Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?

November 15, 2012

Ambiance, Services

Airport 24 7 3 150x150 Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?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.”

Airport 24 7 5 300x166 Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?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.

Airport 24 7 2 300x167 Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?“[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.

Airport 24 7 4 300x167 Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?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.

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About Tomas Romero

Tomás Romero is an award-winning writer/producer from Los Angeles, CA. He has written dozens of screenplays, two of which were produced as feature films. Aside from screenwriting, Romero has generated original online content, articles and blog posts for over five years on topics as varied as food, movies, music, books, travel, techie gear, politics, and the gleeful insanity of stay-at-home fatherhood.

View all posts by Tomas Romero
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3 Responses to “Can a hit reality show change the way passengers view the airport experience?”

  1. Bill Fisher Says:

    Uh, probably not. People hate airports and hate TSA even more.

    Perhaps TSA can explain how any of this is keeping us safe when they haven’t even identified a single terrorist after 11 years and over $80 billion.

    Maybe TSA can explain how stealing our property is going to prevent another 9/11.

    Or how humiliating and exposing a dying woman’s feeding tube at the checkpoint despite her repeated request for a private screening is preventing a terrorist attack.

    Maybe TSA can explain how keeping a known pedophile, Thomas Harkins, working at Philadelphia airport six months after he was exposed is keeping our skies safe. Or why another screener, Paul Magnuson, was arrested for raping a young boy he was mentoring, making that 15 screeners charged with child sex crimes in 22 months.

    Can TSA explain how having over a dozen screeners smuggling drugs and guns through our airports in the past 24 months is essential to airport security?

    We would like to know how having 103 TSA workers arrested in the last 24 months including 15 arrested for child sex crimes, over 28 for theft, 12 for smuggling contraband through security and one for murder is acceptable when no other agency has anywhere near this number of criminal arrests.

    Can TSA explain why it is essential to grope adults but children, the elderly and frequent fliers can get a free pass whenever the agency decides to let them through.

    Maybe TSA will answer why the agency hasn’t obeyed the court order to take public comment on the scanners and is now moving the dangerous x-ray units to small airports to hide them from the millions who use that major airports.

    No planes were hijacked between October 2001 and November 2010 without groping children, strip searching women and destroying our property. These offensive procedures weren’t necessary then and aren’t necessary now.

    TSA cannot be salvaged, it must be replaced. There is far too much public animosity and history of abuses, failures and crimes to ever make this agency anywhere near respectable.

    Reply

  2. James Says:

    I don’t know about you, but the last TSA agent to give me a pat down must be a magician: David Cop-a-feel! :)

    Reply

  3. Tomas Romero Says:

    First off, thanks for your comments, Bill. Trust me, as the parent of a three-year-old girl who has been flying across the country with my wife and I since she was nine-months-old, I am not the biggest fan of TSA workers either, in particular the surly crew at a certain unnamed NYC airport who made us toss bottles of breast milk and yelled at me for folding our stroller too slowly and holding up the line!

    That said, I shudder to think of what might happen to myself and my family if such tough safety standards weren’t in place. Being X-rayed and patted down isn’t comfortable or fun, but, unfortunately, it is the world we live in.

    I am not blind to the fact that the system has problems — I watched the recent ABC News segment on the TSA (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/top-20-airports-tsa-theft/story?id=17537887) and flipped through the salient portions of Congresswoman Blackburn’s TSA Report (http://blackburn.house.gov/uploadedfiles/blackburn_tso_report.pdf) and while they paint a pretty bleak picture of the current state of our nation’s TSA workers, they also both freely admit that this may just the case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. Or, as ABC says “a few hundred” bad apples.

    Either way, until something better comes along, I’m all for the protections we have in place right now. And after watching Sloan’s often brutally honest depiction of all the MIA team go through on a daily basis to keep us safe, I’m about ready to send them a fruitcake for Christmas! Seriously though, any way you look at it, airport security is a pretty thankless job. So, I’m all for them getting a little image make-over with this new show.

    I do understand your concerns though and if you truly feel that strongly about travelling by air these days, you can always do what my Aunt does and stop flying altogether. She drives everywhere she can and when she can’t drive someplace, she takes a boat. It’s that simple.

    Reply

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