A few months ago, some of you may have seen a programme in the excellent Channel 4 series, Dispatches (25th February 2008). They did a fairly thorough hatchet-job on the British Airports Authority (BAA). I’ve nothing against BAA in particular (though having watched the show, I may revise this view) and as such, with uncharacteristic sympathy, I began to feel a bit sorry for the beleaguered Director of Public Affairs for BAA as he faced yet more awkward questions.
The litany of diverse accusations unfolded over the hour, but what interested me the most was the discussion about airport retail. The programme suggested that now Heathrow’s terminal five is up and running, there will be nearly as much retail space at Britain’s biggest airport, as there is at the Brent Cross shopping centre. This seemed to be an extraordinary idea since the purpose of airports is to get people from one place to another – or is it?
The programme interviewed Lawrence Hunt, Chief Executive of Silverjet – the low-cost transatlantic business class carrier, who put an interesting slant on airport retail. When he approached Stansted airport asking for a thirty minute check-in time as demanded by his customers, he was allegedly told that it had to be two hours “because we want all the customers to go through the main terminal to get the shopping revenues.”
The implication is of course that whilst we endlessly wait at airports because of “increased security measures”, why we’re actually there is so that we can spend our cash and generate massive revenues for the airports.
This debate could go on, but it got me thinking about what passengers could actually do with at airports since delays are not uncommon.
For those of us who will never know the wonders that await beyond the doors of the business lounges and executive suites, there are some practical revenue generating alternatives which airports could offer which would allow passengers to fit life’s essentials into our increasingly hectic schedules.
The following ideas represent a list of things which I think would be really useful at big, international airports:
Medical centres – passengers with a couple of hours to kill could go and have a proper health check-up. Most of us are too busy to bother on a regular basis and this would be a positive use of our time. Equally, those who wake up with an illness or infection on the day they fly and prescriptions could be provided rather than passengers suffering during a long flight. Vaccinations or boosters could also be provided for those who had forgotten to get them (timeframes for effectiveness might be an issue here admittedly). Equally you could pick up a prescription for anti-malarial pills for example which you could take to the handily placed pharmacist.
Dentists – again, many people neglect going to the dentist and this could provide a check-up service. If you can get your shoes shined why not a spot of tooth whitening or scaling before a big meeting or a wedding? Additionally, there will be those who break a tooth or lose a filling the night before they fly and then have to endure an uncomfortable trip or holiday.
Opticians – people who have poor eyesight are hugely dependent on glasses or contact lenses. If you misplace or break them the night before a trip, effectively your holiday could be ruined since it is unlikely you would have time to organise this before your flight.
Gym – many of us belong to well known fitness centres. With a couple of hours to kill or longer, I would be delighted if a branch of my gym were available with non-members paying a fee and signing a disclaimer against injury since there would be little time for an induction.
Language school – with a spare hour or so why not go and brush up on your language skills or indeed learn a few words of a completely new language to impress local people or your contacts abroad. A few banks of sound-proof booths with a wide selection of languages to choose from might be a popular option.
Beauty treatments – I believe Heathrow does have a hairdresser tucked away in Terminal 4 but I think more of these would be a useful feature at airports. It’s precisely the kind of thing you never get round to doing (especially if you’re a bloke) and with a few hours to kill, this would be an option. Spray-tans, sunbeds and waxing treatments would get you ahead of the game for the beach.
Cinemas – on a long-haul flight, airlines often show films which have not been released in the UK. Would it be possible to get special dispensation for airports to show advanced releases too? Even if that were not the case, then a long delay could be made more bearable by seeing a film you had been meaning to watch. For very long delays this could help airlines keep passengers in one place while they await updates.
Library – a quiet sanctuary to escape the chaos of the airport would be very pleasant: like some of the high street book shops with comfy chairs and free coffee.
Travel insurance shop – I have called travel insurance companies at the airport a number of times having forgotten to get it beforehand. It would be nice to do it in person and not through a call centre or online.
Kids – a play area for children would be excellent so that they expend some energy before long flights and also perhaps a crèche so that parents travelling alone could get the chance for some peaceful shopping.
These are just a few thoughts, but I do think British airports could make some more concessions to the traveller to make the experience more enjoyable and also less stressful. Happy passengers will not choose to travel by an alternate means, will keep coming back and carry on spending money – this after all, is what the airports want.
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