The Travel Channel’s new reality series, Airport 24/7: Miami, is a huge hit with viewers but has garnered a rabid, almost cult-like following among the ranks of AvGeeks and airline industry insiders alike. We spoke with creator, executive producer, and self-professed AvGeek, Chris Sloan about the unique challenges of getting an all-access show like this on the air and the passenger experience messages he hopes to impart with his daring new series.
Some boys fixate on Legos, for others its comic books or Star Wars, but every since self-professed “AvGeek”, Chris Sloan, can remember, he’s been obsessed by airports.
In particular, the teeming, mini-metropolis that is Miami International Airport.
“I grew up in the Miami airport from the time I was seven years old,” says Sloan. “I’d actually ask to be dropped off [there] and just walk up and down the concourses. To me it was this incredibly electric, exotic place where you saw airlines and people from all over the world … it was like going to the United Nations.” Recalls Sloan. “I fell in love with commercial aviation there.”
And now, as the creator and executive producer of The Travel Channel’s hit reality series Airport 24/7: Miami, Sloan is bringing his mad love of commercial aviation to the masses. Set and shot entirely on location at the Miami International Airport (MIA), the series highlights the complex inner workings and behind-closed-doors drama of the various airport and governmental agencies working to keep passengers safe at one of the nation’s largest airports. And Miami International isn’t just big, it’s also a Category X airport, which means it’s at the highest risk of terrorist attacks. Not your usual setting for a reality series, to be sure, but, Sloan – inspired by the success of the BBC’s long-running Heathrow-set series Airport – was convinced that the time was right for the series in his head to finally take wing in the real world.
The hard part was convincing others.
“First, I had to convince the airport,” Sloan recalls. And since most television shows feature airports in a less-than-flattering light, Miami was understandably skeptical. Sloan couldn’t blame them. “Most people would rather go to the DMV [department of motor vehicles] or equate going to the airport with getting a root canal,” he jokes. “Air travel has improved, but, many people [still] regard the airport experience as their most difficult part of their journey, and so, there were a lot of questions as to what was our agenda and our mission.” One thing working in Sloan’s favor was that Miami was an airport with something to prove.
“[The airport] had a fairly nefarious, notorious reputation … back in the 1970’s and 80’s, the drug era, the Miami Vice era … of being a zoo, frankly,” says Sloan. “But in the years since, it’s made these incredible strides, in terms of the America Airlines hub, and the new terminals, it’s the fastest growing airport in the country and it’s the second busiest international airport in the United States.”
And on top of all that, MIA brought in the Disney Institute to teach customer service skills to their staff, and every single airport employee (even third-party vendors) takes a security class to help them become, literally, the eyes and ears of the airport. “MIA has done a lot of non-traditional things to try to improve the passenger experience. So, they had a good story that they wanted to tell,” says Sloan.
Also instrumental in getting the access Sloan needed for a show of this scope was Lauren Stover, MIA’s head of security and communications and one of the standout “stars” of the series. “Lauren really saw the vision of what we were trying to do … that we weren’t there to do a slam job or an exposé and gave us the opportunity to produce a sizzle reel for the show.”
That reel, with its unprecedented, all-access look at the airport was enough to pique the interest of the Travel Channel. And though they tend to produce shows that glorify and celebrate travel, Travel Channel execs rolled the dice with the harder-edged Miami and the dividends have paid off nicely for all involved. The first five episodes of the series have been seen by ten million viewers alone and there’s already talk of a second Miami-set season and spin-offs at other airports.
While he appreciates the acclaim, Sloan says his favorite part of the show is the way it humanizes the hearty, hardworking individuals who strive so hard to keep travellers safe and happy when they fly.
Says Sloan: “People think the airport is populated by incompetents and that couldn’t be further from the truth. [Hopefully] what the show does is demystify the airport experience so maybe passengers will be a little more empathetic and understanding knowing what these people face on a daily basis, instead of just going: ‘Oh, that horrible, horrible airport and those horrible people.’”
And while nobody likes taking their shoes off in security or having their giant jars of peanut butter confiscated by TSA workers, if nothing else, Sloan hopes that Miami highlights the need for such measures in our post 9/11 world. “This place is on the front lines, man. They make a mistake and it has a long ripple of repercussions, so, I want people to realize that [Miami] isn’t a small, simple operation.”
“Sometimes, I think people think they’re the only person flying. But, [at Miami] there’s close to 100,000 people a day, almost 40 million new passengers a year go through that airport. Forty million! That’s, like, 15% of the United States passing through that one facility a year.” Sloan explains. “And they’ve got to get to the right flight, they have to make connections, their luggage has to make it, the security has to be absolutely perfect and of course, they’d like to have a nice experience along the way. That’s a great story to tell.” Says Sloan. “I want to tell that story.”
And we, like the rest of the Miami-crazed fans in the industry, can’t wait to watch it!
Season one of Airport 24/7: Miami replays regularly on The Travel Channel; check your local listings for dates and times.