Blog Post 2 – Re-Orientation – Airports

The space I had chosen for my first blog post was airports. I mentioned they were my favourite because of the amount of stories they witness and emotions they hold. I saw it as a rather positive space, where people experience the pleasure of returning home, or leaving for the unknown.

My explanation had however totally made abstraction of more negative elements. Indeed, I did not pay attention to the prominence of control, surveillance and power existing within that space.

For instance, one thing I notice when I think a second time are the constant directions put in place to guide us through the space. Departures, arrivals, international, domestic, check-in, customs, baggage claim, numbers, arrows – these, all together, control the ways in which we circulate. There is not much freedom as such in an airport. These places are strongly organized, to help the travelers of course, but also to exert a better control on the populations. There are very specific strategies put in place in order to maintain order and regulate movement, and developing tactics to avoid them involves a high risk of reprimand, potentially legally affecting. Plus, trying to avoid control could lead into greater control upon us. Thus, it is rather difficult to become a flâneur and visit the different areas freely, unless we get a particular permission and do so with a security guard.

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

Moreover, divisions within the airport are only accessible to those who are in the right. You cannot get to the boarding zone until you have checked in and passed the security gate. This certainly needs to be understood in a post 9/11 context, which caused a massive increase in security. In my personal experience, I can hardly compare post to pre 9/11. The first time I flew was in 2002, and it was a domestic flight. For me, security has always been part of the airport process, and it is difficult to imagine it without. Yet, one could assume that regulations in airports during the 1960s, for example, were less severe than those of the 1980s, which were less severe than those of 2002. Additionally, improvements in technology have an important role to play, as they allow a better surveillance (cameras, ePassports, tracking…) If it can protect us from potential threat, don’t we often, ironically, feel threatened by it? As if everyone was first seen as bad, and then confirmed as good or not. Where has trust gone? Trust, like one of those initial good “airport feelings” I was talking about – humans who don’t necessarily know each other, but who share similar emotions during the same period of time, over time, as it never stops. If we’re actually so similar, why couldn’t we trust each other? I could enter into the question of “racial profiling”, but that is surely and unfortunately a too big subject for the length of this post.

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

To keep going with the question of accessibility, the airport itself can also be “hardly” accessible. Often located in the countryside, airports are mostly reached by car or bus, sometimes train and metro. Thus, airports are not strong by-foot destinations. Was this decision taken as to, inter alia, prevent the homeless from occupying the space? Airports seem like obvious shelters for the homeless: they could sit at the entrance and get some warmth. Yet, I don’t remember seeing one in such location. Was this even thought of? What would happen if an itinerant squatted the airport space? Would he/she be kicked out? Yet, as comparison, their presence is mostly allowed in places such as metro stations – which are just another mode of transportation. [Note aside, why putting so much surveillance in airports, but not in the metro and buses? Terrorist attacks were counted in these as well…]

Airport-Security-1

In a similar manner, airports seem to favor a certain social class. Taken to a further level, we find the economic and business classes within the waiting lines and airplanes, thus reinforcing social disparities, showing off a “I can afford this, but you can’t afford that” mentality. The capitalistic ideology within airports is reinforced as stores invade the space, as if shopping was the only pastime available. Of course many people still read, listen to music, play games, or sleep, but (window) shopping prevails – we are easily tempted. Sometimes I wonder: why don’t we use these (previously) vacant spaces for something else? Instead of promoting the spending of money with stores that sell (for most part) futile things, we could support culture: art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, plays, etc. It could also be spaces organized for the practice of various sports, thus allowing people to stretch and move before sitting for long hours, this encouraging a healthy lifestyle. I acknowledge that even these often have a capitalist ending (for example, would musicians playing also sell records and make profit out of it?); it is not to say that the capitalist wheel would stop spinning, but at least it would not be intensively encouraged. I also believe such ideas would help creating a sense of community, which would in turn build a stronger sense of generosity and trust, which could only be beneficial to our society.

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2 comments

  1. A lot of points here!
    “Plus, trying to avoid control could lead into greater control upon us” Is a provocative statement and very true! How can we negotiate this?

    Your post touches on many issues and I think with some research you could have a stronger historical grasp on security and flying/airports that might be of interest.

    I am very curious about this statement: “Airports seem like obvious shelters for the homeless” How so? It seems like the last place considering the amount of surveillance and control donning airports.

    As far as surveillance cameras on metros and buses, check the London transport service— they are filled to the brim with surveillance cameras. As does New York, etc…

    Like

  2. Hi Magda,

    Thanks for your feedback 🙂

    Yes indeed airports are a fantastic subject, and I am considering it for the final project… I might have a few questions coming up soon about it – it seems like airports are more stressful when you are not going there to actually fly. I shall sleep on it!

    For the quote about the homeless, what I meant by “an obvious shelter” is that I thought that, if we make abstraction of the surveillance, airports could actually be great houses for them. If you and me can walk in, so do/should they, particularly if we consider the free space available in some airports. And then, because of security and surveillance, if someone was to “squat” that space, they would automatically get kicked out. I can’t unfortunately think of a better way of explaining my thought right now…

    Finally, concerning surveillance in metros and buses, it is true most places internationally are totally security-intelligent. I did not want to expand on that too much, but what I truly meant is my observation between what happens BEFORE we enter a plane VS a metro or a bus. If metro wagons and buses have a camera in every corner, there is no actual airport security check equivalent happening BEFORE we walk in a bus or pass the turnstile of a metro station – or at least, not that I am aware of; but then that would be a lack of transparency and very unethical! I am clearly not suggesting that security should reach this level, but it is quite amazing to see such an inconsistency between the various modes of transportation.

    Of course, flying includes higher risks – changes in atmospheric pressure, temperatures and climates; effects of various hazardous substances; loneliness in the sky with no direct access to safety or help – which are all established by aviation organizations, most likely the ICAO. Yet, beneath all that, I advance this (somewhat obvious) hypothesis: airports see locals and foreigners come and go; airports surpass boundaries, but countries want to protect THEIR boundaries… That certainly reflects a total fear of the so-called “Other”.

    On an opening note, it could also be interesting to compare customs and security check by car vs plane, and between Canadian provinces vs across the Canadian border, when we visit our neighbours.

    Like

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