Why surveillance capitalism is every bit as bad as Stansted Airport

by Maria on September 22, 2016

I love it when two ideas come together. At lunchtime, I was talking about Roger Taylor’s new book on open data, public policy and how to grab back some little part of our human agency from the maw of big data. Last night, already three hours delayed by that corporate gaslighter Ryanair, I was shuffling through the endemically slow passport queue at Stansted, soon to brave even further delayed luggage, and wondering why an airport that has just had millions spent on it is so utterly crap.

This morning, as I stood in a District/Circle line caterpillar train– the ones whose lack of carriage dividers always makes me guesstimate the unimpeded range of a bomb blast (I’m cheerful, that way) – it came to me. Facebook/Google/WhatsApp are bad for consumers in just the same way Stansted is.

Bear with me.

I wanted to go to Girona, a city in Catalunya, to spend a few days with a group of women brought together by an old army-wife friend to do running, cycling and general fitness. All good. The only way to get there from London was with Ryanair. So already, I felt a bit let down by capitalism. Where was all the market choice and innovation to translate my myriad human desires into a competitive range of options for me to choose from and pay for? Then it turned out that Ryanair would only leave from Stansted, which I dislike, so I had to satisfice like some too-lazy-to-compare consumer or a half-arsed social democrat.

So that’s the first similarity. Any colour as long as it’s black. Any social media, search or advertising platform as long as it’s Google or Facebook. (Before anyone starts, I use DuckDuckGo for search, subscribe to an actual hard copy newspaper as an alternative business model to PPC advertising, and have been on Ello for two years, making it just under two years since I’ve interacted with anyone on Ello.)

By now we all know the saying, ‘if you’re not the customer, you’re the product’. If you are a passenger in Stansted Airport, you are most definitely the product. It is said the RAF calls soldiers ‘self-loading freight’. Well, I’ve been in Brize Norton and it’s a lot nicer and better run than Stansted.

Passengers in Stansted are not people who have paid for a service (except of course they have paid for it, but in a disintermediated way that means the service provider doesn’t give a stuff about them). They are not even freight that needs efficient through-put. If you delay them, they will spend money, topping up those useless five euro vouchers only good for MacDonalds. What you want to do, if you run Stansted Airport, is extract every further penny you can from them. This is why once you stagger out of security with your shoes half-tied and your still belt in your hand, you have to run the gauntlet of a curving shopping mall hard-selling perfume, booze, sweets and cigarettes.

Airport passengers don’t move smoothly and efficiently through an environment designed to get them where they are going. They are parried and drained at every step, softened up by shouting security people and aggressively mis-sold crap they neither want nor need. (I wrote about this years ago on CT; the main thing I wanted from a major transit hub is a shower and a clean pair of knickers. Impossible to find in most. Happily for me, my environment-destroying 1K status is long since lapsed.) But Stansted (and Cork Airport, and Gatwick), if I want celebrity-endorsed scent, I’ll walk into the shop that sells it and spritz some on for free all by myself. I do not want to be forced through a narrow, twisty pathway along with hundreds of other frazzled people inhaling gallons of parabens and parfum and whatnot other eczema and asthma-inducing substances.

But because Stansted Airport has no direct relationship with me, and I have no real choice about where I fly from, I have no choice but to be shoved through a winding shopping mall before I can sprint to my gate. Sound familiar?

As Tom Slee has written so perfectly, No One Makes You Shop At Walmart. No, and the illusion of choice is just that.

What other similarities are there between the tech giants and Stansted Airport? Public services are under-funded, but the organisations extracting the revenues and whose business depends on them flick the costs of both provision and under-provision onto the users (or tax-payers, as they are also called.). The security line at Stansted, now moved to a nicer part of the building, is just as shouty and dysfunctional as before. Airports have to provide the technical minimum of security, or security theatre as Bruce Schneier describes its signalling aspects. But they don’t have to be either quick or efficient about it. This is why the Stansted reviews are full of missed flights caused by security delays, and people moved close to tears of useless rage by the contradictory orders barked at them by security staff (themselves on low wages and insecure contracts, because if we’ve learnt anything about the combination of Taylorism, big data and the securocracy, it’s to suck the agency and intelligence out of as many jobs as possible so those who fill them are entirely interchangeable and, let’s face it, miserable.).

Finally, both Stansted and surveillance capitalism share a zealous and sometimes unfounded faith in technology. I wonder if anyone has written about the organizational psychology behind our preference for investing in technology and systems, rather than people? I think about it a lot. From firing soldiers while you’re at war but clinging on to unproven weapons systems or aircraft carriers you won’t be able to man, to retail big data’s drive to refractive surveillance and downgraded jobs, something drives large organisations to prefer concentrating capital in systems and not humans, even when it’s less effective. Answers on a postcard.

But back to Stansted; if a single UK Border Agency employee failed to do her job as often as the passport-checking machines do, she would be fired for gross incompetence. Typically, a quarter of the passport machines seem out of service. And of the dozen or so working ones, a person is sent every minute to the human passport check. It took ALL the willpower I could muster to not just duck straight into that line when the opportunity suddenly presented itself. I’ve got a one in three hit-rate of the machines working for me, and yes, my passport is fully machine-readable and no, I’m apparently not on any watch-lists. (Though there is something nice about the non-EU people, especially those I’d put money on being from ‘difficult’ countries, going right into the short line for once.) Checking the Stansted reviews, it seems a thirty-minute wait in an abbatoir-does-Disney line is the norm. Gone are the days when someone who knew what they were doing took two glances to satisfy the yes/no questions of ‘does your passport look dodgy?’ and ‘do you have the legal right to enter the country?’. Data drives only the appetite for more data, so now we can’t just be let do what we are permitted to do, but must be tracked constantly while doing it, albeit by systems that are, in the wonderful British expression, ‘not fit for purpose’.

