Monday, November 10, 2008

Airport Dehydration

A thorough tour of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, ABIA, revealed a humanistic approach to creating a traveling experience that addressed issues of security, way finding and overall identity. A main focus on comfort and ease in airport design reflects the progressive nature of flight; however the primal human need of hydration is not well considered in the grand scheme. The current system for acquiring drinking water, within the isolated setting, is limited, impractical and disregards health and environmental concerns. Airports need to support and promote proper hydration habits for their own image and more importantly, the well being of travelers.

The issue of water is first evident when people reach the security checkpoints at airports. In the screening area of ABIA there are large signs addressing 3-1-1, a campaign implemented in 2006 by the Transportation Security Administration in response to “an alleged terror plot using liquid explosives” (Helton). Each passenger is confined to carrying on liquid or gel in individual “three ounce or smaller containers” that must fit into a one “quart-size, clear, plastic, zip-top bag” (TSA). Bottles of water are unfortunately no exception to this rule and unless empty, they are confiscated. TSA employees are known to adhere strictly to this liquid ban and are fueled by the widely publicized threat of terrorist acts, with just cause. Health risks of travel caused partly by dehydration are not as evident as terrorism yet they cause plenty of danger to people flying. The 3-1-1 Campaign is a solution for the issue of security but hinders prevention of dehydration by limiting options for drinking water.

People are succumbed to buying bottled water at an inflated price once they have reached sterile area of an airport. After the ban on liquids was enforced, “beverage sales at Oakland International Airport rose nearly 20 percent” in the span of three months with the majority of the increase coming “from bottled water sales” (Goldman) A range of beverage companies including, Nestl
é, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Fiji Water Company, has exploited the simplicity of drinking water and marketed bottled water to the public as a superior alternative to tap water. Harriett Baskas, author of Stuck at the Airport and USA Today travel reviewer, evaluated the best selling items at various airports and discovered that at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, “bottled water is the highest selling item” (Baskas). The irony of the bottled water market is that in Seattle and plenty of other airport cities around the world, the quality of the local tap water is just as good if not better than the foreign water being shipped and sold to thirsty consumers.

Carrying a bottle of water is the most practical way to stay consistently hydrated through long flights, layovers, and delays but the variety of disposable plastic bottles sold in airport are not safe for general health or the environment. The health issue with most bottled water is the plastic material contains  “a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA”, proven through research to “mimic or block the function of hormones” and potentially leading to infertility, prostrate cancer, and early puberty (Claudio). As if that isn’t enough, the total production of water bottles “for the U.S market” requires “seventeen million barrels” of oil “each year” and “they are often purchased at big concert venues or airports with no recycling bins,” partially causing “eight out of ten bottles” to end up in landfills (Royte139) (Knopper38). The effect this system has on the environment is unfortunate because it is preventable. One could argue that these issues resonate through the entire market space of airports yet water, an essential for living, should be given more priority and not be so closely associated with the plethora of unnecessary goods and concessions.

When travelers want to stay hydrated at no personal cost, tap water is available through water fountains, such as the ones found along the corridors near bathroom entrances in ABIA. In the early 1900’s, “Halsey Willard Taylor and Luther Haws, respectively, pioneered a major change in how water was dispensed in public places” with the drinking fountain (Honeycutt). The tap water dispensed from water fountains is regulated and harmless to drink. In the airport specifically, they are updated along with sinks, toilets, and other plumbing fixtures to look and function in the most innovative way, accommodating children and people with disabilities. The Seattle Tacoma International Airport has an exhibit, created by Jim Green, featuring six drinking fountains “that gurgle loud enough to turn heads when travelers lean over to take a drink” (Baskas). At ABIA there is a “lowered dog drinking fountain” just outside the lower level (ABIA). These endeavors are useful to endorsing tap water but the problem with drinking fountains is their inability to provide people with a constant access to water as they navigate through the security check point of one airport to the exit of another airport hours away. The most critical time for commuters to be concerned with drinking water is during their flight in which fountains are far from available.  

A recent article in “Budget Travel” provided a list of tips for future fliers including a common solution for the all the preceding problems and advises people to “avoid paying high prices for bottled water at airports by carrying empty bottles through security and then filling them up at a water fountain” (“20Tips”). This response is clever but water fountains are clearly not designed to efficiently fill water bottles. The slow projectile stream of water that is ejected from a fountain forces people with bottles to find a perfectly odd angle to fill up. When found, the process is longer than necessary and water often spills around the rim container’s opening.

