Airports & Travel RetailersBlog
By: Lewis Allen, Director of Environments, Portland Design   •   email:

Believe it or not I met an elephant called MAG recently. MAG recounted that over the decades airport architecture meetings have been comfortable hang outs for elephants with issues that like to be ignored. Luckily for me he was remarkably candid about a lifetimes experience of sitting in the corners at airport architecture meetings being politely ignored.

“Firstly, yes. I’m one of those proverbial elephants in the room. The one sat in the corner who everyone ignores. Secondly, what you need to know is that’s ok because elephants with issues are shy and we prefer it that way.”

“It’s not widely known in airport architecture circles, but there are many of us ‘Flying Elephants’ as we call ourselves. We hang out in plain sight but stay cunningly out of sight. We take great pride in what we do. You must admit, it takes a certain skill to be simultaneously visible and invisible”.

I was curious and enquired how they achieve this anonymity?

“It’s all about teamwork, we each have the responsibility to distract meeting room conversations away from a specific issue. Mine is the airport commercial revenue model, hence I’m called MAG. It’s a personal thing for me, I get very uncomfortable being around conversations that discuss future airport commercialisation and so I got pretty good at distracting conversations off any revisionist thinking on that issue”.

MAG introduced me to the dark secret of the Flying Elephants. It’s a strategy ensuring difficult issues that might bring unwelcome attention get overlooked or better still, completely ignored.

“We call it the ‘Distraction Technique’. It’s beautifully simple. You find a subject or an idea that’s topical in some way. Then you get a group of people excited by it. It must be so all consuming that it eclipses other ideas that could (and probably should) legitimately be included in the conversation. And voila! You and your issues become invisible”.

Speaking in conspiratorial tones MAG revealed that there are some serious gurus of the Distraction Technique out there. Alarmingly, the crème de la crème of distractors are able to ensure the meeting rooms they occupy attain a ‘Lala-land Mindstate’, described as a sort of hypnotic bliss that dominates the mood of the room with a comforting acceptance of the status quo and the tried and tested.

“There’s this one Flying Elephant, he’s a legend. We call him ‘The Airport Architect’. This guy is the master of Distraction Technique. He is responsible for distracting meetings about airport architecture and design. In the blink of an eye he can get a meeting distracted by lofty architectural speak, vain glorious visions and bewitched by technical distractions like aircraft movements, PAX capacities, engineering details, traffic forecasts etc. It’s Lala-land nirvana in there and he’s able to get all sorts of stuff ignored which means you’ll usually find loads of Flying Elephants packing the corners of airport architect’s meeting rooms”.

At this point in our conversation the mood grew pensive.

MAG elaborated some concerns “But times are changing, architectural discussions used to be a good place for us Flying Elephants to be properly ignored. Typically, we’d be confident of getting a good crowd of us and we’d get great invisibility in there. I remember one time there was me (MAG), Digital Disrupter, Future Shopper and Passenger Experience packing the room corners out. And it was going great for a while, meaning perfect distraction where nobody’s really talking about our issues except with some good sounding lip service stuff”.

“But then I was like ‘Hey! Watch out! There’s some gate crashers come in yapping on about ‘omnichannel’, ‘commercial optimisation’ and ‘falling conversion rates’. Then some crazy person jabbered something about ‘digital disruption’. And that was it, total madness. It got very exposing in there for a while. Fortunately for us The Airport Architect was able to masterfully eclipse the room’s conversation with some distracting architectural voodoo”.

It seems that this experience has revealed an uncomfortable truth for the Flying Elephants. They realise that Digital Disruption is increasingly a weak link in the elephant team, struggling with a poor Distraction Technique and is widely blamed for allowing uninvited ideas about digital disruption into a plethora of aviation conversations. One example is the sudden attention on Trinity’s corner of the room. Faced with increasing chatter about a so called ‘quad-rinity’ and other digitally driven game changers Trinity has responded gamefully with distracting ideas around the theme of ‘collaboration and partnerships’.

Whilst many rightly welcome these developments, MAG remains distinctly apprehensive about the future of those once comfortable airport architecture meeting room conversations.

“Imagine if airport architecture meetings were filled with discussions about digital fulfilment, connected journeys, shopping eco-systems? Or heretical conceits like retail concepts being better than downtown, hybrid experiences, data sharing, the future value of airside space, future revenue models or God forbid Amazon? These could re-shape airport architecture and future commercial revenue models beyond recognition. Some say it’s exciting stuff, but that would be a very uncomfortable meeting room for a shy MAG elephant like me.”

So, what should you do if you find yourself in a meeting talking about airport design and you spot an elephant or two lurking in the corner of the room? I advise you to stay right where you are. It’s a sign you’re in the right conversation. But be warned, if the elephants suddenly disappear from sight then you’ve probably been suckered by another cunning distraction from The Airport Architect.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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