So there you have it. Stansted will stay just as crap because it was designed not for passengers but for those who extract revenues from passengers. The public services attached to it will remain crap because they are under-funded, and since when have states cared about petty and inefficient citizen-borne externalities? And we will continue to whinge about the iniquities, sure in the knowledge that doing so serves a purely expressive and not instrumental purpose.

There are no buttons to press – no, not even the cute happy/sad face one after security in Gatwick, which is as placebo a button as that at any pedestrian crossing in central London. There are no levers to pull; contractual, regulatory or otherwise. In the modern world of surveillance capitalism, we pick neither exit nor voice nor loyalty. They’re already picked for us.

Mind you, I had a cracking time in Catalunya, for which ‘Thanks, Stansted’ and ‘Thanks, Ryanair’, too.

{ 64 comments }

1

P O'Neill 09.22.16 at 5:04 pm

I’m still horrified, in empathy with the victim, of this particular confluence of securocracy and Ryanair that took place at Gatwick this summer.

2

BenK 09.22.16 at 5:17 pm

Private jet?

3

JakeB 09.22.16 at 5:24 pm

God bless you for saying all the things I’ve been feeling like saying again after travelling last week.

4

Maria 09.22.16 at 5:27 pm

P, I’ve read that through and still have only the vaguest notion of what they were supposed to have done. Baffling.

A family member had another airline bar them from a flight to Ireland recently because the security person didn’t write a squiggle on her boarding card as she went through, thus proving she had not just … come off one flight, stayed airside and was now boarding another. (nowhere could it be found out what might be wrong with this in any case, or where an insecurity might have entered an airside person) She couldn’t prove that, although she lives there, she had spent the afternoon in London beforehand. They insisted she must have a coffee receipt or a Tube ticket or something. Her being reasonably frugal and us living in a, you know, pretty much cashless society, she didn’t have a receipt to show she’d been out of the airport. Wasn’t allowed to fly and had to buy a new ticket. Heathrow. Unfathomable, not least that a Costa receipt could somehow be a security token.

You know what? Sod it. Forget surveillance capitalism. Let’s just have daft airport stories.

5

djr 09.22.16 at 6:01 pm

Stansted used to be a nice airport… Why did they put an obstacle course after security? Who does this help? How does putting the fragile bottles of perfume and spirits basically in a corridoor where people are coming through with luggage not lead to lots of breakages?

On the other hand, I’m finding that my success rate on UK passport kiosks is rising. I haven’t changed my passport, I can only assume that ageing is making me look more like the photo.

6

Bob Zannelli 09.22.16 at 6:02 pm

Flying is no fun, but why is capitalism being equated with airport security? Does anyone really want to get on a airplane where no one is screened? Do they not screen flyers in Sweden and Norway and other far more socialist countries? It seems to me that people with crazy religious ideas should get the credit for why Flying sucks, at least so far as security goes. Now if you want to complain why airline services sucks so bad, then I am with you. I’ll give that one to capitalism.

7

J-D 09.22.16 at 6:28 pm

Bob Zannelli 09.22.16 at 6:02 pm

Flying is no fun, but why is capitalism being equated with airport security? Does anyone really want to get on a airplane where no one is screened?

My preference, if we must have screening, is that it be implemented as a system taken seriously, as demonstrated by staffing it with people whose treatment, training, and remuneration are taken seriously. Otherwise, what’s the point?

8

Yankee 09.22.16 at 7:14 pm

As long as you realize that nobody is doing this, it’s doing itself. Demons and Powers.

9

john b 09.22.16 at 7:19 pm

Stansted is one of my favourite airports and this story has done nothing to dispel that. It’s for people who are good at travelling, not amateurs and idiots.

The linked story is hilarious and brilliant and I’m delighted that the fools in question were rightly punished for being bad at aviation.

If you want a safe flying experience, go via BA at Heathrow and you’ll pay the advertised fare. The whole point about Ryanair is that it’s a game and that’s how the bloody thing is advertised.

10

Neville Morley 09.22.16 at 7:33 pm

“Designed not for passengers but for revenue extractors”: having done Heathrow-Hamburg-Heathrow this week, YES. Perfectly straightforward experiences, and actually the sushi in Hamburg wasn’t too bad, but the complete absence of anything I’d actually want to buy (why no Leysieffer concession?) in buildings dominated by glittery commerce and too few uncomfortable chairs…

11

Phil 09.22.16 at 8:29 pm

Just on fares, I did a price comparison the other year on flights to Italy, as between BA and Jet2. The price difference was insane – the headline Jet2 ticket price was something like 15-20% of the headline BA price; it looked like an absolute no-brainer. Then I went through the tortuous process of adding all the necessary ‘extras’ to the Jet2 ticket. There were many of these, and they were by no means avoidable; the one that sticks in my mind is where you could pay a fee (per person) to choose your seats, or have them allocated by Jet2… for a slightly smaller fee. The total price ended up at something like 95% of the BA price (which included all the ‘extras’) – and I would happily have paid the other 5% for the privilege of not working my way through a long series of Web pages being quietly and efficiently scalped. BA didn’t have the right combination of airports, though, so we (reluctantly) went with Jet2 anyway.

12

Trader Joe 09.22.16 at 9:30 pm

As a frequent air traveler there are so many points in this piece I hardly know where to begin. Its long since been the case that all of the romance has been stripped from air travel to the point where nearly all carriers are essentially busses with wings.

