pride at seeing our FAB logo shining bright in the southern California night sky

Two fine beers and an enjoyable experience behind me, it’s time to check out the 3Sixty Duty Free and More store opened in September 2023
It’s a well-ranged store, well-staffed too as I discovered during a chat with delightful and knowledgeable sales assistant Melanie

Our decision to hold FAB at an airport in southern California with relatively few direct international flights surprised a few people. Ontario International Airport’s admirable CEO Atif Elkadi thanked us for our faith in bringing the event to Ontario. But as I told him and delegates, it is we who must thank him for his faith in hosting FAB. It takes a lot of belief, time and resource to do so for an event on this scale and it was done triumphantly.

Ontario International Airport CEO Atif Elkadi, accompanied here on stage by Chief Revenue Management Officer Elisa Grey, is doing an outstanding job in transforming the southern Californian airport

The energy, the passion, the support, the hospitality, the professionalism of the ONT team were second to none. Atif has assembled one hell of a class act here and it shows through every aspect of their operation.

Among all the standout moments of FAB 2024, the one pictured above may have been my favourite. The FAB Superstars Awards is always a highlight of the event, recognising as I put it, “The doers, the greeters, the front of housers, the behind the sceners, the teams, the individuals, the people whose small, thoughtful touches and acts of service quietly make their colleagues’ and managers’ jobs easier and passengers’ journeys more pleasurable and memorable.”

The overall winner was Brodie Leslie, a Bartender and Coffee Barista who works for Emirates Leisure Retail at Launceston Airport in Tasmania, Australia. Brodie, who has Down Syndrome, received rave reviews in his employer’s nomination.

“He’s crushing it behind the bar and even honing his coffee skills, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of greatness. His achievements have even landed him in the national spotlight, with the media singing his praises and showcasing his story as a shining example of the incredible potential of the Down Syndrome community,” ELR said.

“Perhaps most impressive, his success has opened the door for others, inspiring the company to streamline their onboarding and training processes to create more opportunities for people outside the airport space.” I salute you, Brodie. And I salute ELR.

My colleague and business partner Dermot Davitt and I walked the Ontario International Airport (ONT) terminals on the eve of the event and were inspired and impressed by the dual spirit of teamwork and innovation that shine through in everything ONT brings to the traveller journey.

Ontario International Airport Chief Revenue Management Officer Elisa Grey (left) led Dermot Davitt and me on a memorable tour of both terminals on the Monday pre-FAB, with innovation and surprises galore along the way. Pictured with us are (centre) Cyrus Baseghi (OSSI) and Fuse Advancement CEO Scott Jacobson, two of the creative minds behind the transformation of digital assets and partnerships at the airport.

As to FAB itself, well it was simply (yes, I know you could see this coming) FAB-ulous. As those close to me know, I am ultra self-critical about anything I and we do, and always believe we can raise the bar higher. But I like to think this one was every bit as high as the one I am currently sitting at.

Bravo ONT, bravo Brewery X. You are class acts. ✈

(Left) Ontario International Airport Senior Manager, Airline Affairs & Properties Yi-Hui (Annie) Lin and Chief Revenue Management Officer Elisa Grey welcome FAB delegates to Ontario; (Right) I am pictured with the FAB-ulous combo of Digital and Social Media Specialist Sabine West and Community Engagement Specialist Connie Tran Royal
What a pleasure it was to welcome Abu Dhabi Airports Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Elena Sorlini to FAB. Elena drove the late 2023 opening of the extraordinary new Zayed International Airport.
And the line-up of top speakers from some of the world’s best and most progressive airports kept coming. Pictured are Bangalore International Airport Limited Vice President Commercial Development Pravat Paikray (above) and Qatar Duty Free Vice President Food & Beverage Grant Fleming (below) describing the respectively outstanding Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru and Hamad International Airport F&B and lounge offers.

One-on-one fireside chats are a key part of our approach at FAB and The Trinity Forum and FAB 2024 had some real standouts. Above I am pictured in conversation with SSP America Chief Executive Officer Michael Svagdis.
Avolta Managing Director Southeast Asia and Oceania David Mackay knows the food & beverage sector inside out and it showed during our session
Nice to see former HMSHost CEO Tom Fricke back in the business as OTG Chairman of the Board
Dermot and I put a lot of effort into the often underrated art of moderating and he is a class act. Here he is shown with Paradies Lagardère CEO Gregg Paradies and Lagardère Travel Retail Executive Vice President Foodservice Global Mélanie Guilldou.

FAB AWARDS NIGHT

If you are going to front a FAB Awards evening, you begin with a FAB-ulous selfie, photobombed by the entire audience, right?
FAB Winners, Regional Winners and Highly Commendeds line up on stage for a memorable group shot at the end of an unforgettable evening
Qatar Duty Free Vice President Food & Beverage Grant Fleming (centre), Qatar Duty Free Head of Culinary Operations David Sosson (third from left), Qatar Duty Free Head of F&B Operations Ibrahim Al-Emadi (fourth from right) and colleagues collect the big prize of the night for Airport Food & Beverage Offer of the Year
(Left to right) Qatar Duty Free Head of Culinary Operations David Sosson; Vice President, F&B Grant Fleming; and Head of F&B Operations Ibrahim Al-Emadi celebrate their three main awards for Airport Food & Beverage Offer of the Year, Airport Lounge of the Year (International) for Louis Vuitton Lounge by Yannick Alléno, and Airport F&B Opening of the Year for Souq Al Matar
Dermot Davitt and I have been leading FAB since 2011 and we are immensely proud of how the event has developed

Later…

The long journey home to Hong Kong via Taiwan Taoyuan International onboard China Airlines begins. Vast swathes of the Pacific ahead of me, FAB-ulous memories behind.

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