From Where I Sit: Why Is Air Travel Like Facility Management?

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By Tim Springer
Published in the February 2006 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Recent excursions for business purposes have convinced me that our transportation system is fundamentally broken. My fellow road warriors and I have suffered the slings and arrows of business travel for decades. We’ve tolerated shrinking knee room and vanishing overhead storage. Worst of all, the current security screening procedures bring to mind Rodney Dangerfield’s classic refrain, “I don’t get no respect!”

But what does all of this have to do with facilities management, you may wonder? In a word, everything!

I don’t envy those who hold responsibility for airports, but I also don’t think they (or the organizations they serve) fully comprehend or embrace the fact they are in the customer service business. On the best of days, airports have become necessary evils or places to get through with the least amount of hassle. On the many days that aren’t perfect, airports resemble a special circle of hell more like something out of Dante’s Inferno.

It seems to me as both a frequent traveler, facilities professional, and interested observer that some of the solutions in use at airports in the U.S. not only negate many of the original design features, but they also actually capitalize on certain facilities characteristics to maximize the hassle factor.

Think back again on those people awaiting others arriving on flights. Few airports provide space for people to meet these passengers. Without a clearly designed and demarcated area, those awaiting arrivals mill about just outside the security zone. In most airports, this results in a bottleneck where the crowd of those waiting blocks the egress of those trying to exit the gate area or airport.

So should we expect people to change their behavior and not come to wait on the arrival of colleagues, friends, and loved ones? Or should we recognize, support, and encourage this natural behavior by designing and providing appropriate areas where people can wait comfortably without blocking the path of those who typically need to get out of the airport and on to a business appointment?

Some of these criticisms may seem unfair. It’s true that nearly all the airports in use today were designed and built prior to the increased security demands following 9/11. Consequently we have not seen what can be done when an airport starts with a blank piece of paper and is designed from the beginning to accommodate the new world of travel.

I would hope that those responsible for facilities that serve business travelers would address some of these issues. I think they are obvious and universal—but then again it could just be me.

Springer ispresident and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. andfrequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affectingorganizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.

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