I’ve always loved to travel. Yellowstone National Park for a summer in college, Antarctica for a once-in-a-lifetime trip writing for an environmental magazine, Belize on my honeymoon.
While I look back fondly on these adventures, I shudder when I think about the “adventure” of traveling these days. Catching flights at the crack of dawn so you can make all your connections and still be at your meeting on time. Sitting on a 737 packed to the gills with people trying to stuff oversized carry-on luggage into overhead bins to avoid a random $20 baggage fee. And let’s not even get started on the rising cost of a ticket that no longer includes a free bag of peanuts and a can of Coke.
The point is, as much as I love to travel, it isn’t what it used to be. And I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon. And yet, we can’t and won’t stop traveling. Trade shows, meetings with clients, trips to New York or London or San Francisco to check out new retail. These are on all our to-do lists for the year.
But that doesn’t mean the entire experience has to be awful. With travelers spending as much time on the ground as they do in the air, retail has the opportunity to become part of the whole airport experience – the better and more memorable part.
Already, some airports are responding with restaurants designed as welcome respites from the security pat-downs and exhaustion of lugging around suitcases. Retailers are filling hungry bellies with healthy and tasty grab-and-go meals. Once revived, these travelers are finding a growing number of specialty stores (and automated kiosks) dotting the concourse, filled with gifts or books or clothing. (For more on airport retailing, see our special report on page 34.)
Unlike the airlines, which keep stripping away the amenities while jacking up their prices, airport retailers at least seem to be trying to give us something special. And they’re adding little touches to remind you where you’ve landed. Charlotte’s airport offers welcoming rocking chairs for a touch of Southern hospitality. LaGuardia makes sure visitors can enjoy a slice of real New York pizza – even when they’re just passing through.
It’s an effort that can make even the most jaded traveler smile.