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Getting There: Design for Travel in the Modern Age

Logan International Airport
Terminal E, Boston
Through November 2013

If ever a place could benefit from more thoughtful design, it’s the American airport. Generic, vast, and disorienting, most airports make us feel, in the words of travel writer Pico Iyer, like “citizens of nowhere.” But have a look at Getting There, a free exhibit by the Design Museum of Boston at Logan’s international terminal. You’ll see that design is both the problem and the solution to airport alienation.

The exhibit recalls the days when air travel was an elegant escape, all Samsonite luggage and gloved stewardesses. We see Pan Am’s cabins in their “serene, neutral palette.” Air France’s cutlery was by the industrial designer Raymond Loewy. A charming 1958 film by Charles and Ray Eames describes Eero Saarinen’s people mover, designed to avoid cattle calls at the boarding gate.

Then airline deregulation in 1978 democratized air travel, making it a cheaper experience in every way. And again, design responded. Suitcases now have wheels for long hauls between terminals. Noise-reducing head-sets are used to block out hostile environments.

Happily, some firms are trying to respond to new economic imperatives and still produce a humane experience. Air New Zealand hired IDEO to retrofit its seating plans so that extroverts can socialize on flights and introverts can be left in peace.