4 Goals of Airport Terminal Design


The way that we interact with airport terminals has changed a lot in the last few decades. Airports were previously designed for purely utilitarian purposes—to shuttle passengers from the entrance to their gate with little thought as to the traveler experience. Now, airports are a part of the experience.

Acting as introductions to each city, design elements in airports are becoming the main focus as opposed to the airports of the past. These days, formerly drab airports are searching for ways to improve the traveler experience while they navigate check-in, security, and the airport terminal.

If you’re interested in finding out how airports are improving and creating memorable interiors, keep reading! We’re going to be discussing everything from lighting control systems to innovations in travel convenience. Let’s find out what trends are being used to improve airport design!

Intuitive Lighting

Using lighting automation, airport terminals can enhance visitor experiences

Lighting automation simplifies complicated lighting tasks.

One of the biggest improvements that can change the whole look of an airport terminal is a lighting upgrade. Outdated incandescent and fluorescent lights can put excess strain on both employees and travelers alike. Often, visitors are spending a minimum of a few hours in an airport terminal before the plane boards or in between connecting flights, which means that improper lighting can drastically affect mood—and even an overall impression of a city. Because of this, airports are searching for ways to improve lighting to make the terminal more comfortable for everyone who enters the airport.

To upgrade lighting systems, the first thing that an airport needs to do is begin replacing outdated lights with LEDs. LED lights are the preferred lighting for several reasons. The most important reason that LEDs are the preferred lighting method is due to their flexibility and superior lighting quality. Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs can produce a wide range of lighting colors and hues with precise dimming controls. LED lights also last longer and use far less energy than their predecessors.

LED lights also open up the possibility for many lighting automation controls to enhance the traveler experience and save money on operating costs. The reason LEDs allow for lighting automation is because they can send and receive information either through ethernet cables or wireless connections. Using these connections, LEDs can respond to commands from sensors placed throughout the airport.

For example, airports can install motion sensors in restrooms so that lights will only turn on when the restroom is occupied. Since airports are open 24/7, there are times when there is no need for lighting in restrooms. Before LEDs and sensors, airports would waste money keeping bathrooms lit all the time. With motion sensors, airports can save money on operating costs without compromising traveler experience.

Another excellent asset to improve the guest experience is a lighting sensor. A lighting sensor can detect natural light coming through the windows and adjust interior lighting accordingly.

Without lighting sensors, airports end up overlighting areas of the terminal, which leads to eye strain and can increase stress among travelers. This is also essential as airports incorporate more large, open windows in their design. As the weather and the sunlight changes throughout the day, the lights can intuitively adapt to the changing light from the outside. Using LEDs and sensors, airports guarantee that they are never wasting money on excessive lighting and that they are providing ample light for all travelers that enter the terminal.

Traveler-Focused Design Elements

Beyond lighting automation, terminal design should be traveler oriented and make visiting the airport an experience rather than a hassle

Visually appealing and functional design elements improve overall visitor experience.

As we previously mentioned, the design of an airport terminal extends beyond the terminal itself. Airports represent a gateway to the city or area they serve. If visitors arrive at a dingy, outdated terminal, they will likely expect the same from the surrounding area. Because airports are often the first building that visitors will interact with, there is more and more need for traveler-focused design elements.

These design elements can be both visually interesting and functional—depending on the purpose and location in the airport. For example, many airports are integrating museum-like displays in the terminals so visitors can get a better sense of the local culture in the area. There are also design elements like statues and fountains that add visual interest and help offer a bit of distraction in an often stressful environment. It also gives travelers a photo opportunity that they can later post on social media. This may sound like an inconsequential element of airport terminal design, but it is an important asset for organic social media engagement.

Adding unique elements for travelers to explore and marvel at also helps travelers tell terminals apart. Though it may sound silly, many people travel often enough for work that all airport terminals begin to look the same. By including unique, locally-specific elements in the terminal design, airports can separate themselves from others and give travelers a memorable experience representative of the local culture. In short, if a traveler has a uniquely positive time at an airport, they will be more likely to visit in the future.

Bringing the Outside, Inside

The latest trend in terminal design is to bring as many natural elements as possible to previously sterile terminals

Natural elements help decrease traveler stress.

Air travel is often associated with cramped spaces and crowded terminals. These are obviously not ideal conditions for travel, but for many, they are an everyday reality. To improve the traveler experience while in the terminal, airports have been incorporating outdoor spaces into their design. Airports have always done a good job of using large windows to bring in natural light and give travelers views of the surrounding area and tarmac.

However, this is simply not enough to provide relief from the often sterile, stressful environment that is associated with air travel. Recently, airports have begun to incorporate more indoor/outdoor spaces that give guests relief from staying indoors for hours at a time. In warmer climates, airports are using covered bridges to connect different parts of the airport so that travelers can get some fresh air when moving from one part of the building to another. There are also sky lounges that offer outdoor seating areas for priority guests.

If airports aren’t able to offer outdoor spaces due to colder climates or the potential for inclement weather, then they need to bring natural elements to the interior design. This includes using sustainable, natural materials that may not have been previously considered for airport terminals—like bamboo.

Using natural elements and textures creates a more relaxed environment compared to the drab, corporate look of decades past. It is also important to try to avoid angular design as much as possible. The most recent developments in airport construction and renovation all prioritize rounded or curved edges to assist with crowd control and make the terminal more comfortable for visitors.

Optimal Passenger Traffic Flow

Simple and intuitive wayfinding is key to a smooth terminal operations

Without proper wayfinding, airport terminals become confusing.

Beyond aesthetic and lighting design, an airport terminal needs a well-thought-out and easy-to-follow floorplan. The floorplan needs to prioritize foot traffic for travelers, otherwise, there will be masses of confused people causing bottlenecks in the terminal. One of the most prevalent design principles used for current terminal construction and renovation is zoned design.

This principle involves designating every area of the terminal that has a different use as a “zone.” For example, in any terminal, there are walkways, food courts and gates. Depending on the use of the terminal as a whole—international or domestic flights, for example—these areas can be designed for different purposes. For example, people who are catching international flights are likely to get to the airport earlier and stay for a longer time than people catching domestic flights.

For international departures, the walkways, food courts, and gates need to be designed for people who are staying for an extended period of time. That means more comfortable seating, wider walkways, and space for seated food options—not just grab and go. By creating these designated spaces, travelers benefit as well as airport operations. Operations benefit from shorter lines for food and restrooms. Plus, there are no hold-ups due to foot traffic in the terminal. Using zones, airports can streamline experiences for both guests and employees.

Airports are also searching for revenue from those who aren’t boarding a flight. Recent airport expansions include mall-like concourses to attract local shoppers and restaurant-goers. This area of the airport before security would also represent its zone with corresponding features based on how long people are visiting the area. In the case of an area dedicated to local shoppers, the space should be designed for short-term visits.

Airports are actively searching for ways to improve the traveler experience. With the cost of flying constantly rising, travelers expect more than ever from their airport experience. To keep guests coming back, airports will need to update their terminals in ways that enhance guest experience and set the airport apart from other airports around the world.

Using the design trends we’ve explored, airports are planning to meet the needs of travelers across the globe. From a traveler’s perspective, expect more comfortable, natural, and intuitive airport experiences in the years to come.

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Hi, I'm James George, the founder of Mind My Business NYC and author of this blog. I am an entrepreneur and internet marketer. My wish is that this website helps you to grow your business and achieve your goals.


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