The problem with airports and how to solve them

During this summer of frequent flight delays and cancellations, many travelers have spent more time than expected at airports, often sub...


During this summer of frequent flight delays and cancellations, many travelers have spent more time than expected at airports, often subjected to booming TV news, rigid seats and scarce electrical outlets. Add anxiety over Covid-19 and disagreements over mandatory masking and it’s no wonder that incidents of bad behavior have risen in the air. The Federal Aviation Administration has reported over 4,000 cases of unruly passengers complaints this year through August, initiating over 700 investigations to date, up from 183 in 2020.

Deep in a six hour travel delay recently, as I pondered the role of airports in making travelers worse off, I found my way to Lobby B-West at Denver International Airport and a set of new doors with floor-to-ceiling windows, modular furniture, raised bookcase tables with plenty of outlets, clear signage, no TV and – the biggest surprise – an outdoor living room with a west view of the Rocky Mountains . Fleetwood Mac’s bouncy “Don’t Stop” was played over the audio system, signaling a more inviting approach to what the industry calls “waiting rooms” or waiting areas at doors.

The return of travel this summer, as tenuous as it is, has the entire industry, including airport managers and architects, thinking about doing things better.

“Covid was a shocking event that caused great disruption and accelerated thinking to bring back the joy of traveling,” said Alex Thome, head of the U.S. Airport Division at Stantec, who designed Denver Airports , Toronto, Nassau and elsewhere.

Much of that joy wore off after 9/11 when security forced airports to install body scanners and more extensive checkpoints. But a slew of new terminals and recent upgrades to existing lobbies from New York to San Francisco show ways both large and small – from muting televisions to installing indoor gardens – that airports are trying to find. ” reduce psychic turbulence on the ground.

Compared to global gateways in cities like Singapore and Tokyo, US airports have a lot of work to do to improve the passenger experience. According to SkyTrax World Airport prices, an annual set of awards based on passenger satisfaction surveys, the top rated airport in North America is Vancouver International in Canada at number 24. Houston George Bush Intercontinental, at number 25, is the top US airport ranked, with Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International next at 42. Only 14 US airports are in the top 100, which is currently led by Hamad International Airport in Qatar.

“In the United States, we view airports as a service provided not necessarily as a civic building, whereas the rest of the world wants to see it in an urban context,” said Ty Osbaugh, architect and chief practice officer of the aviation at Gensler. , which has designed airport terminals in many cities, from Pittsburgh to Incheon, South Korea.

In the United States, sources of funding for airport infrastructure include federal grants; operating income from things like tenant leases and parking; and the passenger installation fee that leaflets pay when they purchase their plane tickets. According to Airports Council International, the trade association for commercial airports in the United States and Canada, the passenger installation charge has not been increased for more than 20 years and stands at a maximum of $ 4.50; meanwhile, airports have an infrastructure back of $ 115 billion.

“Airports are not standing still, but the challenge is that airports are designed with the premise that every flight will depart on time and that there will never be bad weather or problems,” said Henry Harteveldt , Travel Industry Analyst and Chairman of Atmosphere Research Group, a market research and travel industry consulting firm. “When these issues are big and cascading, like bad weather that blocks and delays flights and you have more people in the terminal, everyone is grumpy.”

Across the country, the average airport terminal is over 40 years old and is being further challenged by the growth of air transport. Denver International, for example, opened in 1995 with a capacity of 50 million leaflets; in 2019, it processed more than 69 million.

While travelers must occasionally crowd into a crowded boarding area, as late flights lead to late flights, airports can do something to calm the surroundings: turn down the noise.

Before the pandemic, when the airport was setting passenger records, San Francisco International rolled out its “Quiet Airport” program, a noise reduction plan that eliminated televisions in terminal seats and reduced the reach of the ads it aired. rather than broadcasting them throughout the terminal. .

“We have seen a dramatic reduction in audio clutter by design to make the facilities more relaxing for passengers,” said Doug Yakel, airport spokesperson. Flyers can still watch news and sports on televisions in airport restaurants and bars, but, he added, “There really is no need at the gates since the content is available on the passengers’ own devices. “

Denver International portal expansion project, which includes the B-West gates and will add three more expanded lobby areas by 2022, does not display any talking screens (large screens instead flash silent messages about mask-wearing and social distancing with advertisements).

