I spend many of my hours in airports, trying to read, write, or talk quietly. Very often the following noises are laid on top of each other:
- Boarding announcements
- TSA security announcements
- The CNN Airport Network on overhead TVs
- Promotional announcements about the airport or city
- Beeping trucks
- People’s voices, and
- (Unnoticeable but apparently quite audible) the sounds of the airplanes themselves.
I don’t mind my fellow passengers–not even the screaming babies, who are expressing my own feelings with simple eloquence. It’s the unnecessary layers of noise that offend me, especially when I learn that airports derive revenue from that piped-in TV advertising. Not only is the combination of CNN plus music-radio jarring and distracting; the actual content of the news is insidious and often inappropriate for kids. Sometimes one can lower the decibel level by shifting location, but in some airports (e.g., Dayton, OH), CNN is pumped everywhere, including the toilets and the business lounge.
Airports are local monopolies, subsidized by tax dollars but basically unaccountable to consumers. They profit from advertising and pay no price for noise. They may create health risks by exposing people to noise. They certainly reduce productivity by making it hard to concentrate. Noise-canceling headphones haven’t worked for me, and even if they did, what gives an airport the right to make me wear expensive and uncomfortable hardware?
I’d favor a legal remedy–possibly a class-action lawsuit on behalf of airport workers or an amendment to such legislation as the Noise Control Act of 1972 or the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. (The latter deals with aircraft noise and seems mainly aimed at blocking local anti-noise regulation.)
Meanwhile, we travelers can at least express our opinions–I would say, “raise our voices,” if I weren’t trying to increase the peace. There is already a lobby that fights the noise of aircraft landing and taking off. That’s a problem that harms finite, identifiable minorities (homeowners in affected neighborhoods), who are therefore likely to organize in their own interests–even at some cost to the average person. Airport noise is a different kind of problem. It sporadically harms many people, but not enough for them to organize. Fortunately, the Internet lowers the cost of organizing. I just created a Facebook page called “travelers for quiet airport terminals.” I hope like-minded people will join and post complaints, praiseworthy examples, tips for finding quiet spots, and strategies for reform.