The only sympathy I have for TSA and the equivalent is that it couldn’t be much fun to work at a job where the entirety of the public believe you are too slow and incompetent sorta regardless of how fast you work. Pretty low morale I’d think. Still, there has to be ways to make a better experience.

One observation omitted – and perhaps less true of Ryanair than some – is the blatant classism that pervades the experience. Frequent travelers in the US have TSA-Precheck and there are similar opportunities to jump the queue in most European airports as well. Likewise these same folks get preferred boarding so less of a scrum to stow their bags and then enjoy bigger seats, nicer amenity (free drinks!) and more.

Yes, its true, they pay for these at far over the odds of providing these benefits but there is a 1% in travel that have lets say a somewhat different experience than the one described in the OP (to say nothing of the actual 1% who don’t necessarily fly commercial).

13

Layman 09.22.16 at 9:34 pm

“Frequent travelers in the US have TSA-Precheck and there are similar opportunities to jump the queue in most European airports as well. “

Pretty much anyone can get TSA pre-check. I’ve seen kids using it.

14

Trader Joe 09.22.16 at 9:37 pm

Pretty much anyone can get TSA pre-check. I’ve seen kids using it.

Absolutely – Anyone with $85.

15

Sentient AI from the Future 09.22.16 at 9:45 pm

Profit is to be made by moving jobs quicker than people are able to migrate.
Increasing the difficulty of migration, of whatever type, seems to make bottom-line sense in that context.

16

bruce wilder 09.22.16 at 9:48 pm

The crazy thing about TSA pre-check is that it rubs off on your travelling companions. So, say my travelling companion pays the fee and does the qualifying interview or whatever. She buys our tickets and voila! I am speeding thru the lines with her at JFK: 12 minutes v 45+ minutes. Sweet. But no better security rationale than confiscating shampoo and nail clippers

17

gastro george 09.22.16 at 9:52 pm

It’s effectively ransom money. We devise ways of making your life hell, then offer “fast track” at a price to avoid it. Then we devise another way …

18

Tabasco 09.22.16 at 11:36 pm

you have to run the gauntlet of a curving shopping mall hard-selling perfume, booze, sweets and cigarettes.

This describes every airport in the developed world.

19

Moz of Yarramulla 09.23.16 at 12:51 am

It’s for people who are good at travelling

I agree entirely. If you’re unwilling or unable to spend most of the average income on flying, you shouldn’t fly at all.

My experience, as someone who does a bit of research before flying, but only flies every year or two, is that it is very much a game. A game played by big, powerful players against each other, while the almost-irrelevant passengers are left to their own devices.

Last time I flew we had to re-purchase extra baggage allowance at a greatly inflated rate when flying home, because “the system” had lost that part of our ticket purchase. Naively we had thought that printing out the tickets with a line saying “extra baggage allowance: 1 bicycle” complete with multiple barcodes, would suffice. But no, in order to prove that we’d paid the sum displayed on said ticket, we needed to have also printed a separate receipt that would have been emailed to us if we had asked. Although one call centre worker did mention that those are not always accepted… In the end having a credit card available to pay the $500-odd charge made all the difference. We flew home, with bikes, then spent a couple of hours on the phone discussing the situation with different people. We had to speak to management to get a better offer than “we will refund the original $25 fee per bicycle since you didn’t use that”.

20

Alan White 09.23.16 at 1:04 am

Some ancient history to show how some things never change.

I flew the most in my life during college waaaaay back in the early 70s. This was the time of the first real paranoia about hijackings, but long before people thought of using passenger jets as terrorist weapons. One repeated experience I had (4 times) was being in line to board and then yanked out to be screened and patted down in a private room. The last time this happened–at O’hare–I asked the guy frisking me why this happened to me so many times. He said “Well, I shouldn’t tell you this but you meet the FBI hijacker profile about 95%.” Though pretty much your average Caucasian by heritage, I was tall but slight, with very dark and long hair with a foo mustache, and darker skin from too much sun. So I didn’t look Caucasian–apparently not enough anyway.

Sheesh.

21

cassander 09.23.16 at 1:49 am

> The only way to get there from London was with Ryanair. So already, I felt a bit let down by capitalism. Where was all the market choice and innovation to translate my myriad human desires into a competitive range of options for me to choose from and pay for?

You chose not to take the train, correct? You rejected driving? Riding a horse? Cycling? You had a massive range of choices.

>So that’s the first similarity. Any colour as long as it’s black.

Sure, if you ignore all the colors that aren’t black

>Any social media, search or advertising platform as long as it’s Google or Facebook.

or twitter, pinterest, yahoo, bing, instagram, and dozens of others.

>This is why once you stagger out of security with your shoes half-tied and your still belt in your hand, you have to run the gauntlet of a curving shopping mall hard-selling perfume, booze, sweets and cigarettes.

My good, those bastards! Trying to sell you things? What’s wrong with them?

>Airport passengers don’t move smoothly and efficiently through an environment designed to get them where they are going.

It’s almost like there are more concerns than efficient movement of people in designing airports, like security, movement of baggage, movement of aircraft, air traffic control, traffic and transit flow, parking,

>They are parried and drained at every step, softened up by shouting security people and aggressively mis-sold crap they neither want nor need. (I wrote about this years ago on CT; the main thing I wanted from a major transit hub is a shower and a clean pair of knickers. Impossible to find in most.

given that those shops are paying fairly high rents, someone either wants or needs their crap. Or do other people’s desires not count in your worldview?

>But because Stansted Airport has no direct relationship with me, and I have no real choice about where I fly from, I have no choice but to be shoved through a winding shopping mall before I can sprint to my gate. Sound familiar?

