Evil, capitalist airports

by Maria on August 30, 2007

Here are the things most people would happily pay for at an international transit airport: – a shower – clean underwear (for those of us who habitually forget to pack it) – daylight – an exercise facility to help with the jetlag and minimise DVT – nutritious but not too heavy food – a nap, lying flat, somewhere quiet.

And here’s what is generally available: – Gucci – Chanel – l’Occitane – Bodyshop – Lacoste – Nike – a few plastic seats – McDonalds, dougnuts, and the local variety of fried, sugary dross to add a sugar hangover to your jetlag.

Sometimes there’s a shower, and I’ve even heard of napping capsules – though never in the terminal I’m in. But generally, the big transit airports totally mismatch the actual desires of travellers, and instead lay on miles of the same over-priced globalised tat (Swarovski, anyone?) for the miserable and jetlagged to wander about in.

Is the idea that we’ll buy a Cartier watch because we’re so tired and addled? Or are ‘we’ such wealthy and time-poor businessmen that we’ll buy any shiny expensive thing we see for our neglected wives and mistresses? At Bangkok airport recently, most of the travellers were wearing tracksuits and carrying babies. Chanel, Prada and the rest of them were completely empty. Though at least there are showers and a spa in that airport. But all I wanted to buy was clean knickers and a mobile phone – and the result was 2-nil to the airport. At least I didn’t succumb to those silk and wool scarves they have in every airport in the world, but that only French women wear.

So why the complete mismatch of trapped and exhausted consumers to luxury goods? Surely the airports have woken up to the fact that travelling is mass market. Or are travellers such a captive market that airports can completely ignore what they actually want…?

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{ 95 comments }

1

Cranky Observer 08.30.07 at 5:50 pm

Agreed. But the services you describe are all very high maintenance, which equals expensive to provide. And there is no good model under which average travelers will (or can) pay for them.

I understand that the showers in the secret Double Platinum-Iridium Executive Frequent Flyer lounges are quite nice. But I don’t qualify for those either.

Cranky

2

lemuel pitkin 08.30.07 at 5:56 pm

But you aren’t the airport customer. You are going to city X regardless of airport quality, and even where you have a choice of airport, you’ll almost certainly make the decision based on flight availability and/or cost, not amenities. So what possible benefit would the airport management get from being more passenger-friendly?

Various retailers, on the other hand, will pay very high rents for access to the captive market of air travellers. It’s true that the retailers don’t make people more likely to want to spend time in the airport, but again, that doesn’t matter, they have to anyway.

Now a publicly-run airport could forget about financial incentives and make being in the airport a pleasant and relaxing experience. But there’s really no puzzle why private airport management does not.

3

MrTimbo 08.30.07 at 6:11 pm

These are good observations, but you should pack a clean pair of underwear if you expect to need them.

4

Randy Paul 08.30.07 at 6:14 pm

If I traveled often enough, I would get membership in one of the lounges like the Admiral’s Club (which you can buy into for about $600/year).

5

Matt 08.30.07 at 6:15 pm

Don’t they sell underwear and some of the fancy shops in airports? I could swear I’ve seen it sold, though maybe it’s all of the fancy sort only worn by french women or something. They certainly sell such things at Penn Station, and I’m pretty sure they do at the Philadelphia airport.

6

Rob 08.30.07 at 6:16 pm

This ties back to a previous CT psot on why does the New York Times (and the WSJ, FT)feature so many stories about the uberwealthy when its such a small percentage of its readership. And its the same answer, its a small percentage overall, but a very high percentage of the uberwealthy find themselves in airports. And so if you want to sell to the uberwealthy you want to be where you know they have to be.

7

P O'Neill 08.30.07 at 6:32 pm

Amen.

But I’m willing to bet that if you extracted the airport context from the airport, resulting in a mall, you’d see about the same level of foot traffic comparing the food court/main store places and the designer stores. But the markups on the latter are huge — helped along by the fact that they can extract some of the duty free margin for themselves.

Whereas the markup on showers is horrible — lots of space and utilities needed and the airlines are already giving it to the people most willing to pay.

And as someone above said, you’re not the airport “customer.” The airline is.

It’s a business riddled with disconnect between who uses it and who “pays” for it, plans it etc.

8

lemuel pitkin 08.30.07 at 6:33 pm

Come to think about it, if a particular city had unusually friendly and comfortable airport(s), that would become common knowledge among travelers pretty quickly. If I worked for the government of a second-tier city trying to attract convention business, this is something I’d push. Wonder if any have?

9

Baptiste 08.30.07 at 6:42 pm

Some US airports also have senators-friendly bathrooms (entraping cops included)

10

Gene O'Grady 08.30.07 at 6:43 pm

I never fly, but when I had to not too long ago I was certainly impressed with the quality of food available in the Portland (OR) airport. They actually had some reasonably priced stuff that I might have eaten at home.

