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A Marketing Reporter's Journey Into Airworld

A Marketing Reporter's Journey Into Airworld

Old Sep 12, 05, 7:40 am
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A Marketing Reporter's Journey Into Airworld

Starting today a new series of articles in industry mag Advertising Age.

September 12, 2005
By Greg Lindsay

As I write this, I am cinching my luggage tight and preparing to head out for JFK International Airport on the first leg of an Advertising Age reporting trip that will take me and my readers across a globe-spanning swath of "Airworld."

My reports will appear here on AdAge.com during the next three weeks and in two large special reports in the weekly print edition of Advertising Age after that.

Inside Airworld
Airworld is the name we have given to the invisible country that begins on the other side of the x-ray machines and extends in all directions beyond the concourses as the air corridors through which our airplanes fly. Among other things, this closed system of terminals and shuttling aircraft is its own vast media and retail ecosystem. Taken as a whole, it is one of the largest coherent stand-alone marketing venues on earth.

Airworld is a nation populated by nearly 100 million travelers in the U.S. alone, and passenger traffic -- even after 9/11 -- is expected to double in 15 years. The airports at the center of Airworld are the hubs of our economy, circulating the people and consumer goods that can’t be reduced to digital bits. They already generate tens of billions of revenues on their own, more than half of which has nothing to do with aviation. They’ve also evolved into giant hubs for the consumption of media -- billboards, magazines, duty-free and CNN Airport news -- key to the continued success of advertising and media giants like Clear Channel, JC Decaux and Time Warner.

A petri dish for brands
Airworld is also a petri dish in which to test the ongoing evolution of brands. The domestic airline industry is facing the greatest shakeout in recent history, with Delta and Northwest mulling chapter 11. By the end of this year, nearly a quarter of all domestic flights might be flying under bankruptcy protection. With oil at $70 per barrel or higher, can airlines persuade passengers to turn away from the lowest possible price they found online and opt for a more expensive ticket? And how will they do that without superior branding, marketing and customer relations -- the skill set that enabled Southwest and JetBlue to succeed where so many low-fare carriers have failed.

I will be spending the next three weeks living the story in airports, watching this retail universe at work, and meeting with airline executives, passengers and grizzled road warriors.

'The Terminal' movie
And that sounds like something out of Steven Spielberg’s 2004 movie The Terminal, the story of an Eastern European traveler who becomes stranded in New York's JFK airport as his homeland collapses in political chaos that renders his passport invalid. Unable to go home or enter the U.S., he becomes an inhabitant of the terminal's international transit lounge and the tightly closed universe of Airworld. As one of my goals on this journey, I plan to meet the man whose real-life experience inspired the movie.

Stop by AdAge.com every day to read my latest reports and if you have ideas or questions about the project, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail.

That's it for this first dispatch -- I have to run because for me, Airworld is now boarding.
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Old Sep 12, 05, 11:49 am
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See the reporter's original request for FTers' help, and several responses (with others sent by PM), in this Sticky in CommunityBuzz.
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Old Sep 13, 05, 6:48 am
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Part 2: The JetBlue Experience

September 13, 2005
By Greg Lindsay

For my first day's foray into Airworld, I lift off on JetBlue. What better airline to choose for the start of this exploration of the aviation marketing business than the one that has played such a key role in revolutionizing the industry?

JetBlue was the first low-fare carrier to rebrand flying as a “cheap chic” experience. Southwest may have become an industry giant with the no-frills formula its executives feel they perfected back in the '70s (57 consecutive profitable quarters can’t be wrong, can they?), but JetBlue is the first of Southwest’s descendants to evolve the formula and to arguably make flying JetBlue a sign of one’s good taste.

