Wednesday, 14 May 2008

BKK Continues the War on Passengers

Cory Doctorow of Boingboing has an ongoing series of articles (for example, writing about the LHR Terminal 5 Preview) on the open hostility of airports to their customers who might want to use an electrical socket. While airports used to have some electrical sockets around (mostly for the convenience of staff), it's only been recently that they've determined that customers were using them for laptops and recharging battery-operated devices, and have started blocking them off wherever possible.

This is definitely a complaint I have with Heathrow, as well as the fact that Heathrow (particularly the vile Terminal 4, which I now have to fly through en route to New York) is nothing other than a shopping mall with some gates attached.

Bangkok's new airport, Suvarnabhumi, has managed to take things a step beyond that by being openly hostile to all passengers. BKK's layout is on multiple stories, and the main "departure" level is level 4. This is where you have to hang out until your gate is called. Once your gate is called, you go through security, go to your gate area, and sit and wait for your flight. This is not that different from Heathrow's Terminal 3, where there are separate waiting rooms at the gates.

The problem here is that BKK's Level 4 has, in addition to no electrical outlets, nowhere to sit. Oh, wait, no, sorry, there are places to sit, but they're all in bars and restaurants. Oh, wait, no, sorry, I lied, there are about 4 seats every 25 metres or so, in the middle of very busy interchanges. The idea, I guess, is to take the Heathrow experience even farther and make sure that you have NO option other than to spend money while you're waiting for your gate to be called. And you want to hang out in Level 4 as long as you can, because once you go to the gate area, you can't come back out, and there's nothing there except for seats and a toilet.

So essentially they've said that if you're not going to spend money in the shops, stay the heck out of the airport.

I think something that Cory is missing here is that while he thinks that this is a matter of hostility to passengers, and is thus a bad thing, unfortunately it plays right into the explicit intentions of the airport operators. They want terminals to be horrible, horrible places, for a couple of reasons.

First, the airport operators lose money these days on the flight operations themselves. They make money from the shops, which are charged a massive rent. So it's in their interest to keep revenues at the shops as high as possible, and if you've got no other option to do anything while waiting for a flight, you'll probably shop and spend money.

But here's the kicker. The second reason that they want you to be unhappy is so that you'll want to go to a lounge, which is an oasis of calm in any airport. This means that you'll spend money on a better class of service, or fly more with one airline, so that you'll get to use the lounge. Is it any wonder that many of the articles about how great Terminal 5 were actually writing about the lounges? Heathrow Terminal 5 has six of them.

There, you'll find comfortable seats, no shops, all the electricity and network access you could want.

In the meantime, if you happen to be flying coach, you're SOOL.

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