April 15, 2021Screen-fatigued teens are soaking up 'airport culture'

Travellers tend to see airports as a place to get in and get out – but not Gen Zers. Ambivalent about drinking, starved of person-to-person contact, and eager for safe spaces to be themselves, we explore the insights behind why teens are increasingly going to airport terminals just to hang out and meet new people.

Jemima Cox

Gen Zers thrive on worldly experiences, but the pandemic put a stop to typical types of adventure. With limited options of where to go, groups of Gen Zers are hanging out in UK airports. Unlike streets or parks, airport terminals have the added benefit of lots of security. Plus, for Gen Zers who live much of their social lives online, airports are a refreshing change. ”Gen Zers' hyperconnectivity has conversely also isolated them, providing the artifice of being with people all the time, when they are in fact often alone both physically and psychologically,” writes Chloe Combi in VICE. “The appeal of the airport seems to be rooted in something very human: being connected to people in a world where significant events are happening all around.”

While the impact of COVID-19 has been felt across all generations, younger people are more likely to say COVID-19 has had a substantial effect on their life so far. In this context, Gen Zers have been looking to their own cohort for peer-to-peer support and connection. Indeed, seven in ten are anxious about their future, expressing concerns about employment and their ability to earn money. Pair this with their growing desire to be healthier and their indifference to alcohol, and hanging out in an airport is creating a whole new low-cost, stimulating space. As Combi writes, “There is no other place more than an airport where you are simultaneously both connected and dislocated, which is pretty much the perpetual state of Gen Zers' existence.”

Jemima Cox is a social scientist, with a background in psychology and over a decade of experience in research and strategic consulting. At Canvas8, she heads up the Social Sciences team, disseminating expertise and acting as a champion for social and ethnographic research..

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