11

abb1 08.30.07 at 6:45 pm

Why fly at all – teleconference; no underwear necessary whatsoever. And if you can afford to fly a lot you probably are a Gucci customer.

12

richard 08.30.07 at 6:53 pm

Come to think about it, if a particular city had unusually friendly and comfortable airport(s), that would become common knowledge among travelers pretty quickly. If I worked for the government of a second-tier city trying to attract convention business, this is something I’d push. Wonder if any have?

Newark has been pitching itself this way of late, but still sucks. I’m spoiled by Heathrow, which has expensive tat and services you might want to use, and which went through a promo campaign a few years ago based on comparable prices between airport and high street. I’ve never seen anything in the US to touch it. Amsterdam Schiphol has reasonable shops just outside the airport, where they have to compete with other places on the train network, and it seems to be an attractive compromise (dependent on making great connections between the airport and terrestrial networks; something the US hasn’t learned about yet…)

But nobody offers showers, places to sleep etc, and it seems like a lost business opportunity to me: couldn’t the airport or some figleaf corporation offer hotel-like facilities to all travelers at a cost, on the premises, and be guaranteed a captive audience just because of transfer delays? How could this fail to make money?

13

Slocum 08.30.07 at 6:56 pm

As others have said, what generates more revenue and can pay more rent to the airport — a Gucci store or a shower concession?

Personally, I have to say that I pretty much always shower and put on clean underwear before leaving on a trip. The only times I’d ever have considered paying for underwear and a shower in an airport (can’t believe nobody’s made a Larry Craig joke yet, BTW), is during canceled flight / delay nightmares. But I’ve been caught in serious airport nightmares only a few times in my life — certainly not often enough to keep underwear and shower vendors in business.

14

gr 08.30.07 at 7:00 pm

Spoiled by Heathrow? You must be kidding.

15

nedu 08.30.07 at 7:03 pm

Have any of you ever paid for a shower at a truck stop?

Sheeesh. Don’t tell me that’s not a profitable business. Even at “Free with 50 gallon fillup”.

16

Kimmitt 08.30.07 at 7:09 pm

Yeah, the absence of a coffin hotel inside the security barriers remains baffling. Lemme swipe my credit card, get charged $20, and crawl into my little space to get some rest. Jeebus.

17

Rebecca 08.30.07 at 7:28 pm

I would like to see a better places or context within which to say goodbye. I have been shot dirty looks at Logan after kissing my same sex partner goodbye (we are often separated due to the fact that US won’t recognize our relationship for immigration purposes).

Heathrow, the other airport I frequent, varies by terminal. In T3, some gates are twenty minutes walk from the shopping loop and flights often go straight from no gate yet to final boarding. They keep you shopping and then make your run. Heathrow T4 is getting yotel any day now and Gatwick’s already got it. Yotel is pretty much a mini-hotel cabin with clean conveniences and an emphasis on relaxation at an okay price. One other thing I like about Heathrow compared to US airports is that prices are pretty much the same as they are at the same shops elsewhere. So, if I buy a toothbrush or chewing gum at Boots at the airport, I won’t being paying more than on the high street. US airports suck in this regard.

18

arthur 08.30.07 at 7:49 pm

Shorter Maria: How dare the businesses provide what other people want, when it would be better for me if they would provide what I want.

19

Kieran Healy 08.30.07 at 7:54 pm

One thing you never see in an American airport, but that’s a commonplace elsewhere, is a Chemist — like Boots or what have you. Seeing as they’re fantastically useful, I’ve never understood why.

20

Matt 08.30.07 at 7:59 pm

Somewhere to lie down would be very nice, though I always fear that if I do I’ll miss my flight. And I suspect there would be fist-fights over the limited space before too long. Still, chairs not shaped like torture devices (and maybe some more plugs) would be nice.

21

c 08.30.07 at 7:59 pm

Heathrow has free showers that are sometimes even operational. OTOH it has pioneered the technique of making you walk *through* a duty-free, on a gently meandering course, to get to your damn gate.

Today’s WSJ reviews four U.S. airline clubs. Delta comes out OK; the Admiral’s Club sounds like a total ripoff. U.S. airport food is slowly becoming nonawful enough to make sit-down airport restaurants, where available, plausible ways to eat and wait comfortably.

22

jackd 08.30.07 at 7:59 pm

Arthur – you mean, how dare a mere consumer disagree with what Business has deigned to provide? To put it even more accurately, how dare a traveler complain about what franchises the local government has chosen to award?

23

JoshC 08.30.07 at 8:09 pm

The problem is, all of these services seem fantastically important and worth paying airport markup on the one time you need them, but not the ten times you don’t.

