Posts tagged “airport”

Semiotics of subcultures

Recent political scandals have much to teach us.

…Officers wrote that they knew from their training and work experience that the foot-tapping was a signal used by people looking for sex.

After a man in the adjacent stall left, Craig entered it and put his luggage against the front of the stall door, “which Sgt. Karsnia’s experience has indicated is used to attempt to conceal sexual conduct by blocking the view from the front of the stall,” said the complaint.

The complaint said Craig then tapped his right foot several times and moved it closer to Karsnia’s stall and then moved it to where it touched Karsnia’s foot. Karsnia recognized that “as a signal often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct,” the complaint said.

Assuming this is true (and recalling humorous-in-retrospect documents that we’ve all seen about law enforcement deconstructing hippies, punks, heavy metal, gangs, etc., it very way may not be), it’s cool to consider a signal that can only be interpreted by those that know what it means. To everyone else, it may not even penetrate your awareness. Until the communication is decoded, it’s almost perfect, especially for messages that may be risky.

I’m fascinated to consider that (maybe, just maybe) someone may have at some point tapped at me, and I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed and certainly not interpreted it as it’s presumably intended.

Richmond riches

I’m here in Richmond, VA for another few days of fieldwork. I haven’t quite processed the time in Seattle (and let alone the photos from KC) and here I am on the road again, turn the page. Our hotel is in a combination of industrial and motel strip, directly across from the economy lot for the airport. The main floor of the hotel smells like humid flatulence.

And here’s a closed 7-11, as I pulled in, the local cops were there flashing lights and getting out to talk to someone in another car. There are two Waffle Houses within sight of each other. Interesting area.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a free day tomorrow, so I’ll be off to explore the city. I am entirely unprepared for that, of course, since I planned to be busy minute by minute. We’ll see how it goes.

Now, where did I park again?

For long-term parking, SFO recently switched from a big lot to a 7-story parking structure. At one end of each floor is a bank of elevators and on the ground floor is the bus stop to get to the terminals.

Each floor is (somewhat subtly) color-coded and right next to the button for the elevator is this little widget: a card with the floor printed on it, and a space for each of the sections that can be marked or torn to indicate where you left your car. Simple, elegant.

Goin’ to Kansas City

We met some great folks during our two-day odyssey from San Francisco to Kansas City.


Right after I took the picture, a group of guys who work at the airport were talking to me about how I probably made the guy’s day by paying attention to him. They didn’t understand that I truly thought his look was awesome. I love that some people pay such close attention to their personal branding.

At the end of a long day of canceled flights and insanely long lines, I was reminded by this display at the Denver airport of the things that really matter.


It’s hard to believe I’ve lived so long in California without ever making a pilgrimage to the Tower of Pallets.


The Chateau Avalon in Kansas City: in the words of the fellow who built the place, the 64 suites are not rooms; they’re “experiences.”

It was hard to fully capture the grandeur of the Serengeti Room, where I stayed, but I will say that the rhino head made an excellent place to hang my clothes.


Why is this digital?


This restroom-last-cleaned-at status box is a digital device that replaces a familiar paper version. I’m not totally clear what the function of this has been: enforce compliance by employees who are responsible for doing the cleaning, remind the public that (appearance notwithstanding) the institution does indeed care about restroom cleanliness?

How does making it digital improve the performance? Is it the meaning of digital (to the public, or the monitored staff?) or the usability of the technology (one button press replaces writing by hand?) or the affordances of the technology (networked data tracking to look for patterns over time/location?)…

Back from vacation

We’re back from 10 days in Hawaii; trip was excellent, relaxing, and entirely offline. I’ll be posting more photos and stories, and here’s a quickie starter:

Reminiscent of old-people walkers with tennis balls to help the legs slide, these barricade/signs at the Honolulu airport do the same thing – in bulk.

Take One We Value Your Comments

These feedback forms in the SFO Long Term Parking bus shelter are always empty. Someone has written Ha Ha Ha as a sarcastic bit of feedback, presumably about the implied hypocrisy of an unmaintained feedback mechanism.

There’s a phone number (that would ideally be covered by feedback forms) that you can call from a telephone (if you’re carrying one) or a courtesy phone (once you get into the airport itself, a 10 minute drive away), for parking information. Parking information? You’ve already parked, if you’re seeing this. The sticker is out of sync with the feedback form holding function.

Bombay Sapphire, anyone?

Low-cost airline pilot ‘tried to fly drunk’

An Indian low-cost airline suspended a pilot after he was found drunk shortly before he was due to fly an aircraft with about 100 passengers on board, officials said on Wednesday.

The surprise Tuesday check at Mumbai airport — India’s busiest — threw up several minor violations of safety norms by airlines, including an instance of a pilot in another low-cost carrier trying to fly in a T-shirt because his only uniform had gone to the laundry.

