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Airport Semiotics

Hello, pilgrim. You say you spent two days after Christmas stuck at an airport gate that smelled like ski socks? At least you weren’t lonely. Some 1.2 million travelers were affected over the holidays when East Coast blizzards forced the cancellation of 8,200 flights. (Europe didn’t fare much better.)

As a result, a lot of travelers bided their time in airport waiting areas, which the industry refers to as “hold rooms.” These are designed to be neutral nonspaces. “You’ve gone through the stress of security and put yourself back together. Now you’re simply waiting in this unusual little lull,” says Bill Hooper, a principal at Gensler, the architectural firm that designed JetBlue’s new Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

When the little lull stretches into multiple hours, however, the pilgrims get restless. That’s what Bloomberg Businessweek discovered while observing 250 people waiting in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle, Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and New York City’s LaGuardia airports earlier this winter. What follows is a typology of airport behavior as analyzed by an expert panel: Patti Wood, author of Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language; Jason Barger, author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim: Change the World, Start at the Airport; and David Givens, author of Your Body at Work: A Guide to Sight-Reading the Body Language of Business, Bosses and Boardrooms.

Next time, don’t shovel down that Cinnabon so quickly—unless you want everyone to know that flying stresses you out.
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