Airports are shopping malls

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Heathrow   - Terminal 5

Terminal 5 at Heathrow after you have gone through the obstacle course

In the aviation debate in the House of Commons this week, Angus MacNeil, MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, raised an interesting point about the way airports are developing.

He said, “Unfortunately, many airports are turning themselves into long, tedious, meandering shopping malls, which inconveniences travellers. Glasgow airport, for example, has a quarter of a kilometre meander that not only hinders those needing to travel, but inconveniences people with mobility issues.” Later in the debate, Danny Kinahan – MP for South Antrim – repeated the comment suggesting that he also considered airports as retail malls.

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, seemed to sympathise as well saying, “…we do spend a lot of time walking through the shops—but the counter-argument is that shops are one of the factors that keeps the cost of aviation down, making it more accessible. I am unsure whether I can promise him fewer shops.”

These days, when you clear baggage and security checks you walk a zig-zag path through duty free. The obstacle course seems to take you past as many duty-free offers as it possibly can. Demonstrators urge you to sample this Scotch or have a dab of this perfume. If you were running it tight for your flight, there is no way you could sprint to the gate as you used to be able to do in the old days. Today you need to have the swerving skills of a rugby player to get through an airport and to the gate in a reasonable amount of time.

But, as Grayling says, it is a source of revenue for the airport. Go to the USA and duty free is minimal. Go to Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur and there are dozens more shops than you will ever see at Gatwick, Heathrow, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. The difference is airport planning.

In the Far East, airports still seem to be for passengers. In the UK, you feel that an airport is for retailing.


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