Oct. 18, 2005 — -- We all remember our basic exposure to geometry and the concept of labeling various points with letters. In pragmatic America, it hasn't taken long for the concept to leak into our language, with "Point A" now synonymous with a departure location and "Point B" meaning our destination.
In the case of a trip involving air travel, Point A should be our house or office or wherever we are when we launch ourselves physically out the door for business or pleasure. Correspondingly, Point B should be grandma's house, a hotel or the boarding ramp of a cruise ship -- wherever our bags are going to be opened next (excluding security searches and customs).
But somewhere along the way, commercial aviation has hijacked these definitions and created instead an artificial world in which Point A and Point B are both at the airport.
It's a "Well, Duh!" statement to say that most of us don't live at airports. In fact, airports are really just transfer points in a journey, a place we change our mode of transportation from a car or bus or van or train to an airplane, and vice versa.
That's what an airport should be. What we've created, however, is something quite different.
It would be easy to say that our European friends have it right. After all, when an American arrives at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and realizes there's a major train station (the TGV high-speed system) literally bisecting the terminals, the concept seems, well, foreign. So, too, does the system at Frankfurt, which flies in the face of American aviation unilateralism: They not only have the effrontery to mix rails and wings, they exacerbate it with a bus station in the terminal.
Of course, while not all of Europe's airfields are multi-modal transportation centers, there are enough examples to make our American preoccupation with the stand-alone airport seem very myopic, if not downright dumb. All that steel, all that concrete, all those shops (and all those public funds) and not a train in sight.