noise inside airport terminals

Just back from a trip to Spain, I am reminded that airports in the countries I have visited other than the United States are often rather quiet places. There is no ambient music or TVs with sound. Announcements are rare. During a six-hour layover in Barcelona, I noticed just two or three announcements on the PA. Often the ceilings are high, and one gets a general sense of hush, even though the airplanes themselves presumably contribute to some background noise.

In contrast, the PA system of a US airport is in almost constant use, with boarding and gate-change announcements, frequently repeated TSA warnings and rules, and “welcomes” from the local mayor. These announcements often overlay music. I think it has become somewhat less common to blast CNN’s audio broadcast on top of everything else, but that still happens in some airports.

A National Academies study found that the average daytime ambient noise inside a US airport terminal is 66 decibels (p. 36), which approaches a washing machine, and that is without any sound from the PA system. Notably, the purpose of this NAS study was not to reduce overall noise but to ensure that TSA safety announcements are intelligible, which requires a minimum of 72-78 decibels inside an airport (p. 92). According to the CDC, that level is almost equivalent to “gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers” and can cause hearing damage “after 2 hours of exposure.”

I admit that I am sensitive to noise. I often foolishly try to do something in an airport that requires concentration, like reading a difficult text or writing. But these decibel levels have documented effects on physical health and cause stress.

To interrupt passengers so constantly also seems disrespectful, as if the thousands of people at Boston’s Logan Airport have so little else to think about that they would enjoy hearing Gov. Baker tell them about Massachusetts’ friendly people, and the TSA remind them to locate exits in case of emergencies–in between constant announcements of gates and departures and five or six recurrent songs.

I first posted about this pet peeve in 2007, so it’s not just that I am agoraphobic in the wake of COVID-19. However, I can find nothing else online about excessive noise inside airports. All the complaints are about the noise caused by low-flying aircraft. I find Americans’ apparent tolerance or resignation in the face of this audio assault a little bit depressing in itself.

See also: what it looks like to live.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.