Price-setting power
Thanks to a combination of technological innovations (the seatback satellite TV), an extraordinarily high level of customer service and espirt de corps, and a dollop of style (the new Airbus planes, with their leather seats, the Terra Blue chips), the JetBlue brand transcended the airline industry. The architect David Rockwell, who is designing the interiors of JetBlue’s new $875 million terminal, compares -- with a straight face -- JetBlue to the iPod (the ne plus ultra of compliments.) JetBlue, a low-fare carrier, is not the least expensive fare on many of its flights. Thanks to a superior product and brand, JetBlue has actually regained at least a little of its power to set prices. In an Orbitz-, Expedia- and Travelocity-powered marketplace of near-perfect information about low fares, I would argue this is a fairly significant development.

One of the premises I hope to test on this trip is the idea that the “trading up” phenomenon described in the book of the same name is finally beginning to appear in the airline industry years after sweeping through many retail products. At the low-fare end of the market, JetBlue and Song are building sleek brands that are recasting air travel as a lifestyle experience rather than simply cheap transport from A to B. At the high end of the market, Virgin Atlantic and other foreign carriers like Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific had crafted boutique luxury brands. And the middle of the market -- the Big Six of American, United, Delta, Northwest, Us Air/America West and Continental -- would eventually fall away. (With Delta and Northwest teetering on the edge of chapter 11, that doesn’t seem too far-fetched.)

I began the day with a cab ride to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where JetBlue currently occupies Terminal 6, the former home of National Airlines built around 40 years ago by I.M. Pei. Next door is Eero Saarinen’s iconic and deserted TWA terminal, behind which JetBlue will build its new terminal starting next month and due to be finished by 2008.

JetBlue baby-sitter
Inside the terminal, my JetBlue baby-sitter for the day, Bryan, was waiting. He would fly with me down to Orlando, Fla., and accompany me on a tour of the airline’s $25 million pilot and flight crew training center, which opened this summer next door to the similarly new $22 million hangar where the fleet’s seatback TVs are installed. (This was the price I paid for the complimentary flight.)

Bryan gamely allowed me to wander the terminal for a while to see the sights before our flight. While on the one hand it’s overcrowded -- JetBlue is spending another $25 million on temporary gates to tide passenger traffic over until the new terminal opens -- JetBlue’s terminal also houses a day spa and sushi bar (where the chef was already beginning to prep at 9 a.m.).

I wanted to ask at least one person why they chose to fly JetBlue, and rather than ask the usual suspects (college students, families likely to be on their way to Florida with me) I approached what had to be the sharpest-dressed man in the terminal, resplendent in a pin-striped suit with pocket square and equipped with handsomely battered luggage. You’re obviously a business traveler, I asked. Why are you flying JetBlue?

'You don't screw things up'
“You know,” he said, “I was sitting next to a senior operations guy for the airline on my last flight, and he asked me the same thing. I told him ‘You don’t screw things up.’”

The well-dressed man was David B. Stetson, managing partner of Burlington, Vt.-based D.B. Stetson & Associates (“Catalysts for Growth,” his card said), and he listed his favorite aspects of the airline: “Being on time, and just the sheer operational competence.”

He went on. “Most flights I take on JetBlue are too short to be about the TV. I just read something I bring along. If I fly coast-to-coast, then I’ll fly United and request an upgrade. But I don’t want to fly any other carrier if I can’t fly first class. I’d be interested in a premium JetBlue product -- a different class flight.”

Did you voice this desire to the JetBlue exec you bumped into? I ask. And what did he think of that, considering how obsessed JetBlue is with streamlined operations (introducing a first-class cabin is an operational headache that low-fare-carriers expressly want to avoid)?

“What I told them was to start another brand completely, pitched at customers like me. Any flight under two hours, I’ll fly JetBlue right now. But I’d want more for longer flights. I’d also like Starbucks coffee on the flight, and I’ll pay more to get it. But they’ve never screwed me, and in the end, I fly them for that.”

'The JetBlue Experience'
After I entered the cabin for my own flight to Orlando, I began what Bryan called "the JetBlue experience," which for me means that I am gobbling smoked almonds and trying not to be distracted by a Jerry Springer retrospective on VH1 as I write this first entry.

