Monday, August 6, 2007

Nagging Irritation

Nick Cohen wrote a thought provoking piece in the Observer yesterday about the trials of aircraft and airports. His observation that it was unlikely that "...any writer could capture the frazzled experience of being stuck in a second-rate shopping centre tacked onto a third-rate transport system." was well made. After a week in which BA's travails with collusion and record for baggage handling were accompanied by business leaders warning that poor airports were a threat to the City's fortunes and BAA atrying to secure an injunction against protestors demonstrating against the new runway at Heathrow, things are not pretty.

Cohen goes on to observe that much of the pain caused by massive air traffic is by its noise. Citing a report co-authored by Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University entitled "The Peculiar Longevity of Things Not So Bad" he notes that intense emotions quickly fade as our minds compensate for the extreme feelings, but little nagging annoyances wear us down because there is no equivalent release mechanism in the mind.

He also notes that the brain can tune out steady sounds, like the constant rumble of road noise, but cannot cope with irregular loud sounds, such as aircraft flying over, and we find these noises intensely troubling, even after years of exposure.

Cohen reports that a group of Dutch economists analysed the situation 'enjoyed' by people living near to Schipol airport. Their findings were that houses were not appreciably cheaper because they were located under flight paths (housing around Amsterdam, like London, is in short supply) and the report concluded that the 'cost in misery' from aircraft noise to those residents was £1.60 per flight. The piece closes with the thought that, given this research, perhaps those people living near to airports may have grounds to sue the authorities for compensation. Hmmm.