As I walked out of the Sardar Vallabhbhai domestic airport in Ahmedabad, I could not but notice that the airport was all dressed up and was wearing a festive look. The building was decorated with coloured lights, the hundred feet tall steel columns were being wrapped in Bandhani print wrapping paper. There was scaffolding machines lying around that assisted in the decoration. With the festivities lasting over a month, right from Diwali to Christmas to New Year, it made sense to make the effort, but why decorate the airport in the first place?
At one time, the core functions of baggage transfers, courier, shipping and financial service apart, airports were places of transit, meant to connect one destination to another. If they were functional, provided benches to sit, a book store and some coffee with some degree of air-conditioning, they were considered good enough, but so much as changed; today airports are being designed for lifestyles.
Building on customer care, the need for transporting disabled passengers and information kiosks to redirect traffic became a core activity, soon this core activity extended to providing additional services like ‘lost and found’ sections, extended services for animal relief and for the young travellers, strollers, nursing rooms for infants, recreation and play area for toddlers.
A postal section, in case transit passengers need to address some communication, to internet desks for that urgent email or for the compulsive internet surfers, which then graduated to wi-fi zones for laptop, tablet or smart phone users.
The odd coffee bar to wake one up, grew into alcohol bars and the odd fast food joint for a quick bite soon became multi-cuisine restaurants. The various counters that serve international cuisine in the lounge bars are often better than city restaurants. What may have started as handy shopping for basic toiletries and medicinal products soon became aisles and concourses of shopping. In big international airports, there is hardly any product that one cannot purchase. Haute clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, cosmetics, electronics, jewellery, gifting items, curio shops, every small and big item is available. Books, stationery and the famous duty free sections.
Passenger facilities, ranging from the mandatory washroom and drinking water facilities, to sleep bubbles, hair care, bathing closets, spa, body massage and reflexology. Hotels, for overnight services, road and rails for internal and external transfers. Music bar lounges for relaxation or even swimming pool facilities for a quick rejuvenation. City sightseeing tours for long transit passenger, left luggage sections so one does not have to lug the heavy vehicles around. For Business travellers, limousine services, park and fly, valet parking and special business lounges providing business newspaper and business magazines.
The city is also showcasing itself to the traveller, so there is a media segment that deals with the appropriate advertisement inside the airport. Today’s airports are like mini cites, with tree lined streets, well designed, keeping in mind the psychology and the needs of international travellers. The important shift is that airport designing today is not just looking at essential services but is concentrating on the indulgences of the traveller.
The writer is an entrepreneur and educationist