I’d love to see a Yotel at some of our more heavily-travelled hubs, and the KMart at Penn Station in NYC was incredibly helpful my last trip up, when I didn’t have the time to wander street-level for a clean shirt and deodorant after a 95-degree afternoon on the third deck at Yankee Stadium. But a bookstore (at home) or a tourist-trap gift shop (on the road) will get me to drop in on probably 50% of my trips, and those won’t. Conversely, the margin on a crappy electronics store or a luxury-goods place is high enough to support a much lower visit rate, but a sundry-goods store probably can’t hit that.

24

Maria 08.30.07 at 8:18 pm

Actually, I’ve heard Copenhagen is rather wonderful and has most of my wishlist. And hardwood floors.

25

a 08.30.07 at 8:26 pm

Slightly OT, what bothers me most about air travelling is having separate lines for first/business passengers (and of course “VIPs” and celebreties) for governmental processes, such as security and passport checking.

26

luci 08.30.07 at 8:27 pm

I’ve heard that airports in Narita, Japan and Singapore have such amenities… Big hubs for people flying long distances, and having longer layovers.

27

Stochastic 08.30.07 at 8:32 pm

There used to be a shower place at the Honolulu airport, where it made perfect sense; you could get in one more day of touristing, then clean up before getting on a redeye back to the mainland.

But my last time there, they told me that it had been cut during the reconfiguration for post-9/11 security security changes…

28

Ben M 08.30.07 at 8:52 pm

Why does it have to be the *airport* that provides the services? Couldn’t Northwest, e.g., run a capsule hotel/showers/etc. in Detroit, American run one at O’Hare, etc.?

They can make it all slightly grungy, on purpose, in order to encourage people to keep paying for their Executive Club.

29

Slocum 08.30.07 at 9:16 pm

JoshC: The problem is, all of these services seem fantastically important and worth paying airport markup on the one time you need them, but not the ten times you don’t.

The other big problem is that the one time you need them is going to be the one time everybody wants them (for example, when bad weather means delays across the board and an airport full of tired, cranky passengers waiting hours and hours for a flight). When you didn’t need a shower, the stalls would be readily available, and when you did, the line would be out the door and down the hall.

a: Slightly OT, what bothers me most about air travelling is having separate lines for first/business passengers.

I don’t mind — after all, those people subsidize our tickets by overpaying for a slightly wider, comfier seat for a few hours. If having a separate line tricks induces them to keep forking over the subsidy payments, I’m fine with that.

30

mollymooly 08.30.07 at 9:29 pm

I had heard Singapore was World’s Best Airport before I passed through it, so I was disappointed to find it merely met all my needs, including shower, spa, necessaries, eateries, and giftshops.

31

Daragh McDowell 08.30.07 at 9:52 pm

Everybody seems to have ignored the obvious fact here – International Airports are able to provide goods free of VAT and other taxes. Because luxury goods have a high tax markup, they can be offered at a significant discount in airports. Travellers seeing high quality goods (from digital cameras to watches to suits to cigarettes) at much lower prices than available on the high street seize the opportunity – for example after a long international flight I usually have a bottle or two of Bombay Sapphire purchased at 2/3 the price of my local offy.

32

Melinda 08.30.07 at 11:10 pm

I know there’s a drugstore in the Pittsburgh airport, and a small workout facility, as well.

Back when I was flying a lot I did appreciate the showers available in airline clubs when I had overnight flights from the US to Europe. I usually felt pretty grungy and a shower made it easier to face the day after a truncated night.

33

michael 08.30.07 at 11:32 pm

BAA, which owns airports all over the world, generates 60% of its income from retail activity, and is listed as retail stock, rather than transportation stock. Heathrow is some ten times more profitable per sq.ft. than the average mall. 20% of all perfume in the UK is sold at Heathrow.

Airports are high pressure retail funnels, they compress consumers in a distracted state through commodity gates.

Strangely, almost all international airports also have some kind of ‘faith space’.

34

Randy Paul 08.30.07 at 11:39 pm

One time I was flying from São Paulo to New York. The guy sitting next to me had a flight to Tokyo after a seven hour layover. I told him to spend $50 on an Admiral’s Club daypass which gave him a place to relax and shower.

He e-mailed me that it was the best $50 he’d ever spent.

35

Profane 08.30.07 at 11:55 pm

“So why the complete mismatch of trapped and exhausted consumers to luxury goods?”

As I understand it, it amounts to the fact that rents in airports are so high, that only shops with extraordinarily high margins (hence Gucci, Chanel, etc.), or businesses with extraordinarily high volumes, such as coffee shops and fast food, are profitable.

36

vivian 08.31.07 at 12:51 am

Maria, you might want to read Google News on Larry Craig, for a hint on why those nap-spaces might not be so appealing. Although if they had women-only ones, perhaps those wouldn’t get so grotty?

Seriously though, I’m no air-warrior but my carryon always includes (1) change of underwear and shirt (2) toothbrush/paste and (3) comb, in case the luggage gets lost. Also two books, chocolate and another snack, in case the flight is delayed. This doesn’t take up a lot of room, and does save a lot of discomfort.