“threw up several minor violations” is an interesting choice of words.

Bombay Sapphire, anyone?

Hong Kong Airport: Screening for heat

Screening for heat, Hong Kong airport, January 2006

Seeming rather like a science-fiction movie (but hey, it’s Asia, right?), arriving passengers at the Hong Airport had to walk through an area where they were monitored for heat – presumably to see if you were feverish and thus the carrier of a SARS-like pandemic (or H5N1)? There wasn’t a lot of info and it was hard to realize you had been heat-scanned until after you passed by. Someone would sit in front of a monitor and watch the image. I didn’t see anyone go through who was red-hot so I don’t know what the consequences were or really anything about how it worked.

Valet screening

Yesterday I was selected for secondary screening while going through airport security at SFO. It started off rather typically, with no explanation from the person who checks ID and boarding passes, only an instruction to follow a certain path. It’d be nice at that point if they told you what was going on. I follow the path I was directed to – a long and narrow corridor between the wall and those straps-on-poles (were that I was hip enough to name those by brand!) – a long and twisting path that eventually reached a dead-end. I was confused, so I turned around only to find a security person was ducking under the straps to join me.

He was exceedingly polite, and extremely patient while I did as he requested, provided boarding pass, unloaded my laptop, took off my shoes. He made suggestions gently (“I’ll get you a container for you to put your bag and your shoes in”). And he told me what was going to happen next (“If you could come with me, sir, we’ll just stand here and wait to go through”).

Instead of treating me like a presumed criminal, I actually felt a bit of privilege. Partly by singled out, but partly because of a certain experience of access. My bags were put through the X-ray machine ahead of others, with somebody carrying them for me and getting the nod to lay them on the belt as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I was able to stand out of the line, in a space in the middle where no one else could stand (since they had to remain in line). I went through the metal detector myself and was directed to a little holding area. After a call of “male, secondary” went out, I encountered a man waiting there for me told me immediately (calling me sir) where I could go next, pointing to an area that required me to pass the end of the X-ray machine, and go around behind. And then I was “free” to traipse over there myself, crossing several zones and lines that the normal passenger wouldn’t go through.

Two different people greeted me there, one of whom smiled nervously (the nervous smile of youth and introversion, simply) at me with a mouth full of braces. He dealt with my bag, and another did the search. They weren’t extroverted, they weren’t bossy, they were comfortable and friendly. Stand like an airplane, palms up. Face this way, so you can see your bags being searched. I never felt manhandled. The warned me my wallet and keys would be re-X-rayed.

I have been to the hairdresser (oops, I mean barber) and been treated more like a piece of meat than today. Or that all-too-familiar experience (like last week at Ross Dress For Less) when the cashier was engaged in a phone conversation for the entire duration of my transaction. Or the flight attendant on yesterday’s flight who walked through the cabin distributing the “snack” (Oreo, cheese spread, cracker-wafer-thing, world’s-smallest-box-of-raisins) with an amazing lack of interpersonal energy – no eye contact, no words, just place the snacks on the trays and move along.

Anyway, while traveling, all of my clothes and toiletries were in checked baggage, so I’m sure that reduced the sense of violation of having stuff opened, touched, looked at.

Two interactions felt more like cooperation than victimization, and they were small but significant. In one part of the search of my b, the wanded the button that closes my jeans – and of course it beeped. They asked me to twist it over (a gesture that is difficult to describe but is akin to walking around with your collar up, rather than any kind of underwear-proximal violation) and he said “good enough” in response. Secondly, when my bags were finished being searched, the bag-handling guy put a lot of hole punches into the boarding pass. When the wanding guy returned with my re-x-rayed wallet and keys, he asked me if the other agent had punched my boarding pass.

I suppose those may be signals of lax security, but I’m only talking about it from my perspective, the traveler. I think I finished up before anyone who entered the regular line before I did, and I got “special” treatment that didn’t make me feel bad or weird. And I wasn’t in a rush so I wasn’t worried about that, either.

Overall, it was an incredibly powerful reframe – from being a suspect to receiving valet service. Some minor cues (with a different mindset behind them, no doubt) changed the perspective of an ordinary experience about 180 degrees.

Source Surprise

The other night we were flipping channels and stumbled on a 1957 black and white drama called Zero Hour. Quickly we realized this was the original source for the “Airplane” movies. The pilot is “Ted Stryker” – a fighter pilot who must take over when the crew is struck down by food poisoning. But he’s guilt-ridden over past losses in combat and keeps flashing back at critical moments to horrific crashes and sqadron disasters. He sweats badly in these scenes, while down at Air Traffic Control, they are smoking like chimneys, talking in clipped tones, and rolling up shirt-sleeves. It’s pretty funny to see.

I see that it was written by Arthur Hailey, who then went on to write the Airport movies, those we most directly think of when we think of Airplane!


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