Fatigue, boredom, and lonliness are any road warrior’s constant companions. Occasionally, retail therapy can help perk up my mood. By that I mean satisfaction derived from interacting with an eager sales clerk, thumbing through a well-designed catalogue, or surfing a gewgaw-loaded website. Sometimes only the fresh crinkle of a new credit card can satiate the curiosity, the wanderlust … the inclination to succumb to the siren’s song of the total shopping experience.
Business travelers who have spent many a layover morning or afternoon killing time window shopping are intimately acquainted with the vast numbers of peddlers of competing wares that line the walls of airport shops. Wares, which, I might add, are of dubious value. Mind you, the peddler who years ago invented those weirdly crescent-shaped neck pillows is right now probably killing time playing polo at his Palm Beach estate. That supposition must be what is animating so many other entrepreneurs to strike it rich by marketing noise-cancelling headphones or All-In-One phone chargers or whatever.
If you’ve been to Heathrow Airport lately you’re well aware that the luxury goods and fashion industries which have taken root in Terminal 1 are busily sprawling outward, like dandelion weeds. Even in today’s business climate these purveyors seem to be doing a brisk business selling not the flagship products of their line, but tony, impulse-driven affectations like wallets and cufflinks and scarves (looking at you, Burberry.) It’s clearly working well. I imagine their best customers are guilt-ridden husbands buying apology gifts for their home-alone work widows; or maybe it’s ladies who are so road-weary as to let their budget guard down just long enough to be seduced by the Bally shop only steps away. Psychographically, there isn’t anything quite like the business traveler. S/he is the perfect captive audience.
In terms of expensively useless — or uselessly expensive — if not outright odd products, I won’t dwell on the classic SkyMall catalogue. The jokes tell themselves. The longevity of this retail inflight phenomenon, however, speaks volumes — since its main avenue for reaching its audience is via airliner seatback pockets.
Since lots of things become hailed as the “next generation” of something-or-other for people on the go, I thought it might be amusing to review some of the ones, which, when you see them in action, just make you laugh. Clearly, these gadgets satisfy a unarticulated but fundamental urge. These retailers have obviously tapped into what George Bailey’s father said about it being “…deep in the race for a man to want his own roof, walls, and fireplace.” It must work the same for the neck pouch/bib that is designed to hoard passport, ID, cash, and boarding passes. I mean, you’d have to have an It’s a Wonderful Life -like inspiration to come up with the khaki-colored concept that celebrates the glories of hands-free travel. After all, if you feel two hands are not enough to manage your passport, your problems extend far beyond being stuck with a long layover.
Then there is the passport holder. This notion is actually a Trojan Horse for designer brands like Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton to realize a nice margin on scrap material from their workshops. It is aimed at the traveler who feels compelled to seek out ever-more-specialized ways to align his personal brand with luxury labels, yet is sufficiently vague on the use of a passport to think it requires a “holder.”
Finally, there is the e-reader. Oh, the humanity! Destined to haunt the museum that somewhere must collect samples of products that didn’t quite make it, like the infamous laserdisc, the e-reader is an example of a fair-to-middling idea, which, decently executed and enjoyed by a certain select few, doesn’t have the critical mass to survive. One wonders how many more faux Peter Baileys of the world are busily brainstorming — and busily mistaking — e-readers for things that actually satisfy a fundamental urge. Or an actual business travel need.
Road Warrior • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com