37

Barry 08.31.07 at 12:53 am

“Why does it have to be the airport that provides the services? Couldn’t Northwest, e.g., run a capsule hotel/showers/etc. in Detroit, American run one at O’Hare, etc.?”

Posted by Ben M ·

Because running something like that outside of the airport would add significant costs and travel times.

38

Flippanter 08.31.07 at 1:16 am

Copenhagen is nice, but I don’t remember there being any showers.

39

brian 08.31.07 at 1:38 am

Or are travellers such a captive market that airports can completely ignore what they actually want…

Clearly I’m missing something. While I don’t travel a lot I travel a little bit and .. I’m never at the airport long enough for a nap. International transit airports (O’Hare? MPLS?) must be like Disneyland or something …

Also this – exercise requires a change of clothes and then you’re carrying sweaty gym clothes.

40

Stigand 08.31.07 at 1:55 am

I’m not sure that it’s capitalism to blame here.

My impression is that the more commercially run private airport (e.g., BAA airports) have a greater range of useful and innovative amenities (pharmacies, lounges, bookshops, non-junk food) than municipal airports even controlling for size.

As for all the luxury goods, 31 is on the money – that’s the duty-free factor at work.

41

Laleh 08.31.07 at 2:26 am

There are two airports which have all the desired services for free – Singapore and Amsterdam’s Schiphol. And as a tip, if you are flying through Singapore, take a swim-suit in your carry-on. Run to terminal 1; there is a lovely open air pool which you can use for S$10 (which also gets you a locker, access to a shower, and a clean towel).

Schiphol has sleeping pods and a shower, though I haven’t used the latter.

42

David 08.31.07 at 2:45 am

I’ve often thought that a continually running movie theater in an airport would be a great venue for the many excellent short films that have no ready or obvious audience or distribution channel.

We’re beginning to learn that in some US airports, you can tap your feet while in the men’s restroom in hopes of locating some fresh underwear.

43

Bernard Yomtov 08.31.07 at 3:22 am

So all these people who mysteriously forget to pack clean underwear are going to remember their gym clothes?

44

BetsyD 08.31.07 at 3:33 am

I’d settle for bathroom stalls, eating areas, and seating areas in airports that actually accommodate people with luggage. Sheesh.

45

Matt Austern 08.31.07 at 4:24 am

Most of the luxury stores in airports strike me as merely pointless. (Does anyone really go shopping for Waterman pens or reflecting telescopes to carry on a flight?) But the one that really puzzles me is the high-end luggage stores. There’s one in every airport. And at first it sort of makes sense: airport, luggage—of course there’s a connection. But then you think about it for a couple more seconds and you start to realize how seriously strange it is. You’d think that luggage is the one thing you could be absolutely certain that nobody inside the secure area of an airport needs. Before a trip, yes. But at the airport? I still haven’t figured it out.

I, too, am astonished by how unpleasant airports are, and by the obvious business opportunities that could make them slightly less unpleasant.

46

gr 08.31.07 at 5:16 am

The hardwood floor in Copenhagen is nice, but the food is ridiculously expensive. They have those large flatscreen tv’s everywhere. But instead of giving you some news, they only show the same Samsung (or LG) commercial over and over again. Extremely annoying.

47

Seth Finkelstein 08.31.07 at 7:12 am

matt austern / #45 – The luggage stores are to replace the luggage that’s gotten damaged after being thrown around. Makes sense from that perspective.

48

reason 08.31.07 at 7:12 am

Second those who said Singapore… transit hotel, swimming pool, you can walk miles in pleasant air conditioned surroundings if you want, and even a free tour of downtown between flights if you want.

49

nick s 08.31.07 at 7:13 am

Because luxury goods have a high tax markup, they can be offered at a significant discount in airports.

In theory. When it’s just VAT, the markup to pay for the concession often means it’s a wash, especially if you have the chance to claim a sales tax or VAT refund when you bring stuff home. Though transit hubs are useful in this regard.

Booze and ciggies are another matter, but that’s more restricted within the EU. What’s left are the luxury or limited editions, the bottle of Johnny Walker Extortionate Label and suchlike.

As richard said, Schiphol is pretty good (showers, sleeping area) but you do need to go outside security to get to some of the bare-essentials shops, because the main (non-Schengen) area is all about the duty-frees. I’ve never been to the shopping, um, Meccas in the Gulf, but I suspect they’re rather short on functional knickers too.

American airports, especially those designed for pre-2001 security, are basically awful, and don’t even have the time-sink attraction of the massive duty-free section. Detroit Metropolitan, a main hub from Amsterdam, is a hermetically-sealed atrocity. And as Kieran said, no Boots. Fifteen magazine shops, but they basically extend to aspirin and travel-sickness pills.

