The Opportunity in Airports

By April 9, 2020 March 12th, 2021 No Comments

Unless you’re a frequent flyer, there’s a good chance airports and travelling cause you significant stress.

When do I need to leave home to get to the airport on time?
Can I bring this plastic knife through security?
What should I wear?
Where is my gate?
Where will I get food?

These are usually the kind of questions I ask myself when travelling, but as of late, there’s been another overarching question that consumes my thoughts: why are airports so shitty?

Airports and airlines are in a unique position. They have no competition and a captive audience. They can regulate, dictate even, everything about the traveller’s experience – and yet, they make the experience about as terrible as I could imagine.

The clearest example of wasted opportunity is the lack of healthy food available in airports. Chips, candy, and other artificial snacks are readily available at only marginally marked-up prices. If you want a small bag of unsalted nuts, you’ll have to search long and hard and then cough up nine dollars. When you have a captive audience, people will buy whatever is available to them. So why not stock the shelves with food that is low in sugar, consciously-packaged, and maybe even – dare I say – plant-based? With thousands of passengers every day, this seems like an easy way to encourage people to eat better for themselves and the planet.

Beverages are another opportunity to enable better habits. Airports make it especially difficult to stay hydrated on travel days. Liquids aren’t safe to travel with, but refill stations are few and far between once passengers are through security. For those who don’t remember a reusable bottle, bottled water should be available for less than $4, or at least for less than the cost of a Diet Coke.

Once you’re actually on the plane, the size of the cups is far too small for adequate hydration – especially when you consider that in-flight refreshment services only happen twice over the span of a five hour flight.

Food and drink aside (can you tell I’m hungry?), the duration of a flight ranges from 45 minutes to 10+ hours. In other words, flights can be a huge time sink. Every time I lug a backpack full of books onto a plane, I can’t help but wonder why the in-flight entertainment system isn’t more focused on in-flight productivity? There are movies a-plenty, the occasional HBO special, and a selection of music to keep passengers entertained, but why not stream meditations from Headspace, classes from Skillshare, or provide mind-games like Sudoku or crosswords?

How else can we improve the flying experience?