One of the curses of thinking about systems all the time is that sometimes you just can’t turn it off and find yourself thinking about everything you see in terms of the various interlocking systems to which it belongs. Combine that with say… a case of ADHD and you can see why I’m frequently making little mental nitpicks about the efficiency of my surroundings.
That’s not what this is about.
This is about a giant, in your face, bungle in a project that must have included dozens of people. I refuse to believe that no one saw the problem. Let me explain….
But first let me just say that I am about to be talking about the international terminal in Barcelona airport. This is not meant to be taken as a jab at the Spanish (or Catalans), or Barcelona or even that airport. I have adored my time in Barcelona, the people are warm and welcoming and I have gained a newfound appreciation for their art and culture and food. Patatas Bravas might be the greatest cultural adaptation of the fried potato ever, sorry poutine.
So, back to the airport, frequent fliers should be able to visualize this easily but for everyone else I’ll do my best to explain the set up. The issue is at passport control which is situated at a T junction at the middle of a long hallway. Disembarking passengers arrive from either end of hall, approaching perpendicular to the control stations that are set up in an arrangement like so;
“F” in this case are the fast track terminals for those frequent fliers who have taken the time and effort to get their “Not a terrorist” cards and are therefore entitled to speed on through. The rest of the stations are the basic passport control check stations with the “E” stations being dedicated to EU citizens and the “X” stations being for everyone else, most of those were closed.
In front of the E and X stations were the standard long switchback lines that you find in places like airports. In front of the fast track stations was a sort of vaguely defined area that people funneled into before meandering towards the stations. I guess that works when they only have a handful of fast trackers.
Those of you who are good at visualizing are seeing the problem already. Three lines, fast track, EU, other, from each end of the hall and this layout;
The lines have to cross in the middle. Fast trackers coming from the left are ok. They can just go right in. EU and Others from both sides end up bunching up at the entrance to their respective switchbacks where half on each side have to cross to the other. Fast trackers on the right have to fight through all of these to get to their box on the far side.
Their solution to all this, place an employee to work as a glorified crossing guard to direct traffic. The result is a confusing mess where all the lines move with a horrible lurching slowness. We arrived shortly before 8am on a Sunday morning, were the only plane on our side and it took well over 90 minutes to get through passport control. 75 of those were before the crossover. Once in the switchback lines proper everything moved smoothly and swiftly. Still, one can only imagine how horrifying it would be if you arrived at a peak time since clearly opening more stations would not solve the problem like it does at most airports.
Also I have to point out that the crossing guard is an employee position that shouldn’t have to exist. Here’s a tip, if your new system creates a problem that requires a new menial position to cover for its flaws, you may wish to reevaluate.
And that brings me back to my earlier statement. “This is about a giant, in your face, bungle in a project that must have included dozens of people”. Someone saw this problem, right? That many people who are, at least in theory, good at their jobs, had to include someone who thought for a second, “This is a human traffic jam waiting to happen.”
So, what happened? We’ll probably never know, but if I had to guess, I’d say that it probably comes down to a bad case of ‘somebody else’s problem’. Tip two, it’s never somebody else’s problem when you have a concern on something like this. It’s surprising what can be overlooked on a large project. I can’t help but think that a simple, “Um hey boss, I’m confused as to how this arrangement is going to work,” early on could have turned this;
FF EEXXXXXXXXXXXXXEE FF
and in doing so solved all of this in literally the 5 seconds it took me to retype that.
Obviously it’s too late now, so what fixes can we put into play?
I’m kidding of course, but the problem here is the placement of the fast track terminals. Changing up the EU stations should be easy, I would imagine. They appear to be no different from the other stations. The fast tracks, however, are new, large, and technologically distinct and appear to be hardwired into the building. In short, basically unmovable unless you tear them down and start again. At the very least you’d need to rip a couple of them out as well as a handful of the basic passport control stations to make room. Seems unlikely and very expensive.
Or you can make use of the fact that many of the Barcelona’s flights disembark straight to busses that drive passengers to the terminal. You could rout all of the busses to one end of the hall and replace the crossover collision with a nightmarishly long line and probably traffic issues with the busses.
More likely, as passengers, we’ll just have to suck it up and deal. Wear comfortable shoes.