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HOK’s Will Jenkinson Contributes Guest Column on Trends Shaping Airports

Hamad Airport

Will Jenkinson, Chicago-based regional leader of Aviation + Transportation, describes trends shaping airports.

Excerpted from RE Journals:

Here are five transformations influencing the future of airports across the globe, ultimately enhancing the traveler and worker experience.

1. Spotlighting local culture and values

The earliest cities were organized around avenues connecting plazas and piazzas. New and rejuvenated airport terminals now plan their gate concourses as avenues—thoroughfares dotted by local business, connecting the plaza, or “marketplace.” After all, millions of people pass through these spaces each year and they are becoming the airport’s modern equivalent of a pedestrian city. Concessions are starting to become emblematic of regionalized culinary scenes—this is already the case in San Francisco, Denver and Munich, for instance. Cultural elements are emerging as well, reflecting the interests of the civic region served by the airport.

This approach to regional design has been most successful when the travelers’ entire journey, into and through the airport, has been considered, such as at Long Beach Airport. The Californian airport modernization project combined clean design elements to update the old Art Deco terminal while incorporating elements of Hollywood.

2. Integrated security and passenger processing

Approaching two decades since 9/11, the testing and experimentation with the way the entire check-in, security checkpoint and boarding processes are organized and optimized continues. Instead of disparate processes, evolving technologies like biometrics, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data are creating a more efficient, tightly integrated and automated process. Opportunities to greatly improve security and passenger experience, while simultaneously reducing costs, are taking shape.

Data collection will assist airports in learning how travelers and other users move through the terminal and where they dwell. By identifying potential pinch points, terminal operators and airlines can optimize the passenger experience and maximize non-aeronautical revenues. The IoT will be used for baggage and passenger tracking throughout the journey, reducing stress, as travelers will know where their luggage is at each leg of the trip.

3. Transit designed to connect

Just as autonomous vehicles will change how we get around our cities, we will witness new ways of moving people and deliveries around the airport. As airports continue to expand and grow, we will begin to see more autonomous vehicles carrying travelers around these “airport cities” and streamline the travel experience.

Interconnectivity between the commercial districts of cities and airports will improve. High-speed rail is being touted as a solution for reducing airport travel time and carbon emissions in a number of cities, and our aging population will need this help to navigate airports and cities. High-speed rail will also provide an alternative to crowded public transportation and gridlocked traffic that continues to be the bane of traveler experience.

4. Outdoor and green spaces

Today, when a traveler passes through the entrance to an airport, they often don’t come into contact with the outdoors again until they arrive at their destination. Travelers are ushered from one climate-controlled space to the next, ending at a gate boarding bridge, then onto the aircraft. And then all of it again, in reverse. This experience often includes a long-haul international flight in between. Airports also have tens of thousands of employees without access to green space.

However, growing commitments to wellness will drive change here. Future airports, especially those in mild climates, will increasingly integrate outdoor spaces and pocket gardens within secure areas of terminals. We’re seeing this already with Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3, which has a landscaped space, sheltered by a large canopy that functions similar to a grand civic plaza and at Long Beach Airport, where travelers experience an open-air meet-and-greet plaza, garden, wooden boardwalks and a patio.

5. A place for fitness and wellness activity

For a disproportionately large number of travelers, air travel today means sacrificing fitness, sitting for hours on end, and eating junk food. Between emerging healthy concessions and dedicated yoga and fitness spaces, airports are starting to embrace a role in promoting wellness, health, even relaxation.

We anticipate the integration of boutique fitness studios, gyms and even on-demand trainers so travelers can maximize layovers and never have to miss their favorite HIIT cardio workouts.

The new Terminal B at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport embraces many of these trends. The terminal incorporates an outdoor balcony with a panoramic view of the NYC skyline, access to children’s play walls and other amenities, while bridges that interconnect the terminal building with the concourses also have exciting exterior views. Regional in its design, and rational in its planning, the new Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, a product of public-private partnership (P3) delivery, has been crafted with almost all of the emerging experiential trends noted above. It stands as an example of the new 21st century approach to terminal planning and design.


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