A to B [Airports]

October 26, 2012

When I was 12 —or thereabouts— my parents booked me on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to newly independent Prague, where I was to be picked up by my aunt. I don’t remember much of it to be honest, in fact the most vivid memories are about the dreams I had the night before. Since then I’ve flown a lot, in fact I have no idea idea how much, totally lost count, though it must be somewhere between 50 and 100 individual planes. It didn’t take me long to develop a healthy hatred of planes and especially airports. In the first installment of this series of posts about travelling I’ll be ranting about air-travel, why I hate it and what can be done to improve it.

Airports have become status symbols for cities and governments, evidenced by the fact that often starchitects are hired to design them. I’ve experiences a few of these modern terminals first hand and the designs are indeed grand and awe inspiring. So why is it that all airports I’ve ever set foot in —to channel Eric Cartman— suck donkey balls? Airports are an insult to your dignity as a human being.

The problem is threefold in my opinion; design, protocol and treatment. Allow me to presumptuously suggest a few improvements in no particular order.

  1. Make it easy for people who don’t speak the local language to get to and from the airport. If you have buses, paint them in a different colour from other buses and adorn them with airplane icons. Display countdowns next to boarding areas so that people know when the next service will run.
  2. Make it easy to pay for tickets in the bus/train itself, in currencies that are likely to be held by those using the service. Or better yet, provide free transport, at least for those with airline tickets.
  3. Airport bus drivers should speak at least a modicum of English.
  4. Provide some seating in the check-in area, so that when you make people wait for 2 hours before they can check-in, they have a place to sit.
  5. People who spend a long time in terminals are most likely transit passengers, they do not care for the local currency, language or culture. Don’t force these upon them. Don’t give me my change in Hungarian forints or Swedish krona when I pay you in Euros or Dollars.
  6. Be more frequent with information and more polite about bad news. “We will shortly start checking in passengers on flight XXXX to YYYY.” “Our apologies for keeping you waiting.” “Flight XXXX will depart from Gate NN instead, we apologize for the inconvenience.” You’d be surprised how far a little decency goes.
  7. Supply more seating in terminals and provide more power outlets, ideally both European, UK and US outlets for transit passengers in addition to whatever the local outlet system is.
  8. Supply showers with clean towels and shaving kits as a paid service for passengers with a few hours to spare at your airport.
  9. Make sure book-stores stock books in many languages, not just Danish.
  10. Examine what sort of books travellers would be interested in, as it most likely differs from your average non-travelling customer. Maybe a good selection of small books that are easily carried, or maybe graphic novels that can be quickly read.
  11. A small theatre that shows short to medium length films would definitely take the edge off a four hour transit waiting time.
  12. Provide lockers in strategic places so people don’t have to haul their hand-luggage around all the time.
  13. Provide different kinds of environments for people to wait long term in. Larger smokers areas with perhaps a tobacconist (I don’t smoke, but seeing those poor lost souls puffing away in their air-tight upright bathtubs is enough to depress anyone). A tropical butterfly garden, a botanical garden, japanese garden, faux lake and I can think of 38 more.
  14. Make a distinction between areas meant for those in motion and those in rest.
  15. Reduce sounds in rest areas.
  16. Have a public customer rating system for all restaurants so you don’t go in blind.
  17. When boarding planes with assigned seats, enforce boarding from back to front to avoid long waiting lines at the gate.
  18. Make it easy for people to learn about local weather conditions at their destination.
  19. Better directions within the terminal, consistent usage of colours.
  20. Provide more locations where people can get quality information about flights, delays, locations etc. It’s a bit lame that the only people who can typically answer your questions only appear at your gate 10 minutes before boarding.
  21. A continuous system of luggage carts driven around the gates so you can jump on, tell the driver your gate number and be certain to arrive there relatively quickly.
  22. If you’re running a 24 hour airport, don’t close down the shops and restaurants at 8 o’clock in the evening. Serve all day breakfast and dinner. People are coming in from time-zones all over the world for chrissakes.
  23. Have a wider selection of merchandise available at shops. I don’t need clothes (I’ve already packed them), I don’t want hardware (I’d rather buy in a store where I can go back to for warranty issues), I’m not going to need massive amounts of alcohol, chocolate or perfume on a business trip. By all means, have those shops, but also provide alternatives. People at airports will be more likely to buy something weird and expensive as they cannot easily return to the shop at a later date. I’m thinking minerals, curta calculators, hobby supplies, wool, fossils.
  24. A big problem with shopping while travelling is having to carry your new possessions. It would be great if shops could deliver to your home or hotel address. Surely a proper international chain could handle this across borders.
  25. Please dispense with the whole security, undressing-in-public, making-people-wait-in-serpentine-queues circus, you’re not fooling anyone.

Up next, trains.

One Response to “A to B [Airports]”

  1. John Says:

    As a vegetarian, I would add that the choice of food at airports for veggies (especially vegans) is usually appalling. I generally survive on potato chips and coffee when I’m travelling, especially since the chance of my special meal actually being loaded on board the plane seems to be diminishing.

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