I'm writing this on an airplane, on my way to a meeting. This trip made me realize that some people may be afraid of flying, but I'm not. I'm afraid of airports.
Inside an airport I feel like a high school student does on the second day, when he can't remember the combination to his locker. That what-am-I-supposed-to-do feeling takes over the minute I step foot on airport property.
I don't know why airports are so alienating. Maybe because they change things around all the time. Maybe it's all the fake smiles from people who really see you as part of an unwelcome herd. Maybe it's because after you've spent $4 for a cart and make your way to security, the attendants look at your cart as if you're trying to take contraband on board. "Just leave your cart right here." After which you take the long part of the journey to the gate, collapsing under all the weight of your stuff. You pass all the newsstands and coffee counters because you know there will be more closer to your gate. There aren't. You go back to the newsstand for Lifesavers and they're $1.45 and they have only butterscotch. You go back to the gate, get in the line for your zone, board, and squeeze into your middle seat.
Well, at least now I'm safe. I'm on the plane.
You'd think that with all the marketing mavens flying around the country, they'd figure out a way to make airports more hospitable. The problem is that you're a customer of the airline, but you're really not a customer of the airport. They look at passengers as sort of a necessary evil, but not as the people who pay their salaries. If you don't like, say, the Atlanta airport, what are you going to do? Drive to Louisville?
Back in the day, Mary Wells of Wells, Rich, and Greene made flying a theatrical experience with her "End of the plain plane" campaign. She even sold her client on painting the planes different pastel colors and had Gucci design the outfits for the attendants. Why don't airports hire good ad agencies to help them figure out what would make passengers happy?
How about smartly dressed airport representatives giving you free carts the other side of security? Or a cup of coffee and Oreos. The passengers have had a lot of anxiety by that point. They could offer free coloring books for the kids, magazines, or water before you board the plane, or at least some help finding your gate. There are undoubtedly dozens of other ways they could ease you back into a good mood.
I left for this flight from a gate at Los Angeles International Airport that was under construction. I was confused. But before I could ask an attendant where to go, she said "I'm only going to answer one question." Now does that seem like your first days in high school, or what?