I love to travel, but I hate flying. I also enjoy beer, so naturally, airport bars are my oasis. A recent flight from Newark’s Liberty International Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor, though, makes me worry that the airport bar is in danger of losing its humanity.
Airport bars are Petri dishes, microcosms of the rushed, cramped, organized chaos of their surroundings. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” each entrance beckons. (Well, maybe not ‘poor.’ That domestic macro lager is going to run you about $7.) In a sea of blinking lights, whirring machines and dehumanizing security checks, few experiences offer as much relief as slouching off your shoulder bag, hopping up on a bar stool and hearing a bartender ask: “So, what’ll it be?”
Unless your bartender is an iPad.
In late December, I sat at the bar of a self-proclaimed “beer garden” in Newark airport and found myself face to face not with a smiling server, but with a bracket-mounted iPad. Tap here for food. Tap here for beers. Tap here for wine.
Beyond the logistical problems of this set-up—the beer list wasn’t organized in any discernible way (not alphabetically, not by style, not even by price), and the ordering app also prevents travelers from using cash to pay their tabs—I also mourned the lack of human interaction. As our 100 Best Beer Bars list indicates, taverns are gathering places. Especially when traveling, they’re a place for not just a cold pint, but a crucial dose of hospitality. The iPad isn’t cutting it.
Since tablets can’t yet pour your beers (I’m sure some engineer is working on that), there was a lone human bartender behind the taps. Try to order from her, though, and she’d point you back to the iPad. It felt like some dystopian, futuristic joke, and the bartender herself wasn’t thrilled with it. “I love bartending, just not here,” she told the man next to me, rolling her eyes.
Travelers deserve better. They deserve a genuine welcome, an answer to their questions about the menu and maybe even a joke or anecdote to ease the pain of modern airport travel. Currently, there isn’t an app for that.