All of the little JetBlue touches were on display: the serendipity of channel surfing live TV, the bountiful bags of nonperishable snack food and the chipper staff.

A JetBlue car picked us up from Orlando International and drove us to the edge of the airport, to “JetBlue U.,” where a steadily increasing percentage of the airline’s pilots and flight crew were trained. The place is barely three months old, but plans are already on the drawing board to knock down one of the walls to make room for more flight simulators at $25 million per. In size and appearance, the devices resemble nothing so much as lunar landers.

The classrooms for flight crew would be overflowing soon, too, it seemed. The airline hired somewhere between 400 to 500 crew members last year, would add 600 this year and was looking at 900 more next year.

Post-9/11 uptick
The reason? The imminent arrival on Aug. 14 of JetBlue’s first E190 jet from Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace consortium and the continuing rebound of air travel. The dramatic drop-off in passenger traffic following 9/11 is over for now (barring some new disaster). Among other things, JetBlue's frantic expansion plans tell us that as a country, we are no longer afraid to fly.

That horiffic September day’s biggest economic victims were the airlines, which have collectively lost more than $30 billion since then. The aftermath of 9/11 -- the Iraq invasion and resulting spike in oil prices -- is still hang as a potential threat to dismantle the industry as we know it.

As I continue my contemplation of the JetBlue experience in its larger context, I also take the time to WiFi my way to Jason Brown's "Sleeping in Airports," the online resource for anyone interested in crashing overnight at their local terminal. I’ve been reading up on Los Angeles International Airport, which isn’t likely to prove as accommodating as this one in Orlando. Last night, following Brown’s advice, I found the leather couch hidden behind the Hyatt’s ballroom. And behind that, I found an even more obscure carpeted corridor where I could hide. Grabbing one of the cushions from the couch, I slipped on my eyeshade and put in my earplugs, popped two Tylenol PM and sprawled on the floor.

Security guard's toe
I slept well enough ... until the hotel’s security guard nudged me awake with his toe. He suggested I try the terminal level “just find a corner and sleep there, but you can’t stay in the hotel” but I opted for plan B, a quiet spot near the baggage claim, which didn’t fire up until 7 a.m..

Why was I sleeping in the airport? Well, the answer is not exactly clear, even as it is in keeping with the overall spirit of this project, in which I plan to physically integrate myself into the landscape of Airworld. It isn’t about money; it’s about point-making-masochism.

I suppose I'm underscoring the essential inhumanity of airports -- they’re extremely efficient at processing passengers from the curb to the gates, but should you choose to stick around, well, the tile gets pretty cold at night. Still, maybe it’s a sign that I’m finally acclimating to my new bizarre existence. Or maybe there are more Hyatts, Hiltons, Sheratons and Ramadas in my future. Stay tuned to find out.

Last edited by virtualtroy; Sep 13, 05 at 6:51 am
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Old Sep 13, 05, 11:50 am
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FT trip reports are better.
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Old Sep 13, 05, 11:56 am
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Originally Posted by BearX220
FT trip reports are better.
What do you expect, he's a journalist
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Old Sep 13, 05, 6:22 pm
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hey, hey, hey

Originally Posted by virtualtroy
What do you expect, he's a journalist
What do you expect? I'm stuck with an editor.

And most of my life takes place at my desk at home. Why do you think I'm out here begging for help? I know who the real pros are...
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Old Sep 14, 05, 12:25 am
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Hi Greg

Sorry as an ex-hack perhaps the intended irony in my earlier post didn't shine thru I appreciate that your editor may have a certain way of seeing your story - but then you could syndicate another version of it elsewhere, or give us the 'DVD extras' recut version right here on FlyerTalk

If you want to come up with some really great copy, take a look at some of the travel reports Tyler Brule has filed for London's Financial Times.
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Old Sep 14, 05, 6:39 am
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Part 3: Panic Attack

The Curious Effect of Terminal Isolation on the Traveling Psyche

September 14, 2005
By Greg Lindsay

Enfolded in a blessedly-cushioned airline seat and leveling off after a climb out of Orlando, I am inclined to seriously rethink my original idea that sleeping in airports will be some great adventure. Airworld, it turns out, can be as much a grim gulag as a glitzy shopping mall.