50

ejh 08.31.07 at 8:29 am

Hah, you don’t know what you’re complaining about. My local airport is Zaragoza, which I believe was voted, last year, the worst airport in Spain. It’s basically a bar (and not a particularly good one) with a strip of tarmac attached. It does not have expensive gift shops, which is to its credit: nor does it have anything else. Most especially, it does not have toilets in the departure lounge. Once you’re through the security check it’s legs crossed until you’re in the air.

It’s out of town, so there’s a bus to take you to the city centre. The bus goes to where the centre bus station used to be – not where it is now. And if you’re late – which, given that you’re probably arriving by Ryanair, you will be – there’s a good chance you will miss that bus. But don’t worry, there’s another one two and a half hours later.

As the city is holding the Expo next year, they are building a new terminal which may or may not address some of these problems. I would expect it to be finished some time after the Expo.

51

Tracy W 08.31.07 at 8:33 am

Agree with others about Singapore. Hotel rooms, swimming pool, free internet, free movies showing, outside gardens (ironically as Singapore is one of the few places in the world where being outside is thoroughly unpleasant). A flight from Europe to NZ through Asia generally requires a day stopover somewhere and all those little luxuries definitely rate.

Though I think the poor tour guides on the free day trip must have an awfully depressing job – imagine spending your whole life talking to people who keep falling asleep.

Hong Kong airport is nice – they have a chemists there and free internet, but not as good as Singapore. On the plus side, you can check in to your flight and drop your luggage at the airline in central Hong Kong and then spend the day sightseeing.

Asian airports of course have good fast food.

52

Doug 08.31.07 at 9:12 am

24: Yes, Copenhagen does, though I am not sure about showers. The hardwood floors make it look nice, there’s plenty of space (no cattle-chute feeling), and good visibility of flight information. But SHHHH!! Don’t tell or they’ll all want an airport this good!

25: Maria’s necessities can be found at Narita, though again not sure about the shower.

Does anyone know if the European Parliament is going to rescind the silly no-liquid rule? If we’ve got to have a traveling circus of a parliament, then at least they have some understanding of what travelers want and need.

53

James Wimberley 08.31.07 at 9:32 am

52 posts and counting! Maria, you have plainly hit a nerve.
Munich airport, even though it’s named after the boorish populist Franz-Josef Strauss, has its own brewery: making not some tasteless global lager, but an unfiltered connoisseur’s Weissbier.

The same logic that spoils airports will soon apply to super-jumbo jets. We will get more expensive tat shopping instead of what we need, viz: a library, an infirmary, showers, and an exercise room.

54

chris armstrong 08.31.07 at 9:47 am

I think I could amuse myself okay at an airport as a lone passenger – all I really need is a bookshop, a sandwich shop, a chair and access to a toilet. But I’m rarely a lone passenger these days, and my major gripe is the lack of things to do with small children during long waits at airports. Some places, like Heathrow, have small soft-play areas for small, soft children (which are usually full of dozens of big, hard children, sadly). But beyond that, nothing. I’m not quite sure what else is missing, but I know I’m missing it.

55

ajay 08.31.07 at 10:12 am

Frankfurt airport has a Junkers-themed bar, with pictures of Ju-52 (as seen over Crete!) and Ju-88 (as seen over Kent!) on the walls. Beat that.

56

Katherine 08.31.07 at 10:15 am

There are showers at Heathrow?! How many times have I been through there and never noticed? So the question changes from “why aren’t there showers” to “why are the showers signposted”.

57

Jo Wolff 08.31.07 at 11:33 am

I particularly like the service that for a few pounds winds a huge cellophane wrap around your suitcase, although I have never had the courage to try it myself. And neither have I had my shoes polished, but I’m pleased that the service is on offer just in case.

58

Maria 08.31.07 at 12:16 pm

Just wanted to say that Singapore has all those amenities for free, as well as free Xbox games, movies, and Internet. There’s basically anything a traveler with a long layover may need.

My pet peeve about airports: finding an AC outlet to plug my laptop. Of course, Singapore has solved that – there are free “laptop stations” all around the terminals. With international sockets.

59

abb1 08.31.07 at 12:24 pm

But in Singapore – don’t they hang you there if you’re caught not taking shower for two days? Especially in the airport while being a foreigner? So, a free shower is the least you should expect from them.

60

SG 08.31.07 at 2:09 pm

getting to the busses outside Heathrow is awful. In order to become an Incomer I had to get the bus to Devon, and between the terminal and the bus station there are NO signs. You literally can’t find it without asking. That’s stupid.

