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?
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