Again, you repeat the same fallacious argument. You did have a choice. Many choices. You chose Stansted. Stamping your feet and shouting nu-uh does not refute that.

> Public services are under-funded, but the organisations extracting the revenues and whose business depends on them flick the costs of both provision and under-provision onto the users (or tax-payers, as they are also called.).

I believe the state in the UK consumes well over half of GDP. In what universe does having more more than everyone else put together make an entity under funded?

>The security line at Stansted, now moved to a nicer part of the building, is just as shouty and dysfunctional as before.

Funny how the sector of the airport furthest divorced from anything like a market is the most dysfunctional. Better not think too deeply about that, eh?

>But back to Stansted; if a single UK Border Agency employee failed to do her job as often as the passport-checking machines do, she would be fired for gross incompetence.

I daresay your civil servants are at least as unfireable as ours (he won his case, btw).

>So there you have it. Stansted will stay just as crap because it was designed not for passengers but for those who extract revenues from passengers. The public services attached to it will remain crap because they are under-funded, and since when have states cared about petty and inefficient citizen-borne externalities? And we will continue to whinge about the iniquities, sure in the knowledge that doing so serves a purely expressive and not instrumental purpose.

As we’re already established, the chief revenue extractor in the UK is the government itself. It’s also the architect of most of the actual woes you mention. And yet, you think it should have more powers and revenues. What on earth makes you think it will get better if you reward its incompetence?

22

Joshua W. Burton 09.23.16 at 3:04 am

It’s effectively ransom money. We devise ways of making your life hell, then offer “fast track” at a price to avoid it.

The Denver’s airport’s main concourse is a tented open space that has been sacrificed to security lines, leaving a narrow circumambulating walkway along the retail franchises around the edge. The long barrier around the central zigzag zone has been tastefully decorated with a Bayeux tapestry of weary peds (the stick figures one sees on “ped xing” signs) bearing heavy ped luggage . . . and savvy TSA-Pre or ClearMe.com peds literally stepping on the ped peasants’ heads as they sprint to the gate with their ped briefcases and designer ped purses.

I think it’s insufficiently cynical to assume it’s about the $85, by the way. To bury a constitutional right, a good strategy is to convince everybody a federal judge is likely to have lunch with to waive that right voluntarily and routinely as a matter of convenience or privilege or status.

23

Faustusnotes 09.23.16 at 4:19 am

My base airports are narita and Haneda and they are nothing like this. The security staff are efficient and polite, and immigration treats me well. The airport and facilities are clean, lines are usually short, and everyone aims to get everything done quickly and politely. My most recent trip I returned from Hong Kong – touched down at 8:18 pm and got onto an 8:44 train to my home suburb with time to buy a bottle of water on the way.

The problem I see with this comparison is that it doesn’t account for the specific nature of uk capitalism. Business in the uk is broken from the bottom up – small, medium or large, British businesses don’t think about the customer and don’t care about investment or infrastructure. This is why cafe queues are too long (the owner would rather profit than invest in a second coffee machine and another staff member), pubs have no aircon (why waste money on such luxuries even though everything stinks?) and the banking staff don’t know how to follow basic procedures. At every level, U.K. Calitalism isn’t working. In contrast, Japanese capitalism works much better.

Interestingly, Japan has a native social network system called mixi that is way way friendlier and more responsive than Facebook, with a very different feeling. It’s being eclipsed by Facebook now but for a long time it was the only game in town. It is anonymous, allows you to track your visitors, and has a blog type function for deeper and more personal engagement.

Draw what conclusions you like from that …

24

dr ngo 09.23.16 at 5:05 am

I am surprised to learn that Faustusnotes finds Narita pleasant and efficient, though I do not doubt his/her word on the matter. Back In The Day (20-25 years ago) we used to have to transit through Narita on our way from Hong Kong to the USA, and that transit lounge, from which no exit was permitted, was the quintessence of indifference to human comfort and convenience. Not rampant capitalism as such – access to luxury shops or even fast-food joints would have been a welcome alternative to sitting (if you could find a chair) or standing and watching judo matches, which were on every TV that was working. Nothing else. Just massive indifference to “customers,” which I took as a Japanese way of indicating, without saying it outright, that foreigners don’t matter.

I was pleasantly surprised some years later when I visited actual Japan – as opposed to Narita – and found it, and the Japanese people, much nicer.

25

b9n10nt 09.23.16 at 5:06 am

Cassander:

given that those shops are paying fairly high rents, someone either wants or needs their crap. Or do other people’s desires not count in your worldview?

Each individual shop may provide goods that shoppers want but collectively they create a common environment that passersby do not want: more crowded, more stimulating, less safe. This is a negative externality, as each shop depletes the crowd’s overall comfort and self-possession. As such, an increased airport sales tax or a higher lease rate might be instituted that would raise money for the airport to compensate for fewer retailers, thus alleviating the negative externality (and creating fewer customer choices, of course).

In this respect, the issue isn’t whether other people count, but whether retailers’ and shoppers’ utility is prioritized above that of non-shoppers’.

Aside: Our own experience maturing into adulthood supports the Kahnemanian notion of choosing “fast and slow”: We can act on the desires for consumer goods and services instinctively or reflectively. Public spaces can influence us toward system 1 or system 2. Market liberals’ rhetoric about “choice” neglect the possibility of different modules of choosing that are influenced by environmental stimuli.

26

faustusnotes 09.23.16 at 5:23 am

Dr Ngo, I think Japanese service may have changed a lot in the last 25 years, and 25 years ago I think foreign travel for Japanese was a very different thing than it is now. So you could be right. But modern Narita is great (for an airport!). Every time I travel via Narita I make sure to be hungry enough on arrival with enough time to go to the ochatsuke restaurant in the north wing, it’s great. It’s the only airport I think I’ve ever visited that has a restaurant I’m actually interested in. Also I almost never have to take off my shoes or belt, and the security staff treat my luggage respectfully. Unbelievable!