I think Japanese airports are quite good, from all my experiences so far. But that could be just because Japanese customer service is so efficient that you don’t actually spend any time inside the airport…

61

Desimom 08.31.07 at 2:12 pm

I have used the shower at Shipol, it is actually quite clean. It has a nap area, equipped with what look like recliners, tho all of it was taken by the time I got there. Got to say it is by far passenger friendliest airport in europe on the way from US to India. But now that I have 2 under 3 yr old terrors to travel with me, what I would like to see is a decent play area that will keep the little ones occupied, and I will not have to keep repeating “don’t drop that, it is very very expensive…”
Desimom

62

JRoth 08.31.07 at 2:39 pm

Come to think about it, if a particular city had unusually friendly and comfortable airport(s), that would become common knowledge among travelers pretty quickly. If I worked for the government of a second-tier city trying to attract convention business, this is something I’d push. Wonder if any have?

As Melinda noted in 32 above, the Pittsburgh Int’l Airport has some of the aforementioned amenities (it’s too small and non-hubby to offer/need shower/nap facilities) and features no-markup shops (the lease requires matching prices at non-airporrt locations), including a rather nice sock shop (at least as desirable post-flight as new undies). And this was done intentionally, to help boost the city as a destination. But, even though it has been highly ranked in national surveys, the strategy has had little success. No one chooses a destination for its airport.

63

Nat Almirall 08.31.07 at 2:43 pm

McDonalds, dougnuts, and the local variety of fried, sugary dross to add a sugar hangover to your jetlag.

I don’t recall ever seeing ‘DougNuts’ in the airport; I don’t think I would like to…

64

Hidari 08.31.07 at 3:10 pm

Schiphol now has an art gallery in the airport.

65

lemuel pitkin 08.31.07 at 3:49 pm

the Pittsburgh Int’l Airport has some of the aforementioned amenities (it’s too small and non-hubby to offer/need shower/nap facilities) and features no-markup shops (the lease requires matching prices at non-airporrt locations), including a rather nice sock shop (at least as desirable post-flight as new undies). And this was done intentionally, to help boost the city as a destination. But, even though it has been highly ranked in national surveys, the strategy has had little success. No one chooses a destination for its airport.

Well that’s gratifying. The matching price requirement is especially smart. True, no one chooses a destination solely for its airport, but with conventions and similar events it’s hard not think it’s a factor.

66

Darkwater 08.31.07 at 6:06 pm

the Pittsburgh Int’l Airport has some of the aforementioned amenities (it’s too small and non-hubby to offer/need shower/nap facilities) and features no-markup shops (the lease requires matching prices at non-airport locations), including a rather nice sock shop (at least as desirable post-flight as new undies).

When the new Pittsburgh terminal was built in the early ’90’s, PIT was the main hub for USAirways. They have gradually deemphasized it in favor of other hubs. It’s never had that many intercontinental flights.

PIT got a lot of press since it was the first US domestic terminal designed to have an abundance of retail space. The local airport authority, USAir (who bankrolled the terminal), and the company that developed the space all got kudos for creating such an inviting, functional airside terminal.

And the company that developed & managed the retail? BAA.

67

Ginger Yellow 08.31.07 at 6:16 pm

Singapore is definitely the best airport I’ve ever been in, especially if you’re a smoker. Instead of a cramped room with air you can scarcely see through, you get a freaking garden.

The one thing every airport should have but almost never does is an internet cafe. Wifi is better than nothing, but only if you have a laptop.

68

brian 08.31.07 at 6:23 pm

#62 lemuel pitkin
True, no one chooses a destination solely for its airport, but with conventions and similar events it’s hard not think it’s a factor.

I can’t see that.

Once you’re there you want to get to the hotel and check in, then get down to the reception or the opening event.

I certainly gawk at a new airport when I arrive – but I do it as I’m getting my bag and getting out of there.

69

FreedomDemocrat 08.31.07 at 7:35 pm

Hellooo?

Since when were the airports “capitalist?”

Eminent domain, massive government subsidies . . .

The airlines are operating in ANYTHING but a free market.

70

Mrs Tilton 08.31.07 at 7:37 pm

GY @64,

The one thing every airport should have but almost never does is an internet cafe. Wifi is better than nothing, but only if you have a laptop

Zurich’s airport has very thorough internet cafes in the lounges. Even those not travelling in merchant class can access the net quite cheaply, and there are hotspots for the laptop-armed as well.

In terms of shops, though, it’s the usual nonsense. Except, of course, that one can get chocolate-orange and chocolate-truffle cakes from Sprüngli, which to my knowledge Heathrow and Frankfurt/Main have yet to manage. Mmmm… chocolate-truffle cake….

The really brilliant thing about Zurich airport, though, is getting into town once you’ve arrived.

By the bye. A few years ago, the airport partially privatised. I leave it to others to decide whether that was a good idea. I will note merely that the place is now officially called “Unique Zurich Airport”. Did they actually pay some consultant for that, I wonder? I mean, if there’s anything it would be stupid for an airport to be, “unique” is certainly it.

71

Rich 08.31.07 at 7:46 pm

Really depends on the destination. Most hub airports have gotten better at selling travel necessities in the last decade and the range of food available has improved, even at places like Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson where the healtiest thing on the menu for many years was frozen yogurt.

