When I was at school in the 1970s, some of the richer kids would come back from their summer holidays with jaw-dropping tales about the wondrous places they had visited. Chief among them, as I remember, was Schiphol airport. ‘It was amazing,’ they would say. ‘There were shops and restaurants and stuff,’ and you could buy a Walkman for some insanely low price.
A few others vainly tried to trump the Schiphol crowd by fancifully claiming to have been to Frankfurt airport and seen an actual sex shop there — an assertion widely disbelieved, certainly by me, until I used the airport 15 years later and discovered it was perfectly true. (At the time the shop was called Dr Müller’s — Germans being the kind of people who like to buy sex toys from someone with suitable qualifications.)
Later on, the mantle for ‘amazing airports I have visited’ passed from Schiphol to Dubai and then Singapore. But, bit by bit, all major airports became like shopping centres. And more shopping centres sprang up, which became a bit like airports. The novelty of looking at £200 belts before catching a plane diminished. Instead people started saying things like ‘London City Airport is brilliant. You can just turn up 30 minutes before take-off, and you don’t have to traverse Bluewater before boarding the plane.’ I suspect an unspoken part of Ryanair’s appeal is the childish joy of using those tiny French rural airports where all you can buy is a coffee and a bag of Haribo but you don’t have to spend three hours in a Ballardian dystopia before a one-hour flight. Yet without the experience of large airports, we would think these small airports were rubbish.
The interesting thing here is that we don’t have actual preferences.