Airports: Europe is numeric … U.S. is alphabetic
I spend a lot of time in airports. Not as much as George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” I don’t like traveling as much as this fellow seems to and I find negotiating airports more of a pain-in-the ass than comforting. But in a recent trip I toured through three major U.S. airports and two major European ones and was reminded of a curious difference between the two.
European airports list departures by time. When are you leaving? Look up on the board and scroll down for the time. There it is. Got a 9:45 am flight out of Berlin? Just need to find those flights listed between 9:40 and 9:50 am. It will be there somewhere in betwixt the flights to Cracaw and Geneva.
U.S. airports list departures by destination. Where are you going? Washington DC? That’s easy. Go to the end of the listings in the WXYZ space and find where you’re going and then work backwards for the time and gate.
The U.S. system makes a helluvalot more sense to me. First, I ALWAYS know WHERE I’m going. But there’s a lot of times I don’t quite remember when. I can get confused about whether the flight is at 2:30 pm or 3:30 pm but I NEVER get confused about whether I’m going to Newark or Los Angeles. Then there’s the issue of delayed flights. You check in and they tell you that your flight is going to be an hour late. Do you look for the ‘correct’ time or do you look for the revised time?
I can only think that the European airports carried over the vestiges of the old train station arrival and departure boards. You know. Those huge mechanical panels that every minute do the “click-click-click” thing in which plates unfold from the middle to amazingly display a curious combination of yellow and white type on black that gives the latest listings of trains, cities, and gates.
Now it is a series of luminescent flat screen panels dangling from the roof … but the listing by time remains.
And I still can’t remember when that flight is supposed to leave.
Interesting observation – I never noticed but suppose you must be right.
But what would you say if Japanese airports started listing destinations ordered by their local system (a-i-u-e-o-…)?
The merit of the European system is that the most urgent departures come up on top. How do you look up a city whose local spelling you aren’t sure of (Beijing/Peking)? And how about people who are less familiar with the alphabet, who might be better at reading Arabic script? Of course, the correct Roman script should be printed on the ticket, but so is your departure time.
Short, Arabic numerals are more widely recognized than the Roman alphabet, and inherently ordered. The good old train boards shall survive until language diversity becomes obsolete – perhaps not too distant a future? But will it be English or Chinese?