The French Connection
Airports are a different type of place. For some they are a source of stress, for others the magical gateway to faraway lands. They are a crossroads for people from around the world that must “function” correctly ‒ allow millions of passengers with limited time to get from place to place. A bustling, fascinating place for fieldwork.
For Marc Augé (Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, Verso, 2009), airports are “non-places” ‒ impersonal and interchangeable spaces where human beings remain anonymous, places with which people often only interact as consumers.
And this is how most people seem to perceive airports: cold, neutral, impersonal ‒ a sort of airlock between before and after – home and away. Most passengers handle this moment of transiting more or less well. Although it is stressing for some, others find it exciting. Some are able to relax for a few moments along their journey, while others complete an urgent piece of work. In any case, airports are different places with their own rules and codes of conduct which can be seen as constraining by passengers.
Aéroports de Paris operates the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports that serve the French capital. They handle over 80 million arriving, departing and transit passengers each year.
It is thus a massive – and massively important – task to ensure passengers can quickly and properly find their way. Airports are investing billions to do this by expanding and modernizing their facilities, but this can cause further constraints and short-term headaches for passengers.
The logistics of orientating passengers is complex and there is much more to it than signs. Architecture, environment and the presence of staff also play a role. Méthos assists Aéroports de Paris better respond to the needs of passengers for quick and proper orientation as well as the expectations of travelers concerning levels and quality of services, shopping facilities and entertainment. We have undertaken several ethnographic studies and produced films on these subjects. Some of our work developed into academic papers.