On Planes and Airports
Using technologies half a century old and a medieval guild-like organization, modern airplanes and airports pose heavy dilemmas to the eternal pilgrim. Unnecessarily, airlines are often regulated by trade agreements between countries; most airlines connecting two given countries belong to them and national airlines enjoy unfair advantages at their home airports. That means competition is almost nil; the natural consequence is that we – the travelers – pay inflated prices and are offered obsolete technologies, delays and often, bad food. With the Concord gone and no other alternative technology to be adopted as a mass transport method in the next years, it seems the average speed of our trip will continue to drop, while a change in the industry’s practices is improbable. Are we heading back to the days of "Around the World in Eighty Days?" Would cruises become again a major travel option?
This cartel-like arrangement of the industry means that we often find ourselves as "transit travelers" in unplanned places. The needed stop in a flight between Bangkok and Los Angeles would be determined by the airline we use and not by the shortest route available. Imagine the city buses using such an approach: Bluehound will always stop at its own terminal five kilometers north of downtown, while Redhound would use its own on the southern side of town, while I simply wanted to move from the museum to the coffee shop!
Having found a convenient flight with Asiana, I landed in Seoul for eight hours.
How can eight hours in an airport be spent? In a previous trip, I spent a night at the San Francisco International Airport waiting for a connection from Taiwan to Phoenix; the place was so deserted that at 3 AM I found myself studying a defibrillator’s instructions sheet.
I had never visited Korea and since first visits to travel hubs are always a prelude to a future and more detailed visit the visit was of special interest. Before the trip, I studied the airport website and to my delight found it offers tours to the surroundings including downtown Seoul. All along the way I tried to decide which tour I would pick. Markets or downtown? Temples or DMZ? I was scheduled to arrive at 8:20 AM, the perfect time for booking the tours.
Once in Seoul, I would have anything between four and seven hours for touring the city; most of the tours offered fitted in this window. Usually that would be enough for having a glimpse of the city’s main sights.
"Due to the winds we would be landing slightly before schedule," the captain announced at certain moment, and I pictured myself taking the longest tour of Seoul.
Yet, with no explanation, we landed after our scheduled time and too close to the tours departure time to allow me booking one. Where there is no real competition, efforts and explanations are skipped.
Spending eight hours in an airport is not easy. Resigned, I decided to stop at Au Bon Pain and to make a winning plan while enjoying a coffee and having a sandwich; I was hungry after having skipped a bad meal during the flight
The math was simple. Two meals would consume two hours; a coffee would take care of another one; that would leave five hours of wandering among the shops. Five hours shopping around? There was nothing I needed!
Yet, I would be able to see the commercial side of the Korean culture. What do they sell and buy and more how they do behave in such a place. Do they prefer cellular phones or traditional tea? Shortly after, I found an internet connection and amused myself by uploading fresh pictures from the airport; shops, restaurants, works of art, news and movies completed the visit.
Would observations based on an eight hours visit hold any relevance? As usual, such questions are questionable; the first eight hours in a country are seven times more important than eight hours in the 77th day. Then, our impressions of the new culture are fresh, sharpest, and the differences and highlights clearest.
Unquestionably, I had eight hours for tasting the local culture.