Are airports making the right changes for the future of air travel?

January 4, 2018, 3:33 PM · What's the future of air travel? Many of us fly to get to our theme park destinations, so it's interesting to get a glimpse at what the people who design the world's airports are thinking about as they create the terminals we will be flying from, through, and into in the years ahead.

Travel industry website Skift talked with architect Pat Askew of HKS about this: Airport Secrets From an Architect Who Designs Them. Askew has spent decades working on some of the biggest airport projects in the world, and his observations got me thinking about the challenges facing the communities such as Los Angeles and Orlando that are spending billions of dollars to update and expand their airports.

Consider the hassles of parking at the airport. Could technology soon make the current solution of adding new garages irrelevant?

"We’re challenged right now accommodating yet-to-be-implemented driverless cars," Askew said. "That's going to change things from getting to the airport, and whether or not you even need parking garages, or you need as many parking garages."

If people can direct their cars to drive home after they get to the terminal, airports won't need all those garages and long-term parking lots anymore. But that will mean more vehicles trying to access those drop-off curbs, as fewer people are going to remote lots and taking shuttles. That changes the design focus from garages, lots, and tram and shuttle systems to better-flowing ingress and egress roads.

"The whole check-in process is going to change," Askew said, "and is changing to the point where the big terminal areas, what we call processors, where the check-in occurs, are empty.... That’s going to change the architecture of a terminal."

Also changing will be these nasty-long TSA security queues, thanks to improved scanning and detection technology.

"You wouldn't really have to have things put on a belt. You wouldn't have to wait for your luggage to be screened," he said. "It's possible to see if you're carrying anything or have anything you shouldn't have just by walking through an area without having to stop and wait in line to put things on a belt."

If TSA (and its international equivalents) can scan you more or less passively, then the physical departure process can be reduced to getting left off at the curb, dropping your checked bags on an automated belt, walking through a scanning hall, and then on to your gate — without waiting anywhere. That could relive airports from the expense of building facilities large enough to accommodate the backlog of people who must queue for hours to park, get on a shuttle, check in, and go through security before they get to their gate.

But waiting people are potential customers, and a streamlined operation might cause a problem for the companies that have made their business serving hordes of waiting air passengers.

"At some airports — if you've been to the UK, or been to Germany, you know them — you are not even told where your gate is. You have to wait in a big retail mall, which is called a departure hall, and then you’re called to gate about a half an hour or 45 minutes before your flight is to leave," Askew said. "You're kind of stuck, and people, I guess out of boredom, or curiosity, will go spend money."

Both Los Angeles and Orlando are in the middle of massive, expensive new airport development projects. But are their designs the right plans for the ways that air travel is evolving? It's a fascinating question for travel fans to consider. How would you like to see airports change in the future?

More thoughts about the future of airports:

Replies (12)

January 4, 2018 at 3:50 PM · Surely the future is the Disney virtual reality flight where you actually go through the entire door to door experience whilst sitting on your sofa having a beer. Your NextGen ultra smart tv will have all the functions to use your virtual MyMagicTriplePlus magic band for a day at the park including the Disney Virtual Fast Food Mega All Day Deal Bargain Bucket.
January 4, 2018 at 8:38 PM · Great article. I remember a meeting I had with the staff at the Orlando airport back in 2000. They were talking about their projections of the growth in the number of passengers 20 years in the future. I asked what they thought railroad companies projected in 1950 what their traffic would be in 1970. I was met with blank stares.
January 4, 2018 at 9:00 PM · Considering how much of the Florida economy is leisure tourism IMO Orlando should continue to do everything they possibly can to attract as many cheap flights as possible from all over the world. If there were more budget airlines flying direct to Orlando from Europe and Asia that would majorly increase attendance at the Orlando parks and hotels.
There are so many attractions in Orlando there is no need to make the airport all fancy like Singapore or Kuala Lampur. People in Orlando want to spend as little time as possible at the airport so they have more time at the attractions. Of course it should look nice since it is a vacation destination, but other than landscaping and aesthetics all the money should go to maximize efficiency.

Orlando does have a big problem with traffic during holiday times and the public transport is severely lacking. Other than uber there is pretty much no way to get between the attractions (WDW and UO of course has its own buses running directly to the property) and Disney has long lobbied against transport between the attractions to keep people from leaving their property. I think it would be very hard for rail to compete with uber price wise, and Disney probably wouldn't let rail go on their property anyway.

There is a BRT lane on part of I-Drive and I think there is opportunity for the bus system to be greatly enhanced and more BRT lanes added throughout Orlando. It would be great if they added a BRT on I4 (I know this is not part of the I4 plan) but having a cheap, reliable, fast, and convenient bus system would go a long way in making Orlando a better holistic experience for tourists.

Most major tourist cities you buy a transport card at the airport and take public transport to basically any attraction or hotel. The rental car culture thing we have down here sucks. Major traffic issues, backs up all of the attractions toll plaza's and parking lots (that's a big deal during holiday times where the parks toll plaza's have up to 45 minute waits and you can't get around WDW and UO because of it), and turns I4 & I-drive into parking lots.

January 5, 2018 at 5:13 AM · If you already have a driverless car, why not just drive to Orlando or Anaheim. Leave right before bedtime, and wake up at your destination. No need for airports. Most times it is cheaper to drive, you don't have to be restrictive on you luggage, and you will have a car at your destination. Air travel is a pain, and every year its getting worse.
January 5, 2018 at 7:12 AM · Let's make this easy, just build the Theme Park in the Airport.....

Jim most folks live too far to leave the night before...We are 24 hours non stop driving to get to Florida but it is only a 3 hour flight...

January 5, 2018 at 8:34 AM · We switched from OIA to Sanford and it's a breath of fresh air being in a small airport. The waits we experienced where quite short only downside is we almost never saw the food court open. Car rental is also a breeze. That's how we like our airport.
January 5, 2018 at 9:13 AM · 4 hours it took to get through MCO on 2/12/17 - quite frankly that is a disgrace. A futher 2 hours to get our car rental.

A thoroughly miserable experience.

US airports, compared to the middle east, Asia and a few European countries lags way behind. It's like going back 20 years.

January 5, 2018 at 10:26 AM · I cannot wait for LAX to finish construction. Soon in 4 years time you can drop off passengers 2 miles away at Aviation Blvd where they can take the people mover to the terminal. Only endure TSA once. You can walk to another terminal without exiting the secure zone. The Green Line station will soon open at Aviation in another year so passengers can ditch the car further away from the airport.

4 years time is 6 years away from the LA Olympics in 2028.

January 5, 2018 at 1:43 PM · Driverless cars will not be common anytime soon. Maybe in 50 years from now...
January 6, 2018 at 10:30 PM · I work near Google HQ and over the years there has been an increasing number of their self driving cars on the road, it will be less than 50 years.
January 7, 2018 at 11:56 AM · An "increasing number", huh? You mean from .0001% to .00012%?

Sure if you work near Google, there'll be SOME there...

I don't know anyone, never heard of anyone, never seen anyone, never read about anyone, and, as far as I can tell, there is no one in the entire city of millions, where I live, who is tooling around in a driverless freakin' car.

I see cars everywhere, I dodge them while I walk and run outside (all year long) and everyone is DRIVING their cars.

AT LEAST 50 years!

January 8, 2018 at 6:56 AM · Driverless cars are also all over the place in Tempe, Arizona. My Mazda on cruise control slows down to match traffic and has sensors that tell me when I’m getting too close to the lands besides me. It’ll be way less than 50 years. I’d be surprised if it took 20 years.

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