Showers often are hidden–took me a while and questioning of many people but I found them at Frankfurt. United has “Arrivals by United” at most of its international hubs with Shower services.

It would be nice to get some cheap clothing or at least functional clothing. The new terminal at Seattle has an “ex-officio” store which sells very functional, but ggenerally expensive travel gear. Still more useful than many places. DC’s National airport has a Jos. A. Bank which , at least helps when you don’t have a clean shirt.

72

wesmorgan1 08.31.07 at 7:54 pm

I’d like to see cheap clothing for those of us trapped by flight cancellations or the odd restaurant accident. If I could buy a decent t-shirt and a pair of athletic shorts, I’d be quite happy; I’m tired of packing ‘emergency clothes’ in my carry-on bag…

73

donna 08.31.07 at 7:57 pm

They could just provide the shower at the security checkpoint and we could all walk through naked.

Hey, it would be simpler.

74

Charles 08.31.07 at 8:08 pm

I travel extensively, so I have in addition to the Admiral’s card, the Priority Pass.it cost $ 250 and give access to over 500 lounges worldwide (except Admiral, Air France and a few others..). to It is a pretty decent deal, specially, if you have to spend 4 to 5 hrs in an airport. Actually, I am thinking of cancelling my Admiral’s card…they are a rip off and just keep Prioirty.
Delta lounges are pretty decent though as well as the Asian ones ( JAL, Korean, Thai etc..). I agree though, food at most airports are awful.
one of the few exceptions, DCA- National in Washington, it has a decent food selection and an excellent Japanese / Sushi restaurant.

75

Matt in Eugene 08.31.07 at 8:30 pm

True story…at the San Diego airport I was trying to buy a pen to use on the plane…all the shops had were multi-colored “teenage girl” type pens that wrote in various luminescent colors. No Bic or any other regular pen. How out of touch are vendors in airports?

76

Adam Villani 08.31.07 at 8:53 pm

Las Vegas has slot machines but no table games, so that doesn’t do me any good, but the one really nice thing they have are stores for Ethel’s chocolates. Oh man, those chocolates are awesome. You can go on a free tour of the factory in Henderson, too.

77

fardels bear 08.31.07 at 9:08 pm

I want to second (or third) those who question the need for an exercise facility in an airport. What an earth do you need that for? There is plenty of room for a brisk walk in any airport. Floor space is available for stretching and calisthenics.

My old Taekwondo grandmaster used to basically work out while waiting at the gate. While wearing a nice suit he’d do a 100 pushups and situps and what have you.

Of course, a ninth-degree black belt generally doesn’t worry about what anybody thinks.

78

Maria 09.01.07 at 2:53 am

You need it for between two 13 hour periods of immobilisation to get *aerobic* exercise. It helps you sleep on the next flight, avoid DVT, drastically reduce jetlag and stretch out your muscles and back – especially if you have back problems – and actually be ready to work when you get there.

Brisk walking doesn’t come close to aerobic exercise for most of us, even if you could get up a head of steam between the designer outlets and dazed travellers. I’ve actually had airport goons ask me to stop walking up and down stairs at an international hub because it creates a “security risk”. And as for stretching in the boarding queue, non-conforming behaviours aren’t a winning performance in the security theatre.

79

DavidNYC 09.01.07 at 3:18 am

Earlier this year I was in the San Francisco airport, traveling back to NYC. I decided that I would finally splurge on a pair of expensive Bose noise-cancelling headphones, just so that I could make the cross-country trip home more pleasant. (Plus, I knew I’d have some more business travel coming up.)

Lucky me, the airport was plastered with huge ads for Bose’s QuietComfort headphones. I was in luck! Only… none of the electronics stores (including fancy-ridiculous places like Brookstone) carried Bose. Anywhere. In the entire airport. (I had a bunch of time before my flight, and believe me, I looked everywhere.)

So even when I did want to buy a high-end luxury item in an airport, the people supposedly trying to sell it to me couldn’t get it right!

80

Randy Paul 09.01.07 at 5:24 am

You do not know how bad airports are until you get to the Biloxi/Gulfport, MS airport, find out your flight has been cancelled and have six hours to the next flight.

When I went to Bismarck, ND in 1988, the airport security check closed for lunch. Because of this, if you went through security before lunch, you had to go through again as everyone was rousted from the security area (which was one large room) to go through again.

81

Wilhem 09.01.07 at 9:14 am

Mindless rant if ever there was one. Airports are the product of the nationalized/managed economy school of business. Free them up to market forces and, if people indeed want those things, you’ll see them implemented.

Evil? Socialism is evil.

82

Jonathan Kulick 09.01.07 at 12:10 pm

I recently was forced to transit through Heathrow, and the only consolation I could expect was to be able to stock up on Marmite. As it happens, in T4 one can buy every packaged British foodstuff, from Cream Egg to tinned smoked grouse, except for Marmite. Several sales clerks laughed heartily/scornfully/piteously at my inquiries.

