Every day, nearly four million people fly on airplanes. Think of the complexity of what’s involved. Websites are searched, travel agencies are contacted, calendars checked, phone calls made, messages sent, relatives consulted, and so on. A massive worldwide system of business operations chooses flights, pays for tickets, reserves seats, schedules aircraft, handles baggage, passports, security, boardings, takeoffs, landings, and so on. Every day this is going on, four million people go in and out of airport terminals. All are checking in and most also eat, shop, and wait.
Airport terminals are a world of things.
There are signs that need to be understood, procedures that need to be followed, transactions to conduct, and people to be interacted with. We visit restaurants, shops, newsstands, public toilets, and private lounges. There are massive divisions of labor, multiple complex social encounters, and the social order of public spaces. All of these things happen right before our eyes, but most of us don’t see them because we’re doing something else.
Next time you’re in an airport, instead of just killing time, take a seat with a good view and look around you.
Watch what people are doing and how they’re doing it. Not just passengers, but airport employees, too. Shop clerks, food servers, bartenders, janitors, security, flight crews, beeping-cart drivers, wheelchair attendants lining up for flight arrivals from Miami. Dedicated people watchers try to guess other peoples’ stories by observing their clothing, their expressions, and their gestures. This is best as a team sport were we take turns and compare notes. Just for fun, keep rough running counts of who’s in a hurry and who’s strolling. How many are oblivious to their environment and how many are viewing the world around them, like you are? Who scans the food court choices and who walks straight to the pizza? Just for the fun of it.
USA Today says the best airports for people-watching are LAX, JFK, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Me? I like the rocking chairs in Charlotte.