Disheveled wretches
As I leave Florida behind and rocket west toward Los Angeles, I feel a sudden sense of deep kinship with those disheveled wretches one sees in the newspaper photos that document every blizzard, electrical outage, aviation workers strike and assorted security incidents that suddenly shut airports, stranding the travelers within. It also took only two days entombed in sterile bowels of Orlando's terminal for me to gain a new appreciation of the true ordeal of psychological endurance dramatized in the movie The Terminal.

I also have new respect for frequent fliers and their Darwinian cousins, the road warriors, who more or less “live” continuously in such conditions. The latter really do live in an Airworld ecosystem where seemingly every decision -- where to fly, who to fly, what to drive, where to stay, what to eat -- adds frequent flier miles, or points, or some other form of sub-currency that either circulates through AirWorld in an endless series of upgrades or else is cashed in for something occasionally tangible -- magazine subscriptions or whatever.

Cyber preparation
I’ve been trying live this lifestyle vicariously for months on online communities like FlyerTalk.com and the brand-new AirTroductions.com (think Friendster for the frequent flying set) but learning to read the algebraic postings on those sites (no one will ever say “I’m flying to Orlando on JetBlue tomorrow” when they can post “B6, JFK -> MCO, 9/9/05 instead) is no substitute for experience.

And unlike the legions of management consultants who seem to populate Airworld (an extraordinarily lucrative demographic who become more monastic the more they fly), my life as a freelancer isn’t underwritten by a generous corporate patron (in exchange for every minute of my waking life of course.)

I also wanted to answer another, more existential question: what would happen if you went to the airport with no intention to leave? I began to find out that first morning after a bad sleep as I faced the prospect of killing nearly two more days before I could leave this place. At either end of the terminal are the security checkpoints for the “A” and “B” gates, which lie past a pair of public squares -- one of which is anchored by a Hyatt Regency, its rooms arrayed around an 8-story atrium --- connected by a mall and a food court.

Some random Florida mall
Until one heads out to the gates –- separate satellites connected by monorail trains on the far side of security –- there is little, other than the ticket counters, to dispel the notion that I’m in some random Floridian mall replete with a Chick-Fil-A, a fountain, inviting wooden benches and wicker chairs, pastels, and palm trees.

What I want to know is: did I have a headache already and didn’t notice or did the headache start upon realizing that this mall really was home?

My first priority was WiFi, and thanks to the Hyatt, the entire atrium was filled with it. My email client wasn't working properly, and 10 hours’ worth of email mysteriously disappeared from the server, but at least I had a lifeline out to the real world.

But I was exhausted, I had a throbbing head, I needed sleep and it was only 6:30. I ordered a beer from the Hyatt’s lobby bar (suddenly I couldn't bear to face the terminal -- I’m went to hide out in this plushly carpeted corner of Airworld for a while) and screw my face together so the bartender won’t see my panic.

Sleep deprived and panicked
I was panicking because I it didn't feel like I could wait until midnight for the terminal to quiet down so I can sleep. I couldn’t sleep in the airport that night anyway -- I needed real sleep, not four hours of catnapping. I’m never going to be able to entertain myself in this mall for two days, I thought. And I’m never going to last 21 days breathing endlessly recirculated air, eating $10 sandwiches and power bars and sleeping on an air mattress. I was my eight-year-old self again, the one who got homesick on his very first sleepover at a friend’s place. I e-mail Sophie: “Please call. I need to be talked off the ledge.”

