Moving hundreds of thousands of people to downtown streets for a march is one thing—getting people to an airport is a huge transportation challenge, especially in cities that don’t have adequate transit connections to begin with. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, transit authorities were coyly reminding protesters to use trains or buses to get to SFO and LAX.
Some airports reported delayed flights because crew members could not get to work, and heavy traffic was reported around many airports. Long-term parking lots and shuttles were filled with protesters, and passengers had to wade through sign-holding crowds to get to their gates.
So many New Yorkers were using the city’s AirTrain to get to the protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) that security guards blocked people from boarding it until Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered Port Authority to let protesters through…
The incident on JFK’s AirTrain also points to another challenge for an airport demonstration. Most airports are a checkerboard of public and private properties with both local and federal oversight. JFK’s international terminal, Terminal 4, which became ground zero for the protests nationwide, for example, is partly owned by Schiphol Cargo, the corporation that manages Amsterdam’s airport…
Globally, this type of “airport urbanism” is actually becoming the norm as airport design worldwide moves away from the fortress model of the past. While continuing to focus on security for boarding areas, new airports are adding more permeable spaces that serve both passengers and the greater public. Munich’s airport has a similar programmed plaza that inspired Denver’s.
It is unlikely that airports can be consistent centers of urbanism because many types of development do not want to locate near loud runways. At the same time, there is little reason why more airports can’t introduce more interesting spaces that give travelers, workers, and other visitors opportunities to relax, shop, and interact. For example, I really enjoyed the grand windows at the Seattle airport last August. (At the same time, that space was past security and wouldn’t be available to protestors.)
Protestors in recent years have shown more willingness to congregate in transportation corridors, whether highways or airports. Such tactics do tend to get people’s attention while also highlighting the lack of large public space sin many locales.