First things first, I can honestly say that I've seen a significant increase in the number of book-specific shops in airports. I don't know if this is national or international, but I've traveled a little bit over the last few years and I have noticed two things: 1) that there are more book-specific shops springing up all over the place, and 2) that some areas are insanely more book-friendly than others (St. Louis and Atlanta, for example, have a lot of book shops and places that carry books).
But what is more interesting than this is how strong of a presence science fiction and fantasy have. When you walk into a book-specific shop, there is almost always a section specific to science fiction and fantasy (and a section for YA, which is usually loaded to the teeth with fantasy titles). Sometimes the section is quite small, and other times it's about the same size as all of the other sections (non-fiction, general fiction, and so on).
The only downside to this is that these shops have a tendency to carry very little in terms of new work, which means that many of these SF/F sections are more like the classic literature section that most of these places have. It's unfortunate, but there must be a reason for it; you don't carry old SF/F (as in classic SF/F) if you're not selling it. This isn't to say that these stores don't carry newer titles; they do, but they typically only carry the more prominent new titles, such as works from various high-profile urban fantasy authors or big names in SF literature. But, what's to complain about? They have SF/F in the bookstores in airports!
Now that I've pointed out the more obvious aspects of SF/F's presence in airports, I think it's worth noting the much more hidden and telling presence: book sections within non-book-specific shops.
While I was in St. Louis a few weeks back, I decided to check out this little tech shop (headphones, phones, DVDs, games, things like that--InMotion Entertainment, I think) in the airport and was surprised to discover that they had a book section that was not only SF/F friendly, but possibly one of the best SF/F book sections I have seen for the size (four shelves no more than three feet wide). What was so special about it? The titles they carried represented a wide range of unique titles you might not find in your local bookstore, and all of the books had gorgeous covers. They had, for example, Paul McAuley's Gardens of the Sun:
They had loads of other titles too, many of which I hadn't heard of until then and most of which looked fascinating (yes, I've heard of McAuley's work, but I didn't write down the titles of all the others, and I've since forgotten them). I might have bought a book or two if I hadn't already spent over $100 on books during the PCA/ACA conference. The selection was simply fantastic. If you wanted something new and a little less popcorn-y, then you'd have to go to this shop.
The point of all of this is that airports are incredibly SF/F friendly. While the selection is not always the greatest (depending on the airport), there are almost always SF/F titles somewhere. I'm not sure what this says about our culture. These stores don't carry SF/F if it doesn't sell, so people must be requesting and buying the stuff. Do SF/F books make great travel reads in the same way that others genres have been for decades? Perhaps.
What do you think?