Airport Usability: Philadelphia

Our port of entry into the US on this trip was Philadelphia. Once through immigration and customs, we had to change terminals and pass security again. The rules seem to be different in every airport (shoes off or on? computers in or out?), so I looked outside the security area for instructions. No sign, no taped announcement, but when we got right up to the barrier I could hear a guy on the other side of the metal detector, going hoarse saying over and over again: “Shoes off and in a box, laptops out and in a separate box, jackets off and in a box…”

I needed three boxes, which, along with my backpack, made 6 linear feet of stuff to put through the x-ray. I got all this lined up on the table, then realized that there was a gap and a cordon between the table and the x-ray machine – I had to pick up each item and move it over to the conveyor, while holding my ticket in view, and trying to grab another box for Ross’s belt that the metal detector didn’t like – we had to shout back down the line for someone to hand us a box, as other people piled up behind us.

Once on the other side, we had mininal space and time to reassemble our belongings. I said to the hoarse guy: “Do you mind a usability suggestion? How about putting a sign up telling people what to do? And connect the table to the conveyor belt so people can just slide their stuff through.” He looked at me, puzzled, then shrugged.

<sigh> I’m sure he’s sick of shouting the same thing over and over again for hours every day. I’m sure he and the other security agents know what’s needed to make this process easier for passengers and themselves – it’s staring them in the face all day. So why aren’t things better already? Clearly the staff at the gate have no power to make changes, and perhaps don’t feel they can even make suggestions. It’s possible that no one has ever listened to them – the experience of many low-level employees – so they see no point in wasting their breath.

It’s also possible that they just don’t give a damn. But I don’t want to believe that – I prefer to believe that everyone would like to make things better. Okay, maybe I’m hopelessly deluded…


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