83

Doug 09.01.07 at 1:14 pm

80: I got onto a plane one fine Sunday morning in Biloxi and who else should I find on board? Van Halen. Apparently there was only one flight out early (ish) on Sunday. I got an autographed barf bag out of the deal.

63: Dougnuts are neither well known nor properly appreciated. Be sure to observe a limit of two, though, lest you end up with a three Doug night.

84

ejh 09.01.07 at 2:16 pm

Mindless rant if ever there was one. Airports are the product of the nationalized/managed economy school of business. Free them up to market forces and, if people indeed want those things, you’ll see them implemented.

Evil? Socialism is evil.

Is the first sentence to be taken as the title of the rest of it?

85

Praisegod Barebones 09.01.07 at 7:14 pm

Agree with 54 about airports and children.

Munich has a fairly large ‘lego-pit’in one terminal – with outsize lego – which is pretty good.

Munich also enabled me to find a nice bow-tie at short notice when flying to New York for a wedding.
(my own).

86

nick s 09.01.07 at 11:44 pm

Free them up to market forces and, if people indeed want those things, you’ll see them implemented.

Which, of course, worked so well with airline security in the US. More subtle trolls, please.

87

abb1 09.02.07 at 9:52 am

…airline security…

Why, I suppose that was the kind of security consumers wanted.

I find it odd, though, that evil socialists prefer Gucci to K-Mart.

88

Blue Buddha 09.02.07 at 3:41 pm

I’ve been to Los Cabos, MX for vacation a few times, and the first time I went, I had a layover in Houston, which is one of the worst airports I’ve been to. The next year, I went to Dallas, and found it to be much more amicable… now I avoid the Houston airport as much as possible.

Even though the Dallas airport is just one big shopping mall, at least its laid out nicely and has a large selection of food to eat and travel items that are not of luxury grade.

89

Larry Craig 09.02.07 at 4:05 pm

As long as an airport has clean, “friendly” bathrooms than I am happy.

90

antonymous 09.02.07 at 4:32 pm

This nonsensical blog entry really made me *LOL*

Cause all your looking for is a hotel room

BUT you’re really only crying that it’s too expensive

The only way to have this for cheap is Socialism or a japanese love hotel :)

91

Edwin 09.02.07 at 10:14 pm

The new airports all across Asia, in all the major centres, have all of these services, run by private concerns, for profit, they are very affordable, and it’s lovely, and they are CLEAN. They also have smoking rooms. I don’t know what N. America’s problem is (I’m an expat and find travel on that side barbaric.) The flights offer full service, even on a 90-minute flight between Seoul and anywhere in Japan– meal and free beverages (alcohol incl.) Travel in Asia is nice, but I hate travel in N. America.

92

ruth 09.02.07 at 11:17 pm

Some number of years ago I spent 9 hours passing through the Miami airport (7am to 4pm). I don’t know if it still exists, but at the time it had a hotel. I quite cheerfully paid $50 for a room for 6 hours, and it was worth it for a chance to shower and lie down. Actually, at that point I didn’t much care what it cost, only that it was within the limit on my credit card.

93

bad Jim 09.03.07 at 11:06 am

I smoke unfiltered Camels, and better or equal cigarettes can’t be found everywhere. France, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, sure, but at best what’s on offer elsewhere in the EU are lamentably attenuated local products. One’s generally well advised to bring one’s own.

Except that every so often the duty free shop stocks my brand for ten bucks less than I shell out at Circle K. I suppose I ought to pay more attention to which airline flies out of which terminal at LAX.

94

Jacob T. Levy 09.03.07 at 1:51 pm

Sometimes the passenger actually is the consumer– and this is true for some of the passengers most likely to have hours for shopping in airports on a regular basis. If you have a choice as to what airports to connect through, it makes sense to pay attention to how miserable or pleasant the airport is. Given a choice, I’ll connect through Schiphol, because it’s by far the most pleasant of the options (for reasons that include those showers and nap-recliners). That also means that I’ll have chunks of 6 or 8 hours wandering around Schiphol instead of some other airport, and spending money at Schiphol’s other shops. (Moreover, that time will often occur while I feel punchy and addled by lack of sleep, to say nothing of the illusion that spending an extra hundred dollars when you’re in the middle of a $5000 trip matters less than spending that hundred dollars on a normal day would.)

In other words, the connecting-though market has different characteristic than the going-to market. Doing little things to make one’s airport an appealing choice means your very expensive mall can also do better business. At least some airports have a lot of room to be much smarter capitalists along this front than they are.

95

Jeff 09.04.07 at 2:15 pm

As several people (32, 62) pointed out the Pittsburgh airport has quite a few amenities. The one not mentioned though is that they do have clean underwear in the form of an in airport Victoria’s Secret.

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