Air Travel Teaches Us Not To Listen

Zombies are real people forced to listen to airport/airline announcements

Airports and airlines are dedicated to teaching people how to not listen.

There are multiple studies, solid scientific research, on how humans respond to communication and how we best learn and retain information. Unfortunately, air travel offers the antithesis of everything we know about communication.

Outdated Audio Technology
Consider the airport. We have the technology for crystal clear sound in any announcement system. Visit a Disney property and you will hear clear announcements. Every word will be perfect with little or no distortion or hiss.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…” 
Disneyland announcement

If we can do it in Disneyland, solely for entertainment purposes, shouldn’t airports invest in the same quality of public announcement (PA) system when it involves matters of even greater importance? PA systems designed to go into ceiling tiles suck. Maybe it’s time we considered a system designed for the airport environment of 2014, not the office building of 1960.

Zoned Out
Every gate at an airport is a different audio zone, and yet few airports have designed PA systems for this environment. Because most airports have overlapping seating at every gate, passengers for one flight could be sitting in any of three gate areas or standing out in the concourse area just outside of the gate. Few airports seem to understand this geographic distribution. Some airports limit gate announcements to one gate area, resulting in flight announcements to be missed by those passengers not in that gate’s audio zone. Other airports group multiple gates into one zone, so that passengers four of five gates away are hearing boarding announcements for every flight in the area.

Over Communication
The greatest sin of airports is over communication. It seems that airports have a perverse need to create ongoing, excessive, annoying noise. Do these sound familiar?

Please keep your bags with you at all times. Unattended baggage may be confiscated and destroyed.

The Federal Aviation Administration allows you to carry up to three containers of liquids, aerosols, and gels. They must be in a clear plastic bag and removed from your luggage for inspection. Please check with your airline for more information.

Do not carry anything in for anyone else….

I have heard these announcements and many more like them while waiting in the gate area. The gate area within TSA’s secure zone. Anyone in this area has been passed the security check point and they and their luggage has been searched and cleared. None of these announcements make sense in an area where everyone has been declared safe to board a plane. They are just noise.

At the gate you will also hear multiple announcements by the gate agent. If there is any training involved of gate agents on how to make PA announcements it would not be apparent from my experience in air travel. Recently, I was waiting for a flight in the Newark, New Jersey airport. The longest period I counted without an announcement was nine seconds. Between the meaningless airport general announcements and the multiple gate agent announcements the passengers were bombarded with endless noise.

The Solution
There is important information that passengers need before they board their flight; however, it is impossible for passengers to determine important announcements for the noise generated in an airport. The remedy involves the FAA, Airport Authorities, and the airlines to reevaluate the purpose of airline announcements…actually they need to assign a purpose to their communications.

Better equipment is a must, and better training on how to effectively communicate information over a PA system. Another possibility is to run all announcements through a centralized public address system where boarding announcements would be made by one trained person who filtered information and determined what audio zones would hear it. 

There is another approach but it would involve a complete redesign of the concept of an airport. That’s not likely in an industry that took decades to determine that an iPod isn’t a threat to a plane’s avionics.

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