Those Magnificent Men

You know those people you see in television documentaries, wheeled on as ‘experts’. The ones who keep the navy-blue suit industry going. The ones who drive sensible, cheap and cheerful cars. The ones who live in cul de sacs and wash their cars at 10am every Sunday. The ones who have sensible names like Terry or Phillip. The ones who have a ginger cat called Henry, or a small but perky little dog called George.

Well, every now and again they snap. They throw down their marmalade-emblazoned toast and go out and wreak havoc on the world. After years of docile domesticity they take out 50 years of quiet disgruntledness on all on mankind. The history books and newspapers are full of them.

These are the people who design airports.

I travel quiet a bit, and actually have a bit of a soft spot for airports. They build the excitement and anticipation of the trip you’re about to take. They bring together people from every nature, every background as we struggle to contend with delays and slow security checks, and grumpy newsagents who slowly begin to realise that their chosen location really only has a market for small bottles of water and extra strong polo mints.

But the airport really is one of the greatest achievements of man. A 20th century pyramid standing tall just outside of just about every major metropolis of the world. Every single one has obstacles to overcome which makes them great.

Firstly, they manage to achieve a constant temperature inside that the furnace of Port Talbot’s Corus steel-works would be proud of. When you travel you have to, by necessity, wear every bulky item of clothing to avoid packing it in your suitcase and taking up valuable space. You arrive wearing you bulkiest shoes or boots, your scarf, your thick coat. You look like a walking wardrobe. All the things that you eyed-up putting in your suitcase, but figured it would be lighter to wear than to carry. By the time you leave you’ve probably taken in air containing the sweat of at least 20 other men.

Then there’s the sheer ingenuity of the walk from the plane to the baggage collection. Just take a second to get your bearings next time. Without fail, the little conveyor belt is directly below the jetty attached to the plane. It has to be – it’s the shortest and most efficient way to get the cases from the plane to the terminal. Anything else would be a waste of resources and man-power. Still, it makes you refreshed, and I’m sure all the staff huddle around CCTV screens to watch passengers do a massed reenactment of John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks every time a long-haul flight lands.

Then there’s the idiocy of the little touches. The unnecessarily large quantity of automatic doors. The true bling of an airport can be measure by how many sets of these things they have. And every other one will be out of order. Then there’s the information screens, not hung on a wall but over every busy walkway where old ladies can be found fishing their reading glasses from handbags as busy suited Simons run their feet over with their camp little carry-on suitcases.

But today I found the ultimate in design. The Bauhaus of airport design in the form of electric walkways. I’ve always hated the things and opt to walk alongside them rather than on them. I do the same with escalators. They seem to have some magic aura which saps all life out of peoples limbs. They stop walking and try to cycle through every pose formed by the models of the Kays catalogue. But this was special. It had a voice. A stern voice. Informing you that you were near the end and would have to step carefully and ‘start walking’.

How stupid do you have to be? Are we expecting lawsuits from incoming travellers?

A strange rage and frustration came over me. I now realise what it is that makes these otherwise serene suburban warriors of airport design to suddenly snap, and it comes in the shape of an over-large supermarket conveyor belt.

About this entry