27

ET 09.23.16 at 6:32 am

“The only way to get there from London was with Ryanair.”
KLM flies this route.

28

dax 09.23.16 at 8:13 am

Don’t know, but Girona has a population of 100k and is a 1 hour train ride from Barcelona. How many flights from London does a town like that deserve?

I want, therefore I should have…?

29

Sam Dodsworth 09.23.16 at 9:09 am

Fascinated to see so many angry libertarians explaining that limited choices and poor service are a natural and desirable result of a free market and that to express dissatisfaction is a sign of naivety or entitlement. They’re probably right about the first point, but surely feedback drives innovation?

30

magari 09.23.16 at 10:49 am

This may sound crazy to you, but I’d rather take the 9-10 hour train voyage London-Girona than the 4 hours it takes to fly. Not only is it a more civilized method of travel, the more people who reject flights for trains the more the pressure will be on the airports to improve on hospitality.

31

Chris Bertram 09.23.16 at 10:56 am

Dax is being very impolite, but as there are flights to Barcelona from London airports more pleasant than Stansted, doesn’t it make sense to fly to Barcelona and then get the train?

32

TM 09.23.16 at 11:26 am

Give the faceless neoliberal EU bureaucracy a bit of credit for http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm.

33

TM 09.23.16 at 11:35 am

Part of me feels a glimmer of hope when reading reports from pissed-off airline passengers – hope that demand for this shitty product airline travel, which nobody seems to like any more, will finally start decreasing. Maybe incompetent and/or underfunded security screeners will save the world that way. Gotta think positive.

34

dax 09.23.16 at 11:39 am

“doesn’t it make sense to fly to Barcelona and then get the train?” That wasn’t actually my point, because I don’t know whether Maria wants to go to the Girona centre or to a point near-by. Flying to Barcelona and taking the train to Girona centre means getting from the airport to the Barcelona city centre, and then taking the train. That adds 2-3 hours and hassle to the journey, hassle probably equivalent to taking a flight with a change, which Maria probably wanted to avoid.

My point was that there’s a city with good train service not too far away from Girona, and the number who must travel directly to Girona from London is pretty small, so the number who want to go to Girona airport must also be pretty small. You’re basically asking for direct plane service from Madrid to Oxford. Blaming the lack thereof on capitalism rather than unrealistic expectations (damn, there I’m being impolite again) seems a tad much.

35

magari 09.23.16 at 12:06 pm

It’s also questionable whether flights from Gatwick or Heathrow are really that much more pleasant than Stanstead and Ryanair. When you get used to ME/Asian carriers, European ones all come off looking bad.

36

James Wimberley 09.23.16 at 12:45 pm

## 28,31: Spain wildly overinvested in regional airports in the days before the Deluge, as Kipling put it. The idea seemed to be that every province needed its own airport. Maria is lucky Girona has any flights. Castellon and Huesca (at similar distances to Valencia and Zaragoza) have IIRC none at all.

There is no convenient shuttle between Barcelona and Girona airports, which would be easy enough to set up using either rail or bus. Perverse incentives you see.

37

hellblazer 09.23.16 at 1:27 pm

Delurking after many years, for point of information: 2 years ago, when I needed to go there, Castellon had no passenger flights (for reasons James Wimberley indicates) but I was told earlier this year that this is no longer the case. I have no idea about frequency, reliability.

I think there is probably a coach to Castellon from Malaga? Not sure.

Anyway, we now return you to CT’s usual programming <goes back into bunker>

38

Trader Joe 09.23.16 at 2:16 pm

@16 “The crazy thing about TSA pre-check is that it rubs off on your travelling companions. So, say my travelling companion pays the fee and does the qualifying interview or whatever. She buys our tickets and voila! I am speeding thru the lines with her at JFK: 12 minutes v 45+ minutes. Sweet. But no better security rationale than confiscating shampoo and nail clippers”

I’m informed that this is absolutely against TSA policy (explicitly when trying to convey my own teenagers through said line by said means), but I too have seen it with regularity at a variety of airports.

TM – “Part of me feels a glimmer of hope when reading reports from pissed-off airline passengers – hope that demand for this shitty product airline travel, which nobody seems to like any more, will finally start decreasing.”

The thing is, when air-travel works its an absolute thing of beauty. I once had occasion to meet up with three old friends in London and we all four arrived to Heathrow from different cities within one hour of one another and shared a taxi to meet up with two others in town – on time (despite the traffic). Indeed there’s no reason a person should imagine they can have a breakfast meeting in Boston, a lunch meeting in New York and a dinner meeting in San Fran all on the same day, yet it is in fact possible if the flights are on time.

39

Stephen 09.23.16 at 3:04 pm

Stansted can be tolerable if you avoid Ryanair (I have since part of the undercarriage fell off after takeoff from Dublin). But for its intolerable aspects, enjoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAg0lUYHHFc

40

JimV 09.23.16 at 4:47 pm

I used to travel by airplane to do field service at power plants a lot, mostly in the previous century. There were a few bad experiences, but 95% of the time things went smoothly. You could get to the airport a half-hour before your flight and get through the lines okay. (45 minutes was recommended and I complied, but I spent 20-30 minutes sitting in a rigid plastic chair at the gate.) My sense is that things have gotten worse and worse in this century. Not just the TSA, as terrible as it is, but the computer systems seem to glitch routinely. After one epic, 25-hour airline experience from Albany, NY to Columbia, Ohio, I decided, that’s it, no more airline travel. From then on I rented a car to drive there and back (ten hours, one way). I would like to list all the things that went wrong during that 25 hours, for catharsis, but it would take too long to write and to read. I’ll just mention the last one, okay?

