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Watching Cultural Differences at the Airport

Watching Cultural Differences at the Airport

Chances are you have been to an airport at least once in your life: thus, the fact that airports can be characterised as culturally diverse places is probably nothing new to you. Of course, airport staff should be prepared to cope with people from all over the world. But how should they handle all these different cultures?


When Harold L. Sirkin had a lay-over at Frankfurt Airport on his journey to Mumbai, he encountered a very apparent cultural border between the German and Indian culture. He penned his musings on the experience in his article on Bloomberg Businessweek.

According to Sirkin, Gate B22 at Frankfurt Airport features two very different cultures.

Next to the orderly German culture, in which travellers board their airplane according to the section of their seats, there is also the less organised Indian one.

The Indian travellers, he says, seemed to be in such a hurry that they made a beeline for the plane as soon as people in wheelchairs were asked to preboard. Moreover, Indian passengers also carry heavy bags that clearly aren’t cabin luggage, Sirkin says.

Sirkin notes that the gate agents seemed to be greatly frustrated by the Indian’s behaviour: he believed them to be fairly annoyed of the fact that the healthy Indians claimed to have the privileges that are actually only for their disabled fellow citizens. However, Sirkin believes the gate agents only pretended to be annoyed, as they have to face the same human behaviour every single day.

Sirkin believes that global airlines should put managing cultural priorities high on their agenda. This is also true for other companies that deal with people from different cultures on a daily basis, such as car companies, law firms and advertising agencies: Sirkin thinks these businesses should adapt their products or services to the various cultures of their customers as well. And not only people on the work floor should be aware of cultural differences, he says; managers should know them as well.

When they have obtained a good understanding of the cultures involved in their company, Sirkin says, managers should equip their staff with tools to properly handle cultural differences on the work floor. Sirkin believes people must accept that a “one size fits all” does not exist and that employees should handle accordingly to this. In fact, the staff itself can use knowledge of cultural differences to their own advantage, Sirkin says: it enables them to respond to the customer’s preferences without them having to ask for it.

According to Sirkin, the globalization trend in today’s world is the reason for the cultural borders that have arisen. However, people who know how to manage these borders, he says, can be greatly rewarded for their efforts.

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