COME BUY WITH ME -
a piece of my mind by Francis Beckett
I recently flew from Stansted Airport for the first time after its recent £80 million 'terminal transformation project'. They mean they are transforming the terminal, not that the transformation project is terminal.
Having seen it, I realise that I have an outdated, almost quaint, idea of what airports are for: I thought they were places you went to when you intended to fly somewhere.
They used to be. Stansted was rather good at that. A neat, straightforward building, with big signs everywhere telling you which gate each plane might be found at, and a reasonably simple route to get there.
you can't go n like that, not in 2015. As Andrew Harrison, Stansted's managing director, told the press; 'The last 12 months have been incredibly exciting for Stansted and (owner) MAG (Manchester Airports Group).'
He means that the route to the departure lounge now twists and bends between shops selling expensive perfume, alcohol and clothes.
They were always there, of course, but it was possible for a determined traveller to walk straight pas them. Now the straight route takes you from shop to shop. If you want just to march onwards to your plane, you must take the long, winding route between them, marked out in tiles, like the yellow brick road.
A traveller in a hurry must run the gauntlet of the shopping spaces, where unctuous functionaries urge him to spray some of their perfume of his wrist or try their gin.
But persons eccentric enough to want to get on an aeroplane are not the people for whom this place is designed. They have taken away most of the flight indicators, presumably because these are an unwanted distraction from the primary purpose of the place, which is to sell you things.
If you search diligently, you will find the odd indicator. It is not impossible to establish at what delayed hour your plane will depart, and from what gate, nor to find the direction you should take to the gate, but it is not easy.
Yet there is a vast number of people available to help you. Should you want a disquisition on different sorts of perfume, or gin, or any number of other desirable things, a smart and knowledgeable person will be instantly available to provide it.
Should you, however, ask that person which direction your gate number might be, in order that you may repair thither and board your aeroplane, they will look at you with scarcely veiled contempt. A person with such poverty of expectation is beneath their notice.
A week later, I was in Gatwick, which I can report is rushing to catch up with the spirit that has overtaken Stansted.
But Gatwick is only in transition to the perfect airport.
When I sat down to take coffee, I noticed that there was a flight indicator without sight. In Stansted, flight indicators appear to be banned in food outlets, because they divert attention from the real purpose of the place, which is consumption.
The indicator was small, not easy to find and dwarfed by a vast advertisement. But it was there. In the brave new world that is to come, it will not be there. The future is announced in a notice on the only wall not required for advertising. 'Sorry for the inconvenience', it says, which is due to 'the preparations we're making to bring you a new gate room area with improved seating, toilets and retail facilities'.
Of these, the key to the project is the third.
On the way back to England, I found myself in Berlin's Schoenefeld Airport, where I heard a strange, anachronistic sound. It was a tannoy, of the sort they used to have in British airports, and a voice was saying clearly, in German and then in English: 'Will the two remaining passengers for flight number such-and-such please report to gate number so-and-so.'
Have they no thought for what they're doing? What if those two remaining passengers are at a scent shop, being sold Chanel No 9? What if the announcement catches them before the sales person has quite finished with them, and they realise that they are about to miss their plane, and rush away to catch it?
Oh, there are still a few things we can teach the Germans about commerce ......
(from Third Age Matters, winter 2015 (www.u3a.org.uk)_