As I ran toward the gate of my connecting flight from Washington National to Columbia with my untied shoe-laces flapping (and unbeknownst to me, my carry-on duffel bag missing the little brown notebook of people’s names and phone numbers and other information about my contractor job, which the TSA inspectors decided to confiscate without telling me), I saw the big door to the jetway being closed and locked. It was about 6:20 AM (I had arrived at the Terminal at 4:30 AM, and my flight was scheduled for 6:15 AM. However, I then got my one break: things were behind schedule already, and the door was closing on the flight before mine. As I sat waiting for my flight, the loud speaker continued to blare its warning message every 15 minutes, that on all flights to and from Washington D.C., all passengers must remain seated for the first half-hour on leaving and the last half-hour on arriving. Eventually I boarded and the stewardess gave us the same warning and told us if that anybody did get up, she would push a big red button and our flight would be diverted to some nearby airport where we would all be interviewed by the FBI. A bit later the Captain made the same announcement. As we took off, before the plane had leveled, a lady in an aisle seat across the aisle from me removed her seat belt, got up, and began running towards the back of the plane.

41

Doug K 09.23.16 at 5:26 pm

“This is why once you stagger out of security with your shoes half-tied and your still belt in your hand, you have to run the gauntlet of a curving shopping mall hard-selling perfume, booze, sweets and cigarettes. “

I had not flown internationally since 2008, so my first encounter with this was in Reykjavik airport this summer. It was an astonishingly unpleasant experience, and yes the perfume concentration did trigger an asthma attack. After surviving that we had lunch, wondering idly why there were so many PA calls for planes waiting on missing passengers. After lunch, we found out – there was another secret security and passport check to get through to the gates. There a multitude of flights scheduled in the same ten minutes generated a heaving mass of wretched people all fighting the crowd cross-currents to move toward their gates.

Upon arrival in Denver we hit the passport-checking machines, which generated eight different bits of paper for our family of four. Resolving those bits of paper for admission into our country took a human passport agent nearly an hour. Ah, the romance and glamour of travel..

‘refractive surveillance’ is an excellent term for it, had not heard that before. I am happy to see that Cathy O’Neil’s book on big data, ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’, is getting a publicity tour in the UK as well.
https://mathbabe.org/

42

Older 09.23.16 at 7:34 pm

“something drives large organisations to prefer concentrating capital in systems and not humans, even when it’s less effective. Answers on a postcard.”

I don’t know about other countries, but it was an eye-opener for me when I discovered that US tax structure causes employers to favor equipment over people by making “depreciation” of equipment (f0r tax purposes) a source of profit.

It’s experiences like this that make me hope I will never have to travel, ever again. Every means of going long distances has some really repellent aspect.

43

Ogden Wernstrom 09.23.16 at 9:09 pm

Reading CT has been better since I figured out that this is posted by some always-contrary bot account, which has no goalposts, fabricates and imposes impossible standards on others but no standards upon itself – and I think it must be trying to tell us to have fun with anything it says:

You chose not to take the train, correct? You rejected driving? Riding a horse? Cycling? You had a massive range of choices.

Does “rejected” include “couldn’t find an alternative that met time-, cost-, availability- or other-constraints”?

Train: I like the train, and was very happy with TGV, Frecciarossa and Intercity trains last year*. We had plenty of time, though. (As a counterpoint to that, however, one leg of a 2013 trip – for nine of us, from Hannover DE to Ålborg DK – was a six-train 17-hour ordeal that made me wish we’d had the 4000+U$D for the flights.

Driving: From London, to those familiar with a bit of geography outside of the USofA mainland, this appears to be unreliable as a sole mode of transport to Spain. This must have implied mixed-mode transit.

Horse: YES! Where in London can I hire a one-way (or round-trip) horse that will get me to Catalán France without occupying my entire holiday enroute?

Or would it be a string of horses – quarterhorses or thoroughbreds, to make good time – conveniently spaced along the way? A modern Pony Express! Of course, I don’t expect to change horses mid-Chunnel, so I will need a fresh horse as I arrive in France. (Please consider that I am heavier than the average Pony Express rider.)

My wife loves horses, and she wants to spend some time in London as part of our 2019-FIFA-World-Cup trip. Assuming that hiring the horses is reasonable in cost (and that horses can be the sole mode of transport where automobiles can not), I’m really looking forward to the trip from London to France. (I am not a big fanatic for riding hosers, and very little experience in English saddles, so Rennes or Nantes is about as far as I am willing to ride from London.)

Cycling: Is there a bike lane in the Chunnel? Or is this another mixed-mode? (For me, the likely need to replace an artificial joint would make cycling that distance unreasonably costly and painful. But others might enjoy this option.)

Massive Range of Choices: Yes. If sillyness is not a concern, quite massive. Don’t tempt me.

On the topic of commercial-travel airports, I am blessed to be near PDX (Portland, OR), but cursed to have connected, domestic-to-international or vise-versa, through EWR (Newark, NJ) three times in my life. PDX emphasizes (requires, maybe?) vendors who also have shops in Portland (other than in-airport), and I think their prices are non-jacked-up. PDX is not huge, and the bigger airports usually are the worst – but – in my limited experience – AMS (Schiphol, NL) is much more pleasant than its size would imply.

A thought: I want to find data to run a regression analysis to see whether there is a correlation between cannabis legality and airport-customer satisfaction….

*The trains were good, but Hungary had some other stuff going on last September that gave us some trouble good stories to tell.

