Konrad writes about trying to get through security at JFK:
After proceeding through security, I approached an idle officer and made a simple recommendation:
Can I recommend that you write some of these many instructions [regarding shoes, laptops, containers, etc.] on a sign in the area where the passengers are lining up. If necessary, can I suggest that you write these instructions in English and translated into several major languages [as they often are in international airports] so that passengers waiting in line can prepare themselves better to move efficiently through the security check.
When I suggested this to the officer he turned away and told me, over his shoulder, that “We already thought of that, but we have a lot of languages here.”
When I suggested that this was precisely why the current system was far from adequate and terribly inefficient he simply repeated that, “You may not have noticed but we have a lot of people speaking different languages here.”
The problem, I believe, is that Americans tend to think that most people in the world are monolingual. According to such a view, it would be necessary to translate any sign into several hundred langauges. But, while this may be true of most Americans, it is far from true of most of the world, and certainly not true of the population of air travel passengers. Konrad points out that only one of the four most common instructions was written out in English, not to mention other languages. Probably close to half of the passengers would benefit from clearly written English instructions that they could read while waiting on line. But if they wished to have multilingual signs my guess is that it would be possible to reach more than 90% of their passengers using less than 10 languages.
The other problem, of course, is that JFK is one of the worst managed international airports in the world.