Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Terminal Experimentation: The Transformation of Experiences, Events and Escapes at Global Airports

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Terminal Experimentation: The Transformation of Experiences, Events and Escapes at Global Airports

Article excerpt


Recent debates in aeromobilities research have focused on global shifts in airport socialities generated by the redesign of airport terminals (Cwerner et al., 2009). This article examines transformations to identity and social relations arising from the reinvention of airport infrastructures and facilities, especially the experience of airport services. We suggest here that the arrival of 'smart airports', or how we use the term 'Airport 3.0', involves an experimentalist orientation deriving from contemporary economic and cultural life. The general argument is that the reinvention of global airport spaces is producing three key transformations: (I) experimentalist orientations arising from the deployment of new information technologies; (2) an experimental business engineering of consumer worlds, or 'worlding'; and (3) travel-time use geared to a world of infinite innovation. Finally, the article reviews transformations in passenger experience in the light of these conceptual claims.


Aeromobilities, Airport 3.0, experimentation, reinvention, experience, globalisation


In 2014, global air travel volume increased by 6%, which was somewhat higher than the 10-year average growth rate of 5.6%.' Notwithstanding the socio-economic ramifications of the worldwide financial crisis and high oil prices, the 2010s have powerfully underscored the growing significance of air travel, or aeromobilities, to the global economy and processes of contemporary social change. For the first time, total airline passenger numbers crossed three billion in 2013 and are expected to rise to 3.91 billion by 2017--an increase of 930 million passengers (31% growth) from the 2.98 billion carried in 2012 (IATA, 2013). This strong growth in aviation and mass air travel arises principally as a result of increasing numbers of passengers from China, India, Russia and the Middle East now and in the near future. As captured by one leading industry assessment: 'Lower air fares, more service, and the increasing value of time in these emerging countries, are inexorably pulling traffic from buses and trains into aircraft' (Airbus, 2006: 9-10).

If global aviation as a complex, high-carbon system of aeromobilities has witnessed robust growth, there has been a parallel expansion and enhancement of airport spaces--conceptualised here as a complex set of social relations (at once material and semiotic) affording possibilities of development for and constraint upon mobile lives (Elliott and Urry, 2010). The unveiling of new airport terminals and improved terminal upgrades can be understood as part of the reinvention of what Andy Warhol termed the 'airport atmosphere' (1976: 145), in which airports worldwide are reordered to produce increased efficiencies (focused on better passenger flow), enhanced technologies and aesthetics, improved sustainability and a more comprehensive capturing of the needs of passengers. Understood in terms of the conjoining of a world of hypermobilities with the rise of'the experimental economy' (Thrift, 2011), airspaces are increasingly redesigned to capture experiences, events and escapes relating to the transient, the temporary and the transitional. Such emergent social patternings at airport spaces link with the emergence of consumers on the move--or, 'transumers'--driven by experiences, events and escapes rather than fixed, 'solid' forms of consumption (Bauman, 2005). Such experience-oriented, individualised and experimental forms of airport service include:

(1) 'B4 You Board', launched in 2011 at Sacramento International Airport Terminal B, is a mobile app in which passengers order food from airport restaurants and have it delivered at the gate just prior to boarding.

(2) Munich Airport now offers 'Napcabs'--A private cubicle with full bed and workstation, a multimedia touch screen with preloaded video and audio, flight information, alarm clock and internet access. …

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