44

Nick 09.23.16 at 9:33 pm

Ah, Stanstead . . . One fine day many many years ago I spent a full 20 hours pacing your passenger transit terminal, waiting for my RyanAir flight to leave for Brussels . . . a few dozen times around clockwise, then a few dozen counterclockwise, then a bowl of Irish stew in the fake horrible pub with the last of my coin . . . arrived in Brussels about 10:30 at night, turned out I no longer met the conditions for a visa-on-arrival . . . spent the night in a Brussel’s airport jail, dined on a packaged waffle the guard gave me . . . up bright and early next morning, back to Stanstead . . . went through immigration, “What’s your plan, then?” . . . “Don’t have one really, just got deported from Belgium.” . . . “Think I’m going to detail you for your own good, just come sit over there . . .” sat over there . . . “Can I have a sandwich please?” . . . pleasant security people happy to give me a sandwich, saved life . . . nearly deported back to America, but convinced them to let me buy a ticket to Thailand where my wife and home were . . . took bus to Heathrow, a civilized airport . . . purchased ticket, never been back.

45

Peter Hovde 09.25.16 at 1:54 am

“Ladies and gentleman, this is the captain again. We at RyanAir know that you have extremely limited choices when it comes to air travel to many destinations, and we appreciate your more-or-less stoic acceptance of this fact. Have a pleasant stay.”

46

cassander 09.25.16 at 5:43 pm

@b9n10nt

>Each individual shop may provide goods that shoppers want but collectively they create a common environment that passersby do not want: more crowded, more stimulating, less safe. This is a negative externality, as each shop depletes the crowd’s overall comfort and self-possession. As such, an increased airport sales tax or a higher lease rate might be instituted that would raise money for the airport to compensate for fewer retailers, thus alleviating the negative externality (and creating fewer customer choices, of course).

Only if you ignore the utility given to people who do buy things that they want. Denying people who, say, really like to eat before getting on the plane the ability to do so in favor of a calmer atmosphere also imposes negative externalities.

>Market liberals’ rhetoric about “choice” neglect the possibility of different modules of choosing that are influenced by environmental stimuli.

It doesn’t neglect that possibility at all. No one believes homo-economicus is real, any more than high school physics students believe in the existence of massless frictionless planes. The rhetoric of the anti-market folks does, however, usually neglect the inherent costs and problems of non-market (i.e. coercive) methods of decision making.

47

cassander 09.25.16 at 5:58 pm

@Ogden Wernstrom

>Does “rejected” include “couldn’t find an alternative that met time-, cost-, availability- or other-constraints”?

So, in other words, Maria had choices, lots of them. All those choices came with costs, in time, money, pain in the ass, etc. And from those choices, Maria selected the one that best suited her needs, exactly the way econ 101 says? Which was precisely my point?

Complaining about costs is not a meaningful argument. doing things imposes costs, full stop. If you want to say that capitalism has failed in some way, you can’t just point out those costs, you have to show that some non-capitalist system would have produced more/better choices with lower/fewer costs. Neither of you even bothered to try doing that. All you did was assert that capitalism is obviously a failure because it didn’t instantly teleport Maria to Spain and back for free.

48

b9n10nt 09.25.16 at 7:05 pm

Cassander @ 44, 45:

Again…my point is that, in the OPs telling, marginal crowding, unwelcome stimulation, and safety is a negative externality: those who neither buy nor sell are NOT compensated for the (marginal) losses caused by those who do. I don’t see how this point fails to take in the considerable benefit of retail, it just argues that there’s a cost that isn’t internalized (and suggests there are means to address the externality).

I also want to reiterate a subtler point: at the margin, the choice to sell/buy or to abstain therefrom (is that a word? It should be!) is not abolutely autonomous or unitary. Just as the “choice”‘ to buy water can be marginally coerced by taking away access to a common well, the choice to engage in exchange made in any commons (such as an airport terminal) can be unfairly influenced by depriving people of an atmosphere that allows for “system 2” thinking ( do I really need this ?). Thus, free markets should jealously protect the “psychic” neutrality of the commons regarding the choice to trade.

I welcome critique, uncertain that I haven’t made some pertinent error in my reasoning, but do put in the effort to comprehend what I have written. Extra points if you use therefrom in your reply.

49

djr 09.25.16 at 7:46 pm

Yes, it’s not the existence of the shops that annoys me, just that the recent refurb at Stansted means that the route from security to the gate goes through (not past) them.

50

Gareth Wilson 09.25.16 at 7:48 pm

“If you want to say that capitalism has failed in some way, you can’t just point out those costs, you have to show that some non-capitalist system would have produced more/better choices with lower/fewer costs.”

It seems ironic that Maria is bitterly complaining about capitalism on a trip to Catalonia.

51

cassander 09.26.16 at 2:41 am

>Again…my point is that, in the OPs telling, marginal crowding, unwelcome stimulation, and safety is a negative externality: those who neither buy nor sell are NOT compensated for the (marginal) losses caused by those who do.

I agree. But imagine you prohibit sales. then it’s the buyers and sellers lose out and aren’t compensated for their lost utility.

>I don’t see how this point fails to take in the considerable benefit of retail, it just argues that there’s a cost that isn’t internalized (and suggests there are means to address the externality).

The point is is that prohibition of sale also imposes costs. either way, you have uncompensated externalities.

>Thus, free markets should jealously protect the “psychic” neutrality of the commons regarding the choice to trade.

