Ground Clutter

May 11, 2006
I will pick convenience over beauty any day of the week; but it seems to me that many modernized terminals disagree.

Either I’m getting mellow in my old age or airports are in every way better than when I took my first airline trip in 1964. (I jumped out of a few airplanes before that, but had never ridden an airline.) One exception: The trip from parking lot to gate is much farther since, and because of, 9/11. I don’t see any alternative to that, and off-airport parking and buses do minimize the problem. Still, a few things do rankle.

Airports are brighter, cleaner, and more comfortable. There are more and better vendors and services. Remarkably, this improvement has been achieved during a period of great growth beyond, I believe, anyone’s expectations.

A pet peeve is those airports that insist on putting supposed aesthetics ahead of passenger convenience. I am of the opinion that airport passenger terminals exist to serve passengers conveniently and safely and for no other reason. I will pick convenience over beauty any day of the week; but it seems to me that many modernized terminals disagree.

Three recently used airports — Oklahoma City (OKC), Savannah (SAV) and Lambert St. Louis (STL) — evidently don’t allow overhead airline signs that extend out from, and at right angles to, ticket counters. I have had airport managers explain to me why that makes sense, but none of their explanations made sense to me.

One tried to convince me that right-angled signs are no more visible than signs painted on the walls behind the counters. Yeah, and I’m a dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet. I have seen both types of signs and, like other frequent flyers, detest those wall signs. Don’t know anybody who likes them -- maybe some California architect.

Most of us don’t care if the original Mona Lisa is in the lobby. We just want to see signs saying Delta, Southwest, United, and whatever. We are schlepping heavy bags, our feet hurt, we have to get to the bathroom, and we still have to get naked to go through security. Art, hell; we want relief. We want to walk in the door and immediately find our airline. At both SAV and STL I couldn’t. Sorry, folks, but when I can’t see those signs it doesn’t much matter how pretty the airport is.

BTW, I spent seven straight hours waiting at STL. Sounds awful; it really wasn’t. I bought a good book at the airport bookstore, and found a right nice place to eat lunch and dinner. If an airport can provide all of that, how come it can’t have readable signage?

Another pet peeve: If we passengers drive into a city on the Interstate or other major route, by golly we ought to be able to follow signs — big signs — to the airport. Anything less is simply not acceptable. Even airports that do a great job of signage on the airport often fail to convince the powers-that-be that we need signs to find the place.

Finally: Why in the world don’t more airports put chairs at the end of the security check-in so we can put our shoes back on? Sheesh!