Monday, November 7, 2011

Not About the Grand Canyon


Nothing is quite so neat a microcosm of our security-based control-freak (S&C) society as an airport arrival-departure area. Larded up with uniformed shouters, bikers, threateners, and cloggers*, their basic stance toward people bringing and taking away other people is that of cattle-killing operators before the reforms of Temple Grandin**. 
Here is a basic: What is going on at departure and arrival areas partakes of the sad and the happy***. That is, they are sites for expressing emotion, and rightly so. Not all of the activity, of course, is high-pitched (it ranges in emotional intensity up from the commercial handlers, who are, one hopes, calm and even blasé), but anxiety and relief can visit the traveller even when in the most experienced of drivers' hands. In any case, S&C attitudes and measures are singularly inappropriate, since they so often contribute more pressure than solution to the situation of smoothing this transition for travellers.

What solution, however, is there? What makes this question so intriguing is that there must have been years of thought expended on how to keep traffic moving, how to get people off- or on-loaded with expedition, and maybe even dignity. Yet the basic pattern seems set of vehicles crawling up, crowding around each other, nosing about for a stopping place, pausing while the business is done, and then searching for an escape route, all overseen, even  harassed, by S&C herders. If there is a "better way", it has not become universal.

There is an example of an improvement, which may also point to one of the impediments****. The Cell Phone Waiting Lot (CPWL) has to have decreased and thus improved traffic flow, eased the pick-upper's anxiety, reassured the arrivals, and cut fuel waste. Wherever it was first thought of, it is a good idea that has spread its blessings. BUT: Why did it take a new technology? 

The pattern, if parking was to be avoided, used to be to set an approximate pick-up time, then cruise by the exits. If the arrival had truly arrived, the task was done. If not, then circle slowly around the roadways, and come back to check an appropriate interval later. Repeat, until task done (or gas runs out). Why did breaking this pattern require a new technology? Consider if there had been WLs before there were CPs. Even without the connection provided by the phones, traffic and gas use would have been lessened. And if the bright soul who invented the CPWL had had the idea 30 years ago, say, might this have sparked off the thought to install an updating/refreshing arrivals board at the CPWL, showing plane arriving, passengers off, baggage arriving, people exiting, etc.? Indeed, maybe this is a good idea even now; for an innovation-seeking Airport Authority (AA), is it not worth exploring? Maybe polling those in the CPWL to see if they would find it useful? 

So does not this example --a good idea, that arrived way overdue-- not point to the possibility of the problem's source, namely, the bureaucracy of AAs is not as welcoming to innovation as it might be? Is it perhaps too tied to shuffling the usual parameters around instead of taking them out of their boxes and playing with them a bit? 

I have a personal example that I find puzzling. For my own travel, I use the bus system as much as I can; it is extremely convenient and laughably cheap. Over the years, the local AA has moved the bus stop to various more or less inconvenient sites. Today, it is an almost maximally ridiculous distance from the entrances. I would certainly agree that very, very few people use the bus, but is that due at least a small amount to the AA (and maybe the bus operation) not seeing that it would do well to make information about and access to the bus as convenient as possible (even an in-your-face parking area where the S&C vehicles now too often sit), instead of the reverse?

But back to the main question: Why is it taking so long for AAs to come up with an arrival-departure methodology that is smooth for drivers & travelers, provides optimum care for the emotions that may be involved, and dispenses with S&C wrangling? The case of the CPWL is worrisome. Does it suggest that a new invention is needed, a technological 2x4? Or maybe that a change will only come years after it could? Or that innovation and AA are not compatible concepts? On AA staffs, are there planners, innovators-in-waiting, people charged with out-of-the-box blue-sky***** thinking? Are the elements of a solution lying around, just waiting to be recognized, or does something all-new have to be born before there is progress? There are amazingly large prizes for contests and firsts of all sorts; couldnt one of the 1% be flattered into providing a prize for smoothing and humanizing the coming-&-going process at airports?****** 

Think of the pleasure of gliding up to the appropriate spot, taking the time needed for appropriate hellos/goodbyes, and whooshing away, all in a way that elevates what is now a hassle into what would be a strengthening of dignity and humaneness.

*Do you notice the space taken up by parked police cars?
**There are both documentaries and biopics on this worthy human, I emphasize human(e), person.
***Conventionally, but not necessarily respectively.
****This discussion deals only with picking up travelers; then back to the overall problem.
*****Could not resist.
******Is one of the causes of AAs not pushing for a solution that a perquisite of the 1% is that they dont have to use the arrival/departure zones?

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