Monday, January 28, 2013

For Whose Benefit Are Airports Designed?

In Eleven Things Organizations Can Learn From Airports (January 2013), Seth Godin tells us why he dislikes airports.

  • Passengers are powerless transients. Frequent flyers may get a slightly better service than infrequent flyers, but the overall experience is still poor. When someone asks if you had a good flight, the best answer you can give is that nothing happened - in other words, it wasn't any worse than usual.
  • The food - and everything else for that matter - is bland, middle-of-the-road pap. Aimed at someone's idea of majority taste.
  • Noone has any interest in making the airport experience less awful. There doesn't seem to be any way of providing an extension cord and a power strip to allow more passengers to recharge their laptops and phones. (Maybe there will be more power outlets next time the airport is refitted, but in the meantime there is no mechanism for adhoc improvement.)

But Seth Godin makes a fundamental error when he describes the passengers as customers. It is as plain as the long queue for the X-ray machine that the airport is not designed for the benefit of the customers. In descending order of importance, the airport's customers are as follows.

1. Airlines
2. Retail franchises
3. Security, immigration and customs.
4. Local services, such as cab drivers
5. Baggage-handling, etc.


99. Passengers

In case you need convincing that the cab drivers are more important than the passengers, just go to any airport and compare the land-side coffee (for cab drivers) with the air-side coffee (for captive passengers only).

Of course, the airlines and retailers and cab drivers all need a large quantity of passengers: they are the customers of the customers of the airport. The airport is a multi-sided platform, trying to balance the interests of the airlines (who want to shepherd their passengers through quickly) against the interests of the retailers (who want passengers to spend time shopping while waiting for their flights).

So for whose benefit are airports designed? Not passengers, obviously.


"Britain used to have airports with some shops. Now we have shopping malls with some flights." (Guardian Editorial, 12 August 2015)

"As awful as the airlines can be—they routinely mistreat customers, misplace baggage, cancel flights—the actual on-board experience that the carriers control is only part of what makes flying so miserable today" (Daniel Gross, Slate, 14 April 2017)

Related Posts 

Dangerous Coffee (May 2005)
Service-Oriented Security (August 2006)
Travel Hopefully (March 2008)
Heathrow Terminal 5 (March 2008)
Anxiety as a Cost (January 2013)

Quotes added 13 August 2015, 15 April 2017
Tweet added 29 April 2016

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