The issues of security restrictions, plastic bottles and water fountains at airports may not seem to be vital considerations for redesign individually, but the ultimate concern is dehydration, a common factor in health issues resulting from flying. Deep Vein Thrombosis, a syndrome characterized by blood clots gathering in the legs, has been a problem amongst passengers, leaving many injured and some dead. A research experiment on this issue, conducted by the “Saitama Medical School in Moroyama, Japan,” proved that “drinking fluids” is the most reasonable way to prevent acquiring the condition (Hadfield). Additionally, dehydration is more prevalent while traveling by plane because of the low humidity levels on board aircrafts. (“How To Fly Right”145). Many people believe that all fluids aid to hydration and consume various beverages besides water such as alcohol, soft drinks, or coffee. These drinks may seem to be desirable choices to consume while waiting for a flight but their high level of sugar and caffeine negate hydration. As of August, US Airways began charging passengers for plain water, promoting the necessity as a commodity. When airlines make moves like this, they are sending a message of carelessness to the public and prove that they are more concerned with profit than general health of passengers.

Flight crew are not to be excluded from this critical topic and should be brought to the foreground of this problem. Nina Anderson, FAA Wings Program human factors seminar leader and performance nutrition specialist, has evaluated the misconceptions that lead pilots to undermine the importance of water and references “the Spring 2000 edition of the Federal Air Surgeon Bulletin” to outline the “three stages of dehydration, heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke”. Symptoms begin with reduction of alertness, vision, and coordination and escalade to fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fainting and ultimately can cause severe mental confusion and disorientation. In attempts to “heighten general aviation’s awareness of this often overlooked condition,” The Federal Aviation Administration added pilot dehydration to a list of physiological conditions in an aviation training text (Anderson). Educating pilots on the gravity of dehydration is a positive direction and passengers should also be considered as an audience for instruction.

            Airport design needs to attend to the importance of hydration and develop a reliable and effective system for the large flux of people that cycle through the enclosed space everyday. A solution that might prove fruitful is a campaign for general health that highlights hydration and clears up the misconceptions associated with it. Water fountains can be improved to have a station that is intended for filling bottles. In 2007, the mayor of San Fransisco, Gavin Newsom, ‘declared a ban on bottled water” and “installed large dispensers in city buildings that poured out pure tap water.” (Knopper) This type of system communicates local tap water as a valuable source against the competitive market for bottled water. To further promote the use of the dispensers, airlines could sell reusable bottles that are made from materials such as aluminum or BPA free plastic. Near these additions to the airport setting, insightful signs could be designed and placed to heighten the awareness hydration. This type of arrangement would be directly beneficial at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport where there is an aim to reflect the image of Austin. Austin is known for being environmentally friendly and the local water follows regulation. When tested tap water proved to have less impurities than a bottle of Dasani. (Blessum) By communicating a detailed concern with how water is consumed, ABIA would support local resources. Likewise, any airport could advance their image with a thoughtful hydrating scheme.

 With the technology and knowledge of today, there is no reason why airports haven’t coordinated a more sensible arrangement for drinking water. As an institute for innovation and progress, the modern, ideal airport should seek to educate and provide its society with a practical way of maintaining hydration and not attempt to maximize profits at the expense of human health and unnecessary environmental waste.


Works Cited

ABIA. “Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Text Map.”  10 Nov. 2008 austinairport/textmap.htm>.

Anderson, Nina. “Flying High & Dry.” Weblog post. Plane & Pilot.  10 Nov. 2008 proficiency/pilot-skills/flying-high-a-dry.html>.

Baskas, Harriet. “Better Than A Key Chain.” Editorial. USA Today 5 Sept. 2006. 10 Nov. 2008 travel/columnist/baskas/2006-07-25-baskas_x.htm>.

- - -. “Quirky amenities and priceless souvenirs: Hitting eight airports in seven days.” Online posting. 29 Mar. 2005. 10 Nov. 2008 .

Blessum, Scott. Personal interview. 10 Oct. 2008.

Goldman, Kiran. “Bottled-water backlash has many drinkers tapped out.” Online posting. 26 Nov. 2007. 10 Nov. 2008 .

Hadfield, Peter. “Don’t Drink and Fly.” New Scientist (Jan. 2001): 7. Academic OneFile. Gale. U Texas at Austin. 10 Oct. 2008 itweb/?db=AONE>.

Helton, John. “TSA hopes 3-1-1 will keep lines moving.” CNN 21 Nov. 2006. 10 Nov. 2008 2006/TRAVEL/11/17/>.

Honeycutt, Al. “Water, Water, Eveywhere.” Buildings Aug. 2000: 20. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. U Texas at Austin. 10 Nov. 2008 .

“How To Fly Right.” Health Nov. 2007: 145.

Knopper, Melissa. “Bottled Water: Backlash.” The Environmental Magazine May-June 2008: 37-39.

Royte, Elizabeth. Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. New York: Bloomsbury USA , 2008.

“20 Tips.” Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Mar. 2007: 10-13. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. U Texas at Austin. 10 Nov. 2008 .

U.S federal government . Transportation Security Association . Make Your Trip Better Using 3-1-1. By Transportation Security Association. . U.S Department of Homeland Security. 9 Nov. 2008 311/index.shtm>.

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