title: At least they are consistent
by: Scott Bradner
As a general rule I do not like airports. This is a shame since I spend so much time in them. Now I have yet another reason to dislike them or at least the people who manage them. It seems that some airports are trying to muscle their way into position to overcharge for wireless Internet access.
I think the basic reason I do not like most airports is that they were not designed for people to use them. Instead they seem to have been designed so that they are nice to airplanes. Atlanta's airport, which I had the misfortune to have to use recently, is a perfect example. It seems like the designers of the airport don't actually use airports. If they did use airports they would not have made miles of hallways without also providing moving walkways to help people get around. Atlanta's airport is not as bad as many airports. At least they do have some semi-reasonable food there, even if the food is not well distributed in the terminals. I've been in a number of airports where there seems to be a conscious effort to ensure that the food quality is low enough that the food you are offered later on the plane will be seen as a relief. Most airports also try to ensure the food stalls (it is rare that any of them might rise to a level where they might be called a restaurant) price their goods at least twice as expensive as one would find in the rest of the world. Five dollar hot dogs and $3 Cokes are all together too common. As are $7 for 3 minute pay phone calls.
It turns out that airports make a lot of money off of their pay phones. Money they make by ripping off the traveler. But this revenue stream is now under threat. Too many travelers are using cell phones and bypassing the rip-off pay phones. An aside, it's not just the fly by night phone companies that participate in this rip-off -- the February 2001 issue of Consumer Reports says that one of the worst offenders is AT&T.
According to press reports the airports are fighting back by restricting the ability of cell phone companies to install their antennas in airport buildings. One airport claims they are doing so out of concern of interference with air traffic control and security systems but that rational is suspiciously self serving. So that crappy connection you get in the airport may not be random chance. Now many of the same airports are restricting companies who want to install wireless LANs. At least one admitted that such LANs would get deployed as soon as the airport figured out how to make money from them. As a user of wireless LAN technology this is a pain but I guess the airports have to uphold their well-deserved reputations.
disclaimer: Harvard is reputation-heavy but does not fly so the above is my lament.