It’s curious that my car’s front door beeps when it’s open. I can’t imagine a time that my door would be open and I wouldn’t realize it. It was that noise that started my analysis of the volume (pun intended) of sound pollution to which we’re exposed.

Sitting in the airport waiting for a flight to depart, I felt bombarded by the incessant notifications of other flights in various state of departure (pre-boarding, boarding in sections 1,2 and 3, and last calls), as well as delays, notifications from the TSA never to leave my baggage unattended and various other forms of auricular assault. Our brains are wonderfully good at filtering out the signal from the noise, but I have to wonder if some of the exhaustion from traveling isn’t derived from wading through the onslaught of communication.

The PA system was effective for the first 50 years of commercial airline travel. But we’re going to need to change it as airports become ever larger and more travelers hit the friendly skies. The key features of a notification mechanism for air travel are

  • Notification of boarding time and status
  • Notification of delays
  • Near silent communication

Nice to haves for an airport navigation tool are

  • Maps of the airport for navigation particularly for connecting flights
  • Alternative routes to cope with delays, automatic rerouting of connecting flights
  • Automatic notifications to those waiting for us at our arrivals

I’m hoping to see something like this tool on the iPhone in the near future. And I’m also excited to see airlines migrate to more forms of notification as they’re forced to trim down staff to maintain margins. Maybe fewer people will mean fewer PA announcements.