Problem With Airports And How To Fix It


During this summer, with frequent flight delays and cancellations, many travelers spent more time at airports than expected, often exposed to loud TV news, rock-hard seats and scarce electrical outlets. Add the anxiety over Covid-19 and disagreements over enforced masking, and it’s not surprising that incidents of misconduct in the air are on the rise. Federal Aviation Administration reports more than 4,000 cases of unruly passengers complaints By August this year, more than 700 investigations have been launched to date, compared to 183 in 2020.

In the depths of a recent six-hour travel delay, while contemplating airports’ role in inconveniencing travelers, I found my way to Denver International Airport’s B-West Concourse B-West and a series of new doors with floor-to-ceiling windows and modular furniture. , tall library tables with ample outlets, clear signage, no TV, and – the biggest surprise – an open-air lounge overlooking the West Rocky Mountains. Fleetwood Mac’s vibrant “Don’t Stop” was played on the sound system, signaling a more inviting approach to what the industry calls “waiting rooms” or door waiting areas.

While Travel’s comeback this summer is uncertain, the entire industry, including airport managers and architects, is looking to do things better.

“Covid was a shocking event that caused a major disruption and prompted thinking about restoring the joy of travel,” said Alex Thome, head of the airport division in the United States at Stantec, which designs airports in Denver, Toronto. in Nassau and elsewhere.

Much of that joy was lost after 9/11, when security needed to push airports to accommodate body scanners and larger checkpoints. But a host of new terminals and recent upgrades to existing meeting rooms from New York City to San Francisco show both small and large ways in which airports are trying to alleviate psychic turbulence on the ground – from turning off the TVs to setting up indoor gardens.

Compared to global gateways in cities like Singapore and Tokyo, American airports have a lot of work to do to improve the passenger experience. According to this SkyTrax World Airport Awards, an annual award set based on passenger satisfaction surveys, the highest rated airport in North America is Vancouver International in Canada, with number 24. Houston George Bush Intercontinental at number 25 is the highest-rated American airport in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. International in 42nd place. There are only 14 American airports in the top 100 and currently Hamad International Airport in Qatar.

“In the U.S. we see airports not necessarily as a civic building but as a service provided, whereas the rest of the world would like to see it in the context of a city,” said Ty Osbaugh, an architect and aviation practice leader at Gensler. Designing airport terminals in many cities, from Pittsburgh to Incheon, South Korea.

In the United States, sources of airport infrastructure funding include federal grants; operating income from things like tenant leases and parking; and passenger facility fee flyers pay when they purchase their airline tickets. According to this Airports Council InternationalCommercial airports trade association in the United States and Canada, the passenger facility fee has not been increased in more than 20 years and is a maximum of $4.50; meanwhile, airports have an infrastructure pile of work 115 billion dollars.

“Airports don’t stand still, but the challenge is that airports are designed with the assumption that every flight will depart on time and there will never be bad weather or problems,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and head of the Atmospheric Research Group. a market research and consulting firm for the travel industry. “When these problems are large and gradual, when bad weather stops and delays flights, and there are more people at the terminal, everyone gets cranky.”

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

Even if passengers occasionally have to cram into an overcrowded gate area because late flights lead to late flights, there is one thing airports can do to calm the atmosphere: reduce the noise.

Ahead of the pandemic, as the airport broke passenger records, San Francisco International embarked on its “quiet airport” program, a noise reduction scheme that eliminated TVs in terminal seating areas and narrowed broadcast announcements rather than broadcast them across the terminal. .

“We have seen a tremendous reduction in noise clutter by design to make the facilities more comfortable for passengers,” airport spokesman Doug Yakel said. Flyers can still watch news and sports on TVs in airport restaurants and bars, but “There’s really no need at the gates, as the content is available on passengers’ own devices,” he added.

Denver International’s door expansion projectIt doesn’t show talking screens, which includes B-West doors and will add three more expanded lounge areas by 2022 (big screens instead silently flash messages and advertisements about wearing masks and social distancing).

Again, the first to remain silent were foreign airports. NS London City Airport for example, in the UK, announcements are made only for flight interruptions or emergencies, not for calling passengers on board.

Exposing travelers to nature through plants is another stress reliever that airports have embraced as “biophilic” – or nature-loving – plans as designers champion.

“The last thing you want after traveling in an old tube is to be in a hermetically sealed airport environment,” said Matt Needham, director of aviation and transportation at HOK Architects, which created park-like spaces in the new LaGuardia. terminal B “We put it wherever we could, on open terraces in New York City and at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla. It makes the difference.”

Expected to open in 2025, the new terminal in Pittsburgh will have open terraces for passengers before and after security (the airport is exploring creating digital queues at security that will make checkpoint gardens attractive).

“We have an incredible opportunity to build one of the first terminals after the pandemic,” wrote Christina Cassotis, CEO of Pittsburgh International Airport, in a written response to questions, noting that wellness is at the heart of the design, including indoor air quality. tracing.

Outdoor spaces, including the fire pits that Denver International has added to its meeting rooms, aim to capture the outdoor spirit of Colorado.

Plants add to their maintenance budgets, of course, so some designers are finding alternative ways to embrace nature. “Natural materials can reflect biophilic design without introducing purely plants and open space into the project,” said Laura Ettelman, managing partner at the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architectural firm and one of the leading architects working at the new Kansas City International. The airport in Missouri is currently under construction and expected to open in 2023.

New airport designs increasingly recognize the diversity of travelers and basic human needs.

San Francisco’s new Harvey Dairy Terminal 1 Immediately after the security screening, the benches include a “rearrangement” area that allows passengers to reattach their belts and shoes and refill their water bottles (there is also a place to drain water for front security). A children’s playground features infilled floors, and a museum space features exhibits from the airport’s exhibits. SFO Museum, with benches and dimmed 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 kiosk, gate gate, boarding bridge, and an airplane interior that potential passengers can book and visit before purchasing the flight.

Travelers will also have access to a multi-sensory room, a quiet space with low lighting, and a meditation room. Toilets will include all gender options and changing tables for caregivers of special needs adults.

“We are moving towards inclusive and accessible amenities,” said Justin Meyer, airport deputy director.

Before designing the new terminal, which opened in Salt Lake City last September, HOK architects observed large groups greeting Mormon missionaries, often absent for two years. As a result, they created a family room with a world map and a fireplace to come together between the secure area and the baggage allowance.

Bathrooms are receiving a lot of attention, with improvements such as natural light near Denver International’s expansion doors and the adoption of “smart toilet” technology at Dallas-Fort Worth International, with digital displays at entrances showing the number of vacant stalls.

Many airports have done a good job of attracting branches of local restaurants and shops to instill a sense of place for travelers who may experience Chicago or New York City in just one stay.

Now what architects mean when they refer to the sense of place is something more real: Can you see the city or the mountains? Are the directions clear?

At LaGuardia’s Terminal B, the bridges connecting the concourses to the terminal rise above passing aircraft and offer views of the city skyline.

“You have an intuitive sense of navigation that puts travelers at ease, too,” said Mr Needham of HOK.

At Salt Lake City’s new terminal, which opened in September 2020, HOK took inspiration from the canyons of southern Utah to create a central cliff-like route through the terminal with clear sight lines to the city and mountains beyond. At the top, a sculpture by Gordon Huether of winged ridges brings to mind the lines of a sandstone canyon.

Ultimately, however, there is only so much in the control of architects and planners who must allow for the unexpected.

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

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