Airports: I Can Make Them Better

The special hell that is modern air travel has been visited on us for the sins of others: namely, the airlines. Over the past decade or so, they have behaved as if they were the last to discover that they are in a fantastically expensive business. You can almost hear flattened, manicured hands slapping foreheads attached to heads perched on necks wrapped in Countess Mara ties: who knew? Where, oh where is our profit?

And so we get herded like pet-food-destined cattle into tight, unpleasant spaces. We are nickel-and-dimed, by factors of 100 and more, for every little thing. (I recently changed a ticket so I could spend more money with a major airline on the itinerary in question. Did it all online, did all the work myself. Cost: $200. It’s my company’s money, but there’s a principle here. Damn right I fought it.)

All this discontent cranks up airport angst to critical levels. They’re just nasty places to be, the other-side-of-the-tracks crappy bus stations of our century. Bad food; undisciplined children stuck on loud; loud, selfish adults stuck on undisciplined…all before 7 a.m.

What to do? I’m here to help. Here are a few simple suggestions for making airports better places.

Caffeine greeting. Coffee at curbside check-in. Kick back a little of that $60 I just handed you for two bags for a decent java jive as soon as I arrive. Or a nice orange juice. And if your baggage contractors can be like the nice guy I met today, in shirt and tie, courteous and organized, so much the better. Just make him a barista too. Or Diana Krall.

Speaking of coffee… Make airport Starbucks like other Starbucks. That is, hire non-malcontents who look you in the eye, speak pleasantly (or at all, besides yelling “I CAN HELP THE NEXT IN LINE”), and say thank you.

Security songs. After reminding people about quart bags and laptops, Transportation Security Administration officers managing long lines should be leading people in group singing. It is hard to be tense when singing in a group. This will take a little judgment by TSA personnel; you want to know a group’s pulse before deciding between “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. (More senior officers are encouraged to organize conga lines next to the X-ray belts with the white laptop bins as props. ¡Arriba!)

At-gate foot massages. These will sell quicker than Cabbage Patch dolls. Five bucks, five minutes. With the long walks necessary at most airports, people’s dogs bark unceasingly. Great job for the strong-fingered, too. Massage, wash hands, move on. Could gross $50 an hour, easy. Airline unions, push for this. How many passengers are going to rush the desk determined to yowl about being in 33E after they’ve had a decent foot rub?

Aromatherapy. PDX should smell like a pine forest. Logan should smell like the beach at Cape Cod. Pittsburgh should smell like a sandwich from Primanti’s. Or tie it to destination: why can’t the area around Gate 112 smell like barbecue if the flight leaving from there is going to Memphis?

Storytellers on every concourse. Every five gates, there should be a circle of chairs for children, and a person who loves children should sit and tell stories to whoever wants to sit there. Of course, often there would be more adults, rapt and wide-eyed, than kids. Possible downside: numerous itinerary re-books because passengers wanted to hear what happened to Mr. Toad more than they wanted to get to Denver on their originally scheduled flight.

I’m happy to work with the airlines to develop any of these improvements, or many others. Just send me an email. It’ll cost you $200 to get me to open it, though.

Copyright 2013 Adam Barr

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