This week’s discussion in my current grad school class was on company websites (or parts therein) that target a specific minority group. Many of the posts (the class is online) discussed site content offered in other languages.
That got me thinking about how well airports use different languages to cater to their customers. To get an (admittedly unscientific) idea, I visited the sites of a few major international hubs to see how many languages each website was available in. Here’s what I found:
London Heathrow: 12, including English. Pretty impressive.
Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly, which are run by the same company: 2.
Beijing Capital International: 2, Chinese and English.
Singapore Changi: 2, ditto.
Frankfurt: 4, including Russian.
Dubai International: 2, English and Arabic.
Amsterdam Schiphol: 5, an impressive number reflecting the airport’s recognition of its stature as an international hub. Airports like Denver and Madrid are bigger, but they don’t handle as much inter-country connecting traffic.
What to take from this?
For one, English isn’t just the international language of aviation on the operations side. If you can’t read it well, navigating a major airport’s site could be a challenge.
Another key point: Atlanta may be the world’s busiest airport, but it’s not even close to the biggest mover of fliers between different countries. In other words, while lots of foreign nationals pass through its terminals, the vast majority of the folks who take off, land, or change planes there are English speakers. Ditto for most other big U.S. airports, with LAX (and its 8 languages, most of which related the airport’s status as a major gateway to East Asia) being among the notable exceptions.
Still, it stands to reason that many airports have a ways to go with regard to catering to their customers along these lines. It may not seem so important today, but in a few years, when the onslaught of app-driven services available on mobile phones really kicks in, the availability of multi-lingual services may be directly tied to the amount of ancillary revenues that advanced apps (like geo-location-driven coupons for nearby restaurants pushed to smartphones, for instance) will help generate.