Flutter Boards

Airports make me happy. In these modern times, that’s not just geeky. Some might say it’s downright laughable considering the hassles associated with them.

Some of my earliest childhood travel memories are of one the world’s great terminals: Frankfurt Airport. Entering the original Terminal One you were confronted with one of the most imposing departure boards in the world, stretching at least fifty by fifteen feet.

The technical name of these displays is Solari Boards. All the numbers and airline names are printed on plastic tiles that “flutter” into place mechanically, so they are commonly referred to as “Flutter Boards.” The Solari Board is loud. It sounds a bit like an enthusiastic table of domino players shuffling the tiles on a table. It’s also a generator of white noise that once defined one of the largest hubs of global travel.

There is something exhilarating about the sound of the board updating. Seeing the never-ending list of exotic locations and airlines traveling around the world – including destinations that a US citizen could never legally visit – was thrilling. Havana or Tripoli anyone?

Regrettably, this piece of history is all but an anachronism. Mechanical displays have lots of moving parts that can break and need intensive maintenance. The new LCD screens look the same, including the font of the letters and numbers, but they don’t have the nostalgia of a Solari Board.

I’m not the only one that finds the sound pleasing. Boston’s commuter train station now has virtual Solari Boards that recreate the mechanical sound of their predecessors. At Frankfurt, the new LCD screens mimic the font of the old Solari Boards. Clearly, Solari Boards make many a heart flutter. They capture the excitement of an earlier era when dressing up in your Sunday Best was part of the experience. The glamorous glory days of air travel!

May the flutter continue for many more years.