What kind of airport is your website?

February 23, 2009


I recently returned from a week-long sabbatical to Madison, Wisconsin. My journey led me from Raleigh/Durham International Airport to Minneapolis/St. Paul, to Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, to Detroit, and finally back home. While waiting in airport terminal after airport terminal, I began to observe the atmosphere in each.

The Wayback Machine

At the end of the first leg of my journey, Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, WI was quaint, sequestered quietly in a golden age of travel with a burnt pastel color scheme, 1970s style decor, and calming classical music. My flight had arrived two decades into the past!

Being the over-eager web developer that I am, I began to compare the Dane County Regional Airport to a website created in the early days of web development. I likened Dane County Regional Airport to a corporate website built using early HTML in a tag-soup fashion, complete with presentational markup muddled amongst the HTML, along with the prerequisite table-based layout and a generous spattering of font tags. My comparison is up for debate, but my point is that the Dane County Regional Airport is a relic in a modern age. It continues to function, but it is a vestige of an age-old practice that impedes the proliferation of modern web standards and their benefits.

Past, meet Future

My thoughts of Dane County Regional Airport lay dormant for my week in Madison, WI, covered by soft snow and tweaked with warm coffee. Why am I reminded of an older age by airport terminals? To my surprise, Detroit gave me hope.

The Detroit airport was a modern marvel. The decor was cutting edge, the signage well placed, and a fast and efficient tram system ran overhead providing added accessibility to those in need of assistance or a fast transport to a departing plane.

My earlier comparisons of an airport to a website were rekindled. The Detroit airport was certainly an XHTML Strict 1.0 standards compliant and accessible website adorned with external stylesheets, progressive enhancement, and semantic markup! The Detroit airport even provided an IE6-only stylesheet for my flight arriving from Madison's Dane County Regional Airport.

How Long Do We Wait?

How long do we continue to accept the status quo? Do you believe emerging web standards will achieve mass adoption while we continue to tolerate aging technologies? Will you continue writing non-standard markup? Will you continue supporting Internet Explorer 6? What kind of airport is your website?


 Joel Sutherland's avatar
Joel Sutherland

Great post Josh. Another parallel between airports and the web also occurred in Detroit and its center was community.

It was a few years ago when the Pistons (NBA Team) were at the height of their power. They were playing in the Eastern conference finals while I was in the airport. As you can imagine, people were glued to the screens.

In the picture attached to this post you can get the idea that the Detroid terminal is an incredibly long and straight tunnel-like building with gate seating to the left and right. In each of the gate seating areas is a giant (9' x 12') stadium style TV.

During the game, even people who were running late, jogging to their gate were watching these screens as they went. Whenever there was a big play the entire place would erupt in cheers. The crowd noise was incredible in the long hallway.

As a side-effect of the Detroit Airport being so accessible and easy-to-navigate it was also the perfect place to hold a community event!

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