She does, and she has a succinct recommendation: Get a room. And keep getting them as the trip goes on.

“You’re already spending 18 hours a day in an entirely enclosed space watched by the FAA,” she says. “You’ve got to get out of there occasionally. You can’t push yourself in every direction at once; think about the hierarchy of needs -- you’ve left behind shelter, food, the woman who loooooves you. You have to get one of them back, and I think it should be sleep. If you’re continually exhausted and hungry, then no matter what you do, the world will just suck. If you really want to write about this, you need to splurge now and then on a room in order to be at your best.”

Beyond typical exposure
Of course, the whole point of this trip is to explore just how badly airports can become when your exposure is more than the typical two hours -- just long enough that the combination of McDonalds, the SeaWorld store, and the Fox Sports Bar & Grill to sufficiently dull your senses. I mutter something about “wanting to experience psychic breakage” with my real life back home, but clearly I don’t have the mental toughness at the moment to sincerely mean it.

Airworld isn’t home right now. It’s alien and frightening, and I have too much mental static to cope. I hand over my credit card at the front desk of the Hyatt and pay the going rate. After I explain to the manager on duty that I had intended to sleep on the floor again tonight, he takes pity on me and hands me two drink tickets. I'll need them tomorrow, but right then I headed up to my room, strip, and sleep for 12 hours. At one point during the night, I dream about plane crashes.

Don't fight it
The next morning, I don't feel refreshed. Don’t fight it, I kept telling myself. I'm the one who wanted to live in the most secure malls in America for three weeks. Like others who are forced to, I need to accept the airport on its own terms.

I gathered my wits, took a determined deep breathe and thought if I'm going to be stuck in a mall for this long, there is only one thing to do: Go shopping.

I started at Starbucks, a place of reassuring comfort for me. Even with the security queues piling up just outside, the blonde wood tables and piped-in Dylan successfully preserved that “third space” the company is always talking about. (They preserved it so well that Starbucks became my command center for the rest of the day -- it was the only place in the airport that remotely hinted of home.)

In an effort to lighten up, I pass the Busch Garden's boutique and slip across the way to have my photo taken with Snow White before wandering into the Disney "Earport" to buy an accompanying frame inscribed with “I can still remember the magic of our first visit to Walt Disney World…” ($16).

Astrochimp named 'Ham'
Nearby, I could have bought a flight suit or a stick of freeze-dried ice cream or a $20 talking “astrochimp” named “Ham” from Kennedy Space Center, just next door to the Earport. A pair of tourists browsing the racks beside me asked the cashier “Is all of this available at the Space Center?” “Everything and more,” she replied. “Same prices?” “Same prices.”

Not that this or the Spongebob t-shirt from the Universal Studios store or the alligator seasoning sauce from the “Florida Market,” or the short boards on display at Ron Jon's Surf Shop are atypical of terminal commercial life.

Airports’ evolution into secure shopping malls has been in the works for nearly a decade now. According to the Airports Council International, non-aeronautical revenues began outstripping the aeronautical kind as far back as 1997. In 2002 (the last year for which I currently have data), US airports generated roughly $14 billion in revenue, 58 percent of which (or $8.15 billion) stemmed from "non-aeronautical" sources -- the services and concessions that have become as integral a part of “Airworld” as glass walls and escalators.

Concession boom
At Orlando International -- the 4th busiest airport in the U.S. -- concession revenue grew 9.3% in fiscal 2004, to the point where “concessions” (defined as food, shopping, rental cars, and parking) comprised 50 percent of revenues, or 60 percent if you tossed in the Hyatt.

