Culture of Airports

I stood with about 200 people ahead of me in the famous Heathrow immigration queue. After waiting for more than an hour, I was greeted by a hostile immigration officer who clearly thought I shouldn’t have renewed my very valid visa to stay and work in London. I couldn’t help wishing that I was leaving London rather than coming into it.

I was coming in from Basel in Switzerland, where I only dealt with quiet German efficiency. In all my years of travel to and from Basel, I have not had a single unpleasant experience at the Basel Airport. It does not have fancy shops or elaborate murals but it is gentle and accessible. The airport staff do not make small talk but they treat you with respect and efficiency.

It became clear to me that Airports have their own cultures which leaves a strong impression on the traveler. Airports are rife with significance for her. They are the first and last impressions of the visit, they help transition the traveller’s mind from one place to another.

Runway thresholds for aircrafts are frequently talked about. What is not understood or talked about is the idea that the traveler stands at a threshold too as she goes through the airport. How well do the airports cater to this state of mind?

Why do airports have to be stressful? Who thought of bright flashing lights, glass enclosed spaces, lots of shopping and over stimulation as the right package for a tired business traveler, anxious family with young children or a senior citizen?

Apparently travel retail is bringing in big bucks worldwide. Maybe buyers frequent the largely empty luxury brand outlets in the Indian airports too. But the golden hour (time between clearing security and boarding a flight) is a precious time for brands to engage with customers, way beyond just settling a transaction.

We need a proliferation of ideas like the gardens at the Changi airport, the sheer accessibility of everything at the Schipol airport or the mother and baby rest-room at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Is it utopian to think of airports as places of sensitivity, comfort and welcoming?

Monika Gera published this on LinkedIn in September, 2017

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