I do not think this follows from the previous line of reasoning. First, you have the problem of determining what counts as neutral. Second, you cannot count not provisioning something as “coercion”. cool, clear water does not naturally spout out of the earth in most places. Now, if you actively prevent people from getting access to something, (e.g. confiscating their water bottles) that’s a different story, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Third, again, you can’t beat something with nothing. even if we accept your argument that markets are not neutral, the only alternative is politics, and that’s even less neutral.

52

TM 09.26.16 at 9:19 am

46. “Complaining about costs is not a meaningful argument. doing things imposes costs, full stop. If you want to say that capitalism has failed in some way, you can’t just point out those costs, you have to show that some non-capitalist system would have produced more/better choices with lower/fewer costs. Neither of you even bothered to try doing that. All you did was assert that capitalism is obviously a failure because it didn’t instantly teleport Maria to Spain and back for free.”

When he has a point, he has a point.

53

Stephen 09.26.16 at 11:45 am

Three days ago I tried to draw people’s attention to the song “Cheap Flights”, by Fascinating Aida, which is relevant to the sufferings of passengers from Stansted; it’s on YouTube. For some reason, this is still stuck in the moderation queue. Maybe this will have better luck.

54

Faustusnotes 09.26.16 at 12:10 pm

Come on cassander, you can engage a bit more positively with the OP than this! Especially the security theater and the way British airports force you to walk through the shops (Asian ones I have experienced don’t) and the design of the environment to force (for lack of a better word) consumption. It’s not an open question that there are ways of being capitalist that don’t require this kind of stuff – we know because not every airport does it. I read the OP as being critical of the effort to mold the psychology of travelers more than complaining that airport choice was unlimited and I think this is a valid point. Sometimes this is because of mechanics (Google search really is better than anything else imo) but sometimes we know it’s due to other tactics (eg Windows dominance of the pc market). I think Facebook is a good comparison in this regard, acting as an ostensibly free public space while trying to mold the psychology of the user towards consumption. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but rather than taking the post as an attack on the essence of capitalism why not engage with the more nuanced bits?

(Also sky scanner tells me you can fly to that town from Luton, for what it’s worth)

55

b9n10nt 09.26.16 at 2:56 pm

@50

I agree. But imagine you prohibit sales. then it’s the buyers and sellers lose out and aren’t compensated for their lost utility.

I’m inclined to agree. But imagine (thought experiment time, yay!):

What if shopping were like cigarette smoking. An overwhelming body of literature tying together neurology and psychology establish that shopping is unhealthy, though habit-forming. Unlike smoking, it’s understood to be a necessary evil. But now every decision made to influence non-shoppers to shop is understood to be a “pollution” of the commons. If you seek out an item of commerce, fine. Once in the physical or virtual “space” of a trader, fine.

Then, prohibiting sales in many situations would increase utility, no?

56

Alex 09.26.16 at 3:33 pm

And the owner of Stansted Airport is….the city of Manchester.

57

Maria 09.26.16 at 8:13 pm

Stephen @53, sorry! Just spotted that and approved it.

Ah Dax and Cassander, you are gas tickets, really. I’ll be sure to get in touch the next time I’m booking travel.

58

Maria 09.26.16 at 8:17 pm

Faustus, I love this line of yours about FB “ostensibly free public space while trying to mold the psychology of the user towards consumption.”

59

Stephen 09.26.16 at 8:17 pm

Maria: hoped you and others like you would like it.
Why the first version went into the interminable moderation queue (shades of check-in and security?) I really don’t know, and don’t suppose I ever will.

60

cassander 09.26.16 at 11:15 pm

@b9n10nt 09.26.16 at 2:56 pm

>Then, prohibiting sales in many situations would increase utility, no?

The word “many” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. I could equally say “prohibiting sales in many situations won’t increase utility, right?” and be just as obviously correct. Neither statement says anything about the wisdom of banning shops in airports.

@faustnotes

>Especially the security theater and the way British airports force you to walk through the shops

I fail to see what security theater imposed by governments has to do with capitalism. In fact, I dare say that if airports or airlines were allowed to forgo the theater, people would flock to them.

As for people trying to mold shoppers, what of it? do politicians not try to mold voters? We’re primates, our existence is bound up in trying to manipulate other members of the herd. again, just pointing this out isn’t an argument, you have to show that capitalism is worse than the alternatives.

61

Faustusnotes 09.27.16 at 1:17 am

Ido t know anything about the airline industry but my guess is that the cheap air,ones try very hard to push down the fees they pay to airports and get some gains in that regard from regional airports. Then those airports need to find other ways to make money and fleecing innocent travelers is the way to do it. In this regard they’re probably a bit similar to Facebook, which can only make money by forcing you to watch adverts. I used to use an app called Facebook purity that killed all those ads and they absolutely hate it (for obvious reasons), and there was discussion for a while about how bad the smartphone apps would be for their business. I guess there are similarities there. But in my experience heathrow also tries to push you through the duty free shops, so there is something there about British capitalism.

What British airports need is for the uk to have a culture of omiyage. You don’t need to push anyone to buy anything if social guilt forces them to buy 10kg of presents every time they travel…

62

TM 09.27.16 at 7:54 am

57: What are gas tickets?

63

Ogden Wernstrom 09.27.16 at 2:38 pm

All you did was assert that capitalism is obviously a failure…

See how it fabricates stuff? I forgot to point that out previously. I think I have seen this bot “complain” about humans putting words into its “mouth”. Many times.

But imagine you prohibit sales.

The binary style supports my contention that this is a bot. In order to respond to the pre-programmed arguments that are on-hand for this bot, it must interpret the world to fit the framework of those arguments.

64

Maria 09.27.16 at 5:20 pm

TM: “You’re a gas ticket” (Which means that you are really funny.) from http://healthy-family.org/map-of-irish-sayings/

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