Airport Consumption

Do you remember the days when the only things sold in most airports were bad sandwiches, junk food snacks, magazines, and neck pillows? These days, major airports, especially their international terminals, have so many stores that you can get all of your Christmas shopping done while waiting for your next flight. If you don't have enough time to hit the stores between getting through security and catching your plane, don't worry -- you can shop on the plane, too.

Airport and airplane shopping seem highly illogical to me. I'm tired. I'm stressed out. I've just spent, or am about to spend, a bunch of money on travel and I'm not really looking to add to that cost with a bottle of perfume I don't need. My bags are usually completely full, and even if they weren't, I wouldn't want the added weight. I can't comparison shop for better prices when I'm in an airport, either. I really don't understand why airport sales are so profitable.

Clearly I'm not the typical consumer, though. Airport shopping is so popular that the person who makes airport purchases has his own label: transumer, a person who consumes while in transit. Companies like JC Decaux, self-proclaimed "world's largest airport advertising company," brag that "[c]onsumer mindsets are transformed by the excitement of the airport experience, making passengers behave outside the norm in terms of spending, ad awareness and consumerism. " Now, I guess this must be true or airports wouldn't bother to have so many stores, but I have to take issue with the "excitement of the airport experience." There are few places I would rather avoid than airports and airplanes, if I could. I would rather have a gynecological exam than be subjected to hours of rude strangers on cell phones, uncontrolled children, airport security, airport traffic, dehydrating airplane air, the smell of the airplane lavatory that always wafts throughout the cabin, and a complete lack of personal space or privacy.

JC Decaux is apparently partially responsible for the chaos at London Heathrow Airport, a truly a wretched place where I recently enjoyed two layovers. Not only does it take upwards of an hour to get from one terminal to another (really), but once you finally get to your terminal, you're forced to wait in the middle of an upscale shopping mall where you can buy everything from crab legs to leather shoes until your gate "opens." You have no idea which gate your flight will leave from until about thirty minutes before your flight leaves (if that), so you're forced to wait in the shopping area.

As if airports were not chaotic and unpleasant enough, airport stores increase crowds in the terminals. Instead of most people either sitting and waiting or heading to their gate or the restroom, you have people wandering from shop to shop in a consumerist haze. When folks buy a bunch of supersized Toblerone bars and cartons of cancer sticks while they're waiting to board, they have to lug their loot with them onto the plane--which means it ends up as a carry-on item, because the shopping areas, especially the duty-free ones in the international terminals, are generally located past the luggage check-in counters. When overhead compartment space is already limited on the plane, it doesn't make sense to let people stash giant shopping bags whose dimensions are imcompatible with the compartments where my within-the-carry-on-baggage-allowance luggage is supposed to go.

I'm sure no one will be listening to my complaints anytime soon, though. "Heathrow T3 is the fifth largest retail site in Britain," according to JC Decaux's website, and "£616 million (net) was spent on retail at BAA airports last year equating to an average spend of £4.28 per passenger."

The mandate to shop can't be escaped even on the airplane. Once seated, my limited legroom is shortened by an inch or two because of all the "magazines" the airline insists on sticking in the back of the seat pocket. Remember when the only thing in the back of the seat pocket was a safety card and a barf bag? Now we're encouraged to shop while on the plane through Sky Mall magazine, which, like The Sharper Image, sells all sorts of intriguing but ultimately useless and overpriced gadgets. Apparently, the fact that I've already spent $350 on a plane ticket signals that I have enough disposable income to purchase such junk, but personally, I find it insulting that I'm goaded to fork over even more money when I'm already spending a chunk of change for the privilege of being crammed into a a flying cattle car packed with crying babies, sickos, men who invariably feel entitled to the armrests, and people who just can't shut up. I can't even catch a nap without being constantly interrupted with messages about how I can pay for a headset, pay to watch a movie, pay for a cocktail, pay for a snack, pay for a bottle of water, and earn extra miles by making purchases on the plane from the Sky Mall magazine.

Google "airport shopping"and you'll get a list of links to the companies behind the shops at each of the major airports. At the websites, you can learn about the shopping options that will be available at the airports you will be traveling to, including duty-free options. You can even see prices and, sometimes, which stores are available before the security checkpoint. Amsterdam's international airport even has an art museum, complete with museum giftshop, which is probably the true purpose of this particular “museum.” Airport retail stores also have longer hours than retail stores in the outside world, sometimes opening at 6:30am and closing at 10pm or later. There are even online shopping guides that tell you how to make the most of your airport shopping experience.

I hate leaving my home for many reasons, but the plague of advertising I'm subjected to when I'm out in the world has to be near the top of my list. When I'm at a certain gas station, a TV screen starts talking to me as soon as my gas starts pumping. TV's blab at me to buy things on the bus and on the airplane, too. Trucks and motorcycles dragging billboards behind them clog up our already congested streets. Planes drag banners advertising beer across the sky over the beach. It seems like the only place I can go anymore and not be advertised at is my home, as long as I'm willing to keep the TV and radio turned off and not read any magazines or check my mailbox or answer my phone.

When I'm enduring completely miserable experience that is flying, can't the corporations just back off for a few hours?

No comments: