A few years ago, a colleague told me about a small airport in an exclusive enclave in South America where it’s still the glamorous, golden, jet-set era of aviation. Everyone was bronzed, smoking, sipping generous cocktails and there was no security lineup in sight. Those times are long gone, but I still love airports for what they represent: a taking-off point with limitless potential, a limbo-zone between the known and unknown and a glamorous gateway to future adventures.
In reality, what they often truly are is a bad food court, a mediocre shopping mall and a land of lineups and rudimentary—if not downright rude—service. Here are a few features of my favourite airports that show a true understanding of the needs of the Transumer, plus some ideas I haven’t experienced, but would love to see.
Golden Green Gate
Challenge When I’m purchasing my airline ticket, I’m usually focused on value and, I’m ashamed to say, unlikely to tack on an extra cost for carbon offsets.
Spark The new carbon offset kiosks in the international terminal at SFO in San Francisco have the green-flyer equation right. Once we’re behind the security line, trip hassles behind us, the excitement of a trip at top of mind, the Transumer midset prevails and green is an easier sell.
Health and Happiness
Challenge I maintain that the reason most travelers are grumpy and discontent is…indigestion.
Spark Offer us clean, fresh, unprocessed food at airports and everyone will be happier. My mouth is watering at news that the San Jose-area farm C.J. Olson Cherries has opened a kiosk selling its wholesome cherries, dried fruit and nuts in Terminal B at SJC. Amsterdam’s AMS has long been one of my favourite airports because of the fully stocked Food Village Supermarket at Schiphol. Why aren’t there more boutique grocery stores within airports? Whole Foods, we’re looking at you.
Challenge The clever “cell phone zone” waiting areas offered by many airports have eased up the queues of cars at arrivals level. Now can airports please ease up on my ears with cellular-free quiet zones that demonize public cell-yell the way most public buildings have done with smoking?
Spark Many of us would pay for quiet-zone access, as the nominal but successful $10 entry fee program for B.C. Ferries‘ quiet Seawest Lounges proves. Why don’t the folks at Bose open pay-per-use, noise-cancelling headset equipped quiet zones at airports?
Challenge With the hassles of full-day car rental, insurance and gas top-up, I usually can’t be bothered to hop into a set of wheels and explore the local area on a layover.
Spark The rental companies won’t like it, but I’m a car-sharing devotee who would rejoice at airport Zipcar locations. Holding me hostage in the terminal doesn’t make me spend more; it just makes me hostile!
Shop and Fly
Spark I’d love to see more co-branded retail stores in airports, run by the brands Transumers have already come to trust. The first outpost of a planned chain of Travel and Leisure stores (in Vancouver’s YVR) has a good mix of luggage, travel gadgets, maps and guides and other reading material. Roots, with its sturdy leather bags and comfy gear, is also a great fit at the airport.
Challenge People lose things at airports because we’re juggling too much stuff—boarding pass, mobile, identification, hand luggage…
Spark The new SKIP system at 24 Japanese airports lets you do paperless mobile check-in, payment and seat selection using bar-code technology. Cell-phone-pay vending machines, transit passes and other conveniences have been de rigeur in Asia’s top cities for years; it’s time for the rest of the world to catch up!
Paging all Airplane Geeks
Challenge Plane-spotters are a largely unrecognized group of aviation fans that could easily be converted into airport Transumers.
Spark Facilities like the observation decks at Sydney’s SYD and Tokyo’s HND put plane-spotters in the centre of the terminal action. Frankfurt’s FRA offers guided behind-the-scenes airport tours which often stop at the runway intersection that’s best for plane-spotting. Tours are a great way to get aircraft aficionados into the terminal instead of cowering outside runway fences, where they can pose a security risk—and don’t contribute anything to the Airworld economy.
For the first time in eight years airports stand to regain some of their onetime stardust, through cultural phenomena like Wired’s Terminal Man, pop-philosopher Alain de Botton’s Heathrow Diary and George Clooney’s upcoming adaption of Walter Kirn’s seminal AirWorld novel “Up in the Air.” Are they ready for their closeup?