After some more interviews about the logistics of Airworld, of which I will write later, I am focused and back in sync with the project. But when I finally trudge down the boarding ramp and climb into this airliner bound for Los Angeles, I am taken by a sense of sudden lightness and relief. It's probably the drug-like elation experienced by those frequent flier junkies who travel for the sake of the movement itself and the chance to go anywhere other than the place where there are right now.
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Old Sep 14, 05, 1:54 pm
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He did interview me over the phone at one point for about 20-30 minutes concerning my Trip Report. I am curious to see if it is ever referenced.
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Old Sep 14, 05, 3:34 pm
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Originally Posted by 1993gt40
He did interview me over the phone at one point for about 20-30 minutes concerning my Trip Report. I am curious to see if it is ever referenced.
Oh, don't worry, I will. I plan on a big post on FTers sometime next week. And if I don't quote you (or the Princess) then, I may save it for the big magazine story that comes out in October...
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Old Sep 15, 05, 9:28 am
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Part 4: On a Wing and a Song at LAX

September 15, 2005

Advertising Age
By Greg Lindsay

I purposefully chose Song rather than JetBlue for the five-and-a-half-hour transcontinental flight to Los Angeles. After all, it was a name in the news as well as the conversation all around me along the way. In fact, not long after I landed, its parent, Delta Air Lines, filed for chapter 11 as everyone predicted.

There is a certain sense of adventure surrounding Song, whose innovative marketing strategies could all be for naught if it is ultimately strangled by the tightening financial troubles of Delta. On another level, it is effectively spearheading Delta’s attempt to reinvent itself out of bankruptcy as something of a low-cost carrier overall, as demonstrated in Delta's new “Simplifares” programs and lower walk-up ticket prices.

JetBlue disses Song
Back in New York JetBlue's sales and marketing executives had obliquely dissed Song as too “product-focused,” which I interpreted as “gimmicky.”

But personally, I found that JetBlue had struck a nice balance between style and efficiency, while Song was attempting to win market share on behalf of Delta with a blizzard of branding initiatives -- organic food by chef Dave Lieberman, cocktails by Rande Gerber, uniforms (and stationery) by Kate and Andy Spade, Song Records (a partnership with Artemis Records, with CDs available on the flight for $14), a pair of Song-inspired $200 jeans by Chip & Pepper and the temporary Song store that had opened with a splash in SoHo back in New York. Song seemed like Virgin Atlantic in reverse -- an airline giving birth to a constellation of brands rather than emerging from one.

Song doesn’t just have live satellite TV -- there are pay-per-view movies (including Breakfast At Tiffanys for anyone truly longing for the Jet Set era of 1961 again), and onboard MP3s, and even a music trivia contest.

Being a bit of a Jet Set nostalgist myself, I thoroughly enjoyed sipping an $8 cocktail at 40,000 feet while listening to The Thievery Corporation track “International Flight” followed by Air’s “Universal Traveler.”

'Can't beat the price'
Still, my seatmate –- who was neither a woman nor leisure traveler, both of which are Song’s targets –- only flew Song “because of the price. You can’t beat the price on this route.”

The flight attendant we struck up a conversation with didn’t see it quite the same way. “It’s not about the things as much as it is the people, still,” he said. “And you don’t walk into a Cadillac dealership expecting a VW price.
A Song airliner sits on the tarmac at LAX. The main terminal building is in the background. But you can make a difference with the little things.”

Later, the flight attendant told me, “The best thing [former Delta CEO Leo] Mullin could have told [original Song president John] Selvaggio was to totally separate this operation from Delta. Because if they had gone through Delta’s regular marketing department, all they would have heard was ‘Don’t do that.’ It was still all the old thinking.”

Of course, Selvaggio fled Delta before long into the arms of Virgin, where he is supposed to be developing Virgin America, its nascent low-cost carrier. (When it comes to the new generation of low-fare carriers, all roads seemingly lead to and from Virgin.) His former chief of marketing, Joanne Smith, is Song’s president now, and we’re due to meet next week in Atlanta. What I really want to know is whether Song will actually live long enough to answer the questions it and JetBlue have posed to the airline industry: Is there any way to differentiate yourself in an era of commodity products and perfect pricing? (And in the interest of full disclosure, thanks to Smith, I flew Song for a song -- actually, for free.)

