Introductory Challenge

Imagine that you are traveling by air in one, and then another, foreign country. You have just arrived at the airport terminal in the country you are now leaving. You have two carry-on bags—wheelie suitcases.

Your first challenge is to open the door, which is tall and heavy, and to maneuver through it with your two suitcases. Before you go to the ticket counter, you make a stop at the restroom. But you’re not sure which door to enter because the signs are written in a language you do not understand. At the ticket counter, there’s a long line and a short line. You’re not sure why they are different, so you enter the short line. When you get to the ticket counter, the sales person seems annoyed with you and gestures to indicate that you need to have a special pass in order to purchase tickets at his counter. After going to the end of the long line and getting your ticket, you confront the escalator with your two suitcases. You look around for an elevator, but don’t see a sign. Of course, you probably wouldn’t be able to read a sign if there was one. At the top of the escalator you realize you are hungry and have time before your departure to purchase lunch. You enter what looks like a cafeteria. You notice that people are getting their food from different service booths and then sitting down. But, they don’t seem to be paying. You hypothesize that you have entered a cafeteria that is just for employees of the terminal, so you leave hungry.

Your actual travel goes smoothly, and you arrive at the second country on your itinerary. As soon as you enter the terminal you notice a rack with different colored papers. Each paper has the same three maps: the first has arrows showing you how to exit the terminal to ground transportation, the second has arrows showing you how to pick up baggage first before exiting the terminal, and the third has arrows showing you how to exit the terminal directly to a subway stop. The different colors indicate the different languages used to provide information on each of the papers. You pick up the paper in English and notice there are written instructions in addition to the maps. You prefer maps, so you choose that option rather than the printed instructions, and start on your way to the subway. As soon as you move toward the moving sidewalk, you notice that there are carts available for luggage. The sign says, “Please use one of our free carts.” The sign also has the same message in nine other different languages. You take one of the carts. As you step onto the moving sidewalk, you notice that it has an extra-wide lane and that there is a separate fast-moving lane next to the extra-wide lane. You step onto the extra-wide lane, perceiving right away that you can roll the cart next to you as you travel through the terminal. A separate lane is available so that those with fewer pieces of luggage can move more quickly. When you get to the subway stop, you see a door and get ready to jockey your suitcases in order to push your way through it. But as soon as you get close to the door it opens outwards, giving you a wide path for entering the subway station. At the station there are several ticket machines—no long lines. The machines allow you to following simple instructions for getting a ticket or to interact with a “robot” with artificial intelligence programming who can answer your questions about how to use the machine. An attendant is also available to help you if neither of those options for getting a ticket seems to work. The attendant is equipped with a handheld translation device so that she can respond to people in whatever language they speak.

Focusing Questions

  1. What do you see as the differences between the two terminals? [Assume that both are in countries that attract tourists and business travelers from many nations.]
  2. Which of the terminals uses tools that are simple and intuitive to use? What clues from the story support your answer?
  3. In which of the two terminals do you think you’d feel more comfortable? Why?
  4. In which terminal do passenger-assistance arrangements seem more equitable? Why?
  5. Could you draw parallels between the two terminals and classrooms you have observed or worked in?