Let’s Not Get Ahead of Ourselves

Paul Bowers, Publisher

Over the past few weeks, we’ve received many press releases from airports announcing the start of projects. In this pandemic-filled year, this is very gratifying to see. What strikes me, however, is what else airport leaders say in these releases. When justifying the need for their projects, airports reference pre-pandemic passenger levels. They acknowledge the 2020 numbers, but most assume that the long-term traffic growth that previously existed will return.

Yes, the pandemic elephant is in the room, and everyone sees it. But airport leaders also remember the consistent growth our industry has experienced over the last few decades. That overall upward trajectory still drives the need to prepare for the future.  

What isn’t helping is all of the assistance/insistence (I say this tongue-in-cheek) from those who feel that today’s highly usual circumstances will continue forever—that what we currently see is the “new normal.” Tomorrow’s world—and airports—will not require masks, temperature checks, social distancing and hospital-style cleaning/disinfecting. So, we shouldn’t build new facilities or retool existing terminals as if they will. 

There’s a natural tendency to offer solutions. It’s good for sales and business, and, frankly, it makes for good copy from members of my own profession. However, we need to keep the big picture in mind.

We don’t need to exponentially expand the typical airport footprint to satisfy the current need for extra physical distance. And we don’t need to completely reinvent passenger lounges, baggage claims, concessions, security checkpoints and other key areas. That would just create a future with wasted space and spent budgets.  

Don’t get me wrong. Of course we need to take the necessary precautions to safeguard our facilities, employees and passengers while COVID-19 is still raging. I’m a huge proponent of masks, social distancing, hand washing, Plexiglas barriers, touchless technology, etc. But this is a temporary hump we need to navigate. What we really need to do is prepare for the day when this pandemic is behind us, and the industry as a whole faces record levels of passenger traffic. Naturally, I can’t give you a specific date when that will happen, but I don’t want to see us squander our limited resources in the meantime. 


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