Largest concentration of hotels
Shortly after touching down at LAX, I crashed for the night at a Super 8 motel in the sprawl just beyond the airport. I unwittingly helped justify Cendant’s $1.25 billion purchase of online ticketing engine Orbitz a year ago, as I used the site to chase down a rock-bottom fare for the night (I had no idea until later that Cendant owned, among seven other chains, the Super 8 brand). The next night, I was a guest (compliments of the house) of the Four Points Sheraton, a budget business traveler’s brand in the Starwood family. “This is the largest concentration of hotels on the coast,” the Four Points general manager, Phil Baxter, said, referring to the surrounding cluster of hotel towers as dense as L.A.’s actual downtown. “We have 570 rooms and we’re just medium-sized.”

Cendant and Starwood are just two of the giant holding companies owning dozens of brands hovering at the periphery of Airworld.

It only took me minutes to realize why LAX was such a different kind of place within Airworld when I first entered it from the Song gate. It is the busiest origin and destination airport (i.e. non-hub) in the world. It’s the home airport for the second-largest media market in the country, the hub of the entertainment industry, but there isn’t a scrap of advertising anywhere. Its concourses are literally blank slates.

Ads have long been banned
LAX has held out for decades against what its executive management once decried as crass commercialism -- back in the 1970s, there was even a board resolution expressly forbidding any ads from going up. Besides institutional inertia, other reasons for the city’s uncharacteristic sense of restraint include spartan facilities and limited terminal space (LAX is so devoted to the pure function of processing passengers onto planes that it doesn’t even really have a name after all, just an airport code) and aesthetics. The architects and engineers in management really liked those white walls.

But all of that is about to change. LAX is only a few weeks away from awarding a contract worth $30 million a year or more over the next decade in terms of gross revenues to either Clear Channel or JCDecaux, the airport “outdoor” giants that consolidated their way to the top over the past decade, and are now engaged in a full-tilt struggle to win the last unclaimed piece of airport real estate.

On Monday, JCDecaux officially announced it had renewed its contracts in New York with JFK and LaGuardia, and had wrested away Newark Liberty from Clear Channel, creating the second-largest regional airport advertising platform in the world, with 100 million annual passengers. (The largest is comprised of the London airports, which is also controlled by JCDecaux.)

The New York win was a huge one for JCDecaux, which currently trails behind Clear Channel in the U.S. (Denver and Chicago O’Hare, my next airports, are both Clear Channel affiliates.)

JCDecaux vs. Clear Channel
If JCDecaux wins LAX (along with the regional Ontario airport), it will effectively control the air corridor that is the cultural spine of blue state America. If Clear Channel wins, it can slam the door on another market in the U.S. -- the winner will receive a five-year contract, with a five-year option to renew.

At lunch, LAX concessions manager Karen Tozer and her deputy, Mark Miodovsky, and the airport’s public relations director, Nancy Castles, filled me in on the the last laps of the two-year race for the airport contract. The process began with a request for proposals and eventually yielded 400 potential locations around the airport for static signage, banners, touch screen kiosks, plasma screens and sponsorships similar to what airports like Dallas-Ft. Worth and London Heathrow have done -- the former granted exclusive pouring rights in all terminals to Pepsi, while the latter (with the help of JCDecaux) has set aside areas for passenger-friendly services (like banks of power outlets) sponsored by the likes of Vodafone. Planning accordingly, both sides have marshaled small armies of potential sponsors as part of the their LAX bids.

But the winner won’t be the one who slams the most advertisers into the most slots but rather the one that devises the most elegant, non-vulgar commercial messaging tactics that make maximum use of new technologies. “We wanted to really embrace technology,” Tozer said. But all of my lunch companions recoiled when someone brought up the enormous new plasma screens in the baggage claim of Las Vegas’ McCarran airport, which blast non-stop casino ads at their captive audience.

