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4. Findings: establishing a sense of place through an airport experience

The following chapter will present the data collected during the research period. The data has

been sorted to themes and interpreted according to the methodological choices explicated in the

previous chapter. I will analyze my findings with regards to the crucial areas of a

phenomenological explication of an experience as stated in the literature review: embodiment,

directedness, intersubjectivity and affordances. These features of a lived experience have acted

as a sensitizing framework in my analysis, guiding the construction of the six experiential

dimensions of the airport experience on the basis of the social and material affordances the

environment grants. The experiential dimensions recognized are competence; regulation and

control; people; time; space; and experienced agency. I see these six experiential dimensions as

important factors in internal negotiations of establishing a sense of place in an airport, and

therefore contributing to how the place identity of an airport forms. Therefore, the research

problem answered through this section is RP I: How is sense of place established in an airport.

This chapter is organized as follows: all subchapters include autoethnographic observation as

well as analysis and excerpts of the interview data collected. The subsections describing the six

experiential dimensions are loosely organized to follow an actual airport experience, from

entering the check-in hall to boarding a plane. However, important to note is that all of these

dimensions are present throughout the whole airport experience and the linear structure of this

analysis is employed to give the narration more structure, not to imply that each of the

dimensions would only be linked to certain stages of the experience.

The first subchapter will cover passengers’ first contact to the airport space in the departure hall

and the initial phases of a service process; check-in and security check. It displays how the

different levels of competence of the passengers and the regulatory ambiance affect how the

environment is experienced. The second subchapter deals with the transitional space between

coming from and going to somewhere, in this case the airport space open to passengers after

security checks, covering the experiential dimensions of the social environment and how time is

experienced subjectively. The third subchapter elaborates on the experience of the airport space

and on how personal agency in this space is experienced. All of the presented dimensions display

how the experience forms as a negotiation between the constraining and the enabling elements

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in the environment. This dynamic negotiation between constraints and possibilities to redeem

potential shows how a place includes dialogue between the physical environment, social

environment, and oneself as the experience constructor, and how this dialogue affects the

forming sense of place. The analyzed phenomenological accounts on establishing a sense of place

in an airport will act as the raw material that link the findings to broader place branding discussion

and insights on how to facilitate successful place branding in environments such as the airport,

therefore contributing to answering the RP II (the conditions of successful place branding in an

airport) in the discussion section.

4.1. First stages of the airport experience

The airport lives through different stages depending on the time of the day, and the day in

question. The busiest times on both weekdays and weekends are the mornings and afternoons.

During rush hours, the large, hall-like departure terminals are filled with people and noises, the

air thick with a mix of emotions: excitement, joy, anxiety, and frustration are all visible in various

combinations in the faces of my co-passengers. One can almost inhale the cacophony of voices

telling stories of business trips, long-anticipated holidays, hopes of reuniting and quietly creeping

feelings of longing and homesickness. During the more quiet hours between the morning and

afternoon rush, the space and its materials take center stage by displaying their features: the

hard floor materials echoing from the occasional clatter of shoe heels and the glass wall surfaces

illuminating the space with light, ATM-like self-check-in kiosks and hollow security check isles

waiting to take passengers in.

4.1.1. Competence

Strictly defined, systematic airport environment challenges its users with intensive stages.

Embodied skills and routines enhance the chances for a smooth experience and enable

preparation beforehand.

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