DETROIT—When was the last time Detroit Metro Airport—a facility "loathed so universally that even space aliens would know to avoid it," according to a Detroit Free Press columnist—called for competitive bidding by outside vendors for food service contracts?

Hint: Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.

It is true. What is now Host Marriott Services of Bethesda, Maryland has held the food and beverage contract at Metro since 1957, and simply been renewed at the expiration of each and every contract cycle. In all that time, the government of Wayne County has never seen fit to open contracts to competitive bidding, despite decades of complaints by airport customers about high prices, poor quality and little selection. In fact, 90,000 passengers surveyed by Plog Research of Reseda, California, ranked Detroit Metro dead last among 36 airports nationwide for overall quality.

The information came to light when the airport opened bidding for food services at its new $1.2 billion Northwest Airlines passenger terminal, which is scheduled to open in 2001. Also revealed: Host Marriott's current contract will not expire until September, 2003. Colleen Pobur, the airport's recently appointed director of concessions and quality assurance, says the last renewal occurred before she and new Wayne County Airports Director David Katz came on the job, and that the airport will solicit bids for the rest of the airport food services in 2002.

In the meantime, Katz has pressed Host Marriott to improve services to the tune of $7 million. Also, with 300 retailers and restaurateurs showing up at a meeting in August for bidding on food concessions at the new Northwest terminal, competitive bidding seems to be universally acknowledged as the wave of the future at Metro.

Too bad Ike could not have been around to see it.