I just flew from Ithaca, New York to Frankfurt, Germany with a long layover at Newark Airport. My ticket, printed out a day before the flight, said that the gate for the Frankfurt flight had not yet been assigned. When I arrived at Newark airport’s terminal C, I checked the departure board and saw the flight listed but no gate—unsurprising, because the departure time was still six hours away.
What would you do? I settled down to work and checked the departure board at periodic intervals. Forty-five minutes before the flight I got worried and checked at the customer service desk, where I learned that my flight was leaving from Terminal B and that the terminal and gate would never be listed on Terminal C’s departure boards. I had to sprint to make a flight that I had been waiting for all day!
When I incredulously told my story to the gate attendant, he smiled a weary smile. He had heard the story before but could do nothing about it because he worked for the airline and the departure boards were operated by Newark airport’s Port Authority.
What would you do at this point? I think that most people would drop the matter. After all, I wouldn’t make the same mistake again and it would require work to bother contacting the Port Authority. But I have a special motive for pursuing the matter. I study cultural evolution and it bothers me that something so monumentally stupid can persist. This is precisely the sort of thing that cultural evolution is supposed to weed out.
Consider that almost anything would be better than the current arrangement. Best would be to list the terminal and gate for flights leaving from all terminals (I hasten to add that both of my flights were on the same airline). Next best would be to list only the flights leaving from a given terminal, which would have prompted me to leave terminal C in search of my flight. But to list flights leaving from other terminals without providing any other information is just %&$#@* stupid. I can’t be the only one to infer that the gate has not yet been assigned (as stated on my ticket) and that the information will be forthcoming.
Consider further that millions of people flow through the Newark Airport every year and that airport personnel who do not work for the Port Authority hear the same story again and again. Even if the average person can’t be bothered to take action, shouldn’t there be even one or two Dudley Do-Rights? And how about the people who do work for the Port Authority? Don’t they ever visit their own airport, if only as travelers?
Finally, when you’re an evolutionist, you know that some stupid things persist because they are somehow connected to sensible things (in evolutionary parlance, they are maladaptive byproducts of adaptations). But I can’t think of any reason why something as stupid as what I experienced should persist for that reason. What on earth could it be connected to?
So I am going to pursue the matter, not because I’m an altruist (I am, but I have much better ways to direct my altruistic impulses) but because I’m itching to know why something so monumentally stupid isn’t weeded out.
To be continued…