Some thoughts on Airports

I am afraid of international airports; no, not phobia-afraid, but just afraid of their unabashed statements about the host country. Whether your expectations be high or low, an international airport is usually the good place to change or persist with your preconceptions about the host country. In Asia, the airports are just facades, which hide the hideous and even appalling social injustices. Singapore and Japan like to expend their airports continuously, sometimes by chipping away the natural beauty of the surround bay/sea through land-filling. I just wonder whether the airport structure expended upon such a tenuous ground is an apt testimony of their economies and of their tendency to equate expansion with prosperity.

On the other extreme, most airports in developing countries are hideous since they are carbon copies of a model an airport contractor sends to two hundred different airports. Out of this mold is Taiwan’s bleak International Airport, which, to add insult to injury, has a lax security system, a dubious prestige shared by that of Malaysia and Italy (of which more will be said below).

Last year, Thailand opened a new international airport and within a few months tarmacs are cracking under the pressure of the new A380. Many a tarmac has been figuratively cracking in many developing nations for a long time. In comparison, Berlin International still stands firm as a glowing testimony to German precision and efficacy. After surviving the Second World War, an air blockade and the Cold War, Berlin Airport may possibly have to surrender to whimsical demands of the Berliners, who believe that they will break away from the heritage of the Third Reich if they demolish Hitler-commissioned Berlin International Airport.

Deletion of history is never the solution. Even if the Berliners are successful in demolishing the airport, they can never get around effacing the 1936 Olympic stadium, Hugo Boss shirts and thousands of Volkswagens roaming the streets of every city, from Nairobi to Wollongong, all of which shared the dubious reputation of being commissioned by the infamous Fuhrer. In fact, both Berlin and Frankfurt Airports are way better than their counterparts in London, Paris and Rome.

Paris has two airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, and the coordination is above per. Both of them are artistically pleasing to admire (and has been copied by various airports) but the French did sacrifice efficiency to create long tortuous corridors, plastered with advertisement boards, where crème de la crème of Parisian haute couture from Hermes scarves to LV bags fight against one another. Transit time usually takes about an hour in any airport—excepting for the flights to America, of course, for which you have to remove everything itemized in the ever-increasing list, which now possibly include your toupee, false gums, cuff-links, and yes, your stress ball. I can’t imagine how long the queue will be in Charles de Gaulle, but from my experience with French airport system, I will hazard three hours as a wild guess.

At least France compensates its inefficiency with aesthetics—in Rome, inefficiency is coupled with their citizenship’s disillusionment towards their government. Impartially speaking, it is not the government’s fault that it doesn’t accomplish a thing—with Italian governments changing faster than posters in the Times Square, it is hard to accomplish even une petite mort, if you pardon my French. Rome has two airports, Ciampino for domestic flights, Fiumcino for internationals. Believe me, with Italian efficiency, domestic flights take as long as international flights. Next time you are in Italy, take the train—at least you will be prepared for its lateness.

Oh, London Airport. What can I say? It is big—and ever increasing (possibly to rival that prohibited items list). It is stark and bland but efficient, prim and modern. It is a van der Rohe paradise, but not to my taste, or to the taste of millions of tourists, who flock towards the Chunnel just to avoid seeing the air anacoluthon called Heathrow.


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