There are many depictions of a future in which we’ve mastered the art of manipulating the opacity of glass. Even in real life, sunglasses can adapt to the intensity of sunlight. So why, one might ask, can’t we have that in our homes, or at work?
The wait may soon be over. The tinted world of tomorrow is coming, and airports—mini-cities of steel, concrete and lots and lots of glass—are interested. In a test last fall, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport outfitted one of its gates with a new type of “smart glass” that can adjust for sunlight exposure. The obvious point is to keep travellers from getting overheated—but the exercise also brought a more lucrative benefit.
The test was designed to see if the product, called View Dynamic Glass, might improve passenger satisfaction along a small stretch of terminal real estate—specifically, gate seating at A28 and a burger restaurant’s east-facing bar, one regularly torched by the Texas sun.
It turns out that a cooler, darker bar encourages an extra round or two. Alcohol sales soared 80 per cent in October, compared with the same period in 2016, the installation of electrochromatic glass being the only difference. Alcohol contributed 17 per cent of the restaurant’s total revenue in October 2017, compared with 9 per cent the previous month and 8 percent in October 2016.
The lesson was clear for the airport: Remove heat and glare from a glass-ensconced bar and people will dally longer, spending more. For years, airport executives have analysed the links between travellers’ impressions and their spending, with terminal “dwell time” the critical link. Travellers who are relaxed after emerging from security tend to spend more money while waiting for their flights. As the fourth-busiest US airport, DFW could benefit from this dynamic, its officials concluded. “We definitely see the impact,” said Casey Norton, a DFW Airport spokesman. The restaurant had approached the airport about its lagging sales, he said, and “they hypothesised that it was too damn hot” for customers to stick around.