Change It Up

Dec. 31, 2012
As airline seats get smaller and airline food disappears, airports over the years have stepped up to provide a range of services for the flying traveler

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, at a bankers’ convention, a world-class banker gave a presentation about 'The Most Important Changes In Banking.' The audience — all bankers themselves — expected to learn much about banking, arcane regulations, and world economics, but it didn’t happen. The speaker said they were looking at it from the banker’s side of the fence. From the customer’s point of view, he said, the biggest change had been the ATM, which changed how customers use the bank.

I’d never thought of it that way but had to agree. I wonder, do we make the same mistake about airports/airlines and customers?

For the customer, what are the important changes since, say, the 1960s, when my own use of airlines and their airports began?

One big change was the addition of jetways so pax never had to wait in the rain to climb slippery stairs. If you doubt this for a minute, remember that it was pax who demanded the jetway. Personally, it didn’t occur to me at the time. I was much like a surgeon/pilot friend of mine who said he preferred the old steps over the jetway. When asked why, his answer, filled with nostalgia, was, “Aw, you know, Casablanca, and all that.” Maybe so, but Frank Mickle, then on the board at the Huntsville (AL) Airport, told me that they had to get jetways because customers insisted. Now, who among us would go back to the old outdoor ramps?

Other changes weren’t demanded by the customers at all. I remember when I could cancel a flight and get a full refund. Also, if I couldn’t use the ticket it could be given to someone else and she could use it. Not my idea, but it saved the airlines a fortune and I do like the resultant cheap fares. Remember when you could smoke in any seat on the airline? Glad we don’t do that anymore.

Then, of course, there was the mess after 9/11. It changed parking lots, security — you name it. Let’s credit the airports and TSA for improving that mess. (Yes, I really did just say something nice about TSA.) Airport restaurants and restrooms have improved much, as has parking (although some parking improvements must be credited to off-airport parking lots).

Another great improvement is Wi-Fi in airports. How did we ever get along without it?

You can actually get a decent meal at most airports, now, and even find a real bookstore. In the meantime, airline seats are smaller and food onboard has mostly vanished.

As they say, you can’t go back. I loved it when there was one terminal and gates weren’t so far away. But, as the old cartoon said, “Them days are gone forever.” Trains, thank goodness, have helped.

But, dadgummit, signage inside airports is still terrible.

About the Author

Ralph Hood | Certified Speaking Professional

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he's insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University.

Ralph Hood is also an award-winning columnist (he writes for several publications), a salesman and sales manager (he sold airplanes, for crying out loud!), a teacher (he taught college-level aviation management) and a professional public speaker who has entertained and enlightened audiences from Hawaii to Spain, and from Fairbanks to Puerto Rico.

  • Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), National Speakers Association
  • Past member, National Ethics Committee, National Speakers Association
  • Past president of Alabama Speakers Association
  • Member, Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame
  • Past National Marketing Mentor, AOPA Project Pilot