Sweep tech upgrades planned
Before lunch, Miodovsky gave me a quick tour of Terminal 2 -- served by Northwest, Air France, KLM, and several other carriers -- to see what he meant. He pointed to the ancient hotel and rental car information kiosks that consisted of little other than postcards and converted rotary phones. “Those could become touch screen kiosks with up-to-date information about a lot more than just hotels. They could be Web-based or custom built.” Upstairs, he pointed at blank walls where banners might be hung, and to a planter containing drooping, sickly palms that "could become display areas that generate revenue,” he said.

Whether that happens will ultimately depend upon the ingenuity of Clear Channel’s and JCDecaux’s final inspection teams and the willingness of LAX to implement them. With best and final offers due is less than two weeks, those planters could well sprout plasma screens by the time Angelenos fly home after Christmas.
virtualtroy is offline  
Old Sep 15, 05, 1:52 pm
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: duh
Programs: AA, UA, HH, *wood
Posts: 605
Lax T2

did your lunch companions also talk about the 10-year plan to tear down T1-3? Any plans to "enhance" the terminals might be short term.
LAX Gambit is offline  
Old Sep 15, 05, 3:50 pm
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 28
Originally Posted by LAX Gambit
did your lunch companions also talk about the 10-year plan to tear down T1-3? Any plans to "enhance" the terminals might be short term.
Uh, no, that didn't come up. They did talk a bit about the TBIT renovation plans, however. I can see why they'd want to tear down T3 -- the baggage claim area was a time capsule from 1963. And I flew out of T1 and it was bare bones in the extreme. The more interesting, totally infeasible plan someone mentioned was the idea of moving all parking off site and building an 800,000(!!) sq. ft. shopping complex on the site of the garages in a build to stimulate retail. Now that anyone thought it would happen during their career...
jetlagger is offline  
Old Sep 15, 05, 8:51 pm
Original Member
Join Date: May 1998
Location: Niceville, FL, USA
Posts: 2,793
Keep 'em coming, jetlagger.

I do most definitely enjoy this sort-of "travelog." Most appreciated.

One question, though: I seem to remember the term "Airworld" in a fiction novel. Only thing I can remember from it is the principal character is going thru Denver and he notes the "spinnies" in the tunnel.

Or maybe not; perhaps my steadily diminishing brain cells are just betraying me.

Anyway, I love the Airworld term, and thanks.
hnechets is offline  
Old Sep 18, 05, 6:04 pm
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Brooklyn, NY, US
Posts: 2,311
Originally Posted by hnechets
One question, though: I seem to remember the term "Airworld" in a fiction novel. Only thing I can remember from it is the principal character is going thru Denver and he notes the "spinnies" in the tunnel.
I mentioned it in my blog here:
(with a link to the entire first chapter of Walter Kirn's Up in the Air).

I'm not accusing jetlagger of pinching the term, of course (and am enjoying the series); just noting that Walter Kirn developed his concept of "airworld" for his novel.

From Up in the Air:
I call it Airworld; the scene, the place, the style. My hometown papers are USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. The big-screen Panasonics in the club rooms broadcast all the news I need, with an emphasis on the markets and the weather. My literature-yours, too, I see-is the bestseller or the near-bestseller, heavy on themes of espionage, high finance, and the goodness of common people in small towns. In Airworld, I've found, the passions and enthusiasms of the outlying society are concentrated and whisked to a stiff froth. When a new celebrity is minted in the movie theaters or ballparks, this is where the story breaks-on the vast magazine racks that form a sort of trading floor for public reputations and pretty faces. I find it possible here, as nowhere else, to think of myself as part of the collective that prices the long bond and governs necktie widths. Airworld is a nation within a nation, with its own language, architecture, mood, and even its own currency-the token economy of airline bonus miles that I've come to value more than dollars. Inflation doesn't degrade them. They're not taxed. They're private property in its purest form.
landspeed is offline  

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