Once again, foreign airports were the first to be silent. TO London City Airport in England, for example, announcements are made only for flight disruptions or emergencies, and not to call passengers at the boarding gates.

Exposing passengers to nature through plants is another stress-relieving way airports are embracing as designers with “biophile” – or nature-loving – plans.

“The last thing you want after traveling in a stale tube is to be in a tightly closed airport environment,” said Matt Needham, director of aviation and transportation at HOK architects, who created areas like parks in the new La Guardia. Terminal B in New York and on the outdoor terraces of the Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Florida. “We put it wherever we can. It makes a difference.

At the new Pittsburgh terminal, scheduled to open in 2025, passengers will have outdoor terraces before and after security (the airport explores the digital queue at security, which would make the gardens before the point of attractive control).

“We have the incredible opportunity to build one of the first post-pandemic terminals,” wrote Christina Cassotis, general manager of Pittsburgh International Airport, in written responses to questions, noting that well-being is at the top. heart of the design, which includes indoor air quality. surveillance.

The outdoor spaces that Denver International adds to its halls, including foyers, aim to capture the exterior spirit of Colorado.

Plants add to maintenance budgets, of course, so some designers are finding alternative ways to embrace nature. “Natural materials can echo the biophilic design without fully integrating plants and outdoor space into the project,” said Laura Ettelman, managing partner of architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and a principal architects working on the new Kansas City International. Missouri Airport, currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2023.

New airport designs increasingly take into account the diversity of travelers and their basic human needs.

New from San Francisco Harvey Milk Terminal 1 includes a ‘re-dial’ area directly after security where benches allow passengers to put on their seat belts and shoes and refill their water bottles (there is also a place to empty the water before screening) . A children’s playground has padded floors, and a museum area has airport exhibits OFS Museum, with benches and soft lighting.

At Kansas City International, an airplane simulation room will offer those with concerns about flying – especially those on the autism spectrum – a fake ticket booth, boarding gate, boarding bridge and interior of the aircraft, which potential travelers can book and visit before purchasing flights.

Passengers will also have access to a multi-sensory room, a quiet space with subdued lighting, as well as a meditation room. The washrooms will include options for all genders and changing tables for caregivers of adults with special needs.

“We are looking at inclusive and accessible amenities,” said Justin Meyer, deputy airport manager.

Before designing the new terminal that opened in Salt Lake City last September, HOK architects observed large groups welcoming returning Mormon missionaries, who often left for two years. As a result, they created a family room, which includes a world map and a fireplace, to congregate between the secure area and baggage claim.

Bathrooms are getting a lot of attention, with upgrades such as natural light near the expansion doors at Denver International and the adoption of “smart toilet” technology at Dallas-Fort Worth International, with screens. numbers at the entrances indicating the number of vacant stands.

Many airports have done a good job attracting local restaurant and store branches to create a sense of place for the traveler who might only experience Chicago or New York on a layover.

Now, what the architects mean when they refer to the sense of place is something more literal: can you see the city or the mountains? Are the instructions clear?

At La Guardia Terminal B, the bridges that connect the halls to the terminal rise above passing planes and offer views of the city skyline.

“You have an intuitive sense of direction which also relaxes travelers,” said Mr. Needham of HOK.

In Salt Lake City’s new terminal, which opened in September 2020, HOK took inspiration from the canyons of southern Utah to create a chasm-like central route through the terminal with an unobstructed view of the town and mountains beyond. Above, a finned ridge sculpture by Gordon Huether suggests the ridges of a sandstone canyon.

Ultimately, however, little is under the control of architects and planners, who must take the unexpected into account.

“A lot of things are outside of architecture, but the way we accommodate them is to create flexible environments,” said Scott Duncan, design partner at SOM who works on two satellite halls planned for Chicago International Airport. O’Hare.


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Newsrust - US Top News: The problem with airports and how to solve them
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