Right-Sizing the Airport Terminal.

New airport terminals are likely to look somewhat different in the future, according to new research conducted by James Berry, global director of transport at Woods Bagot

‘Airport design in the future will respond better to the commercial pressure of making every space pay for itself,’ says Berry, ‘and in particular will respond empathetically to underutilisation.’

‘The trick,’ he says, ‘is to rescale and redesign the check-in and arrival halls to better reflect how they are being operated and how they are driving revenues.’

This means a redistribution of spatial priority that recognises the change in operation and value of the check-in and arrival halls.


Trend: Commercial pressures, fiscal responsibilities

Airports are subject to constant commercial pressures and fiscal stresses.

Airlines impose strict commercial pressure on airports by demanding competitive landing fees and terminal charges. On top of this, public airports are subjected to the efficiency requirements that form part of their civic responsibilities.

So whether they are privatised or whether they are part of a civic infrastructure, airports must drive space utilisation with an aim to mitigate the effects of commercial pressures.

Image: Nadi International Airport (IATA: NAN), Nadi, Fiji © Woods Bagot


But while technological advancements and innovations have helped greatly to dive efficiencies, the volume of space allocated to airport processes has largely remained the same. The time and cost of check-in, security screening, and baggage collection has been dramatically reduced over the past decade, and yet the space allocated to these processes often do not reflect these gains that have been made in efficiency. 

‘Check-in halls in particular are now often over-scaled and oversized – a legacy inherited from a time when staffed counters and customer service desks were the only mechanism available to passengers checking-in at the airport,’ says Berry. 

Prior to the stringent security measures catalysed by the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, airport check-in halls were also used extensively for retail and food offers. Shops and cafés sat alongside check-in counters and baggage services. 

‘Since then,’ says Berry ‘the passenger experience has been transformed – travellers now prioritise getting through the stressful process of security screening over shopping and eating.’ As such, the departure hall has been replaced by post-security areas as the prime location for retailers, concessionaires and food offers.

Image: Nadi International Airport (IATA: NAN), Nadi, Fiji © Woods Bagot


‘Arrival halls have become similarly outdated in their allocation of space, in that space may not necessarily be located where it is most needed,’ adds Berry.

This discrepancy between size and utilisation most often results in underutilisation or overcrowding – both of which represent a significant overhead cost for airport occupiers due to associated inefficiencies.


Innovation: Re-deck the halls

Fortunately, the cost burdens associated with space misallocation and underutilisation can be stayed.

‘What we’ve observed is an increasing redundancy in large check-in halls since the introduction of remote check-in technologies, self-service baggage facilities, and the implementation of post-9/11 security measures’, says Berry.

‘As such, we’ll likely see the compaction of the check-in hall as passengers purchase tickets remotely, as they check-in off-site, as airline carriers share service spaces, and as baggage check-in becomes increasingly self-serviced,’ says Berry. 

‘We will also see the continued reallocation of space to retailers and concessionaires beyond the security point.’ 

Likewise, Berry reckons that the arrival hall is also being reviewed, in an effort to rebalance the operating efficiency of the airport. Passengers are demanding operational intensity from the arrival hall and baggage claim facilities, ‘but these are also being recognised as spaces that better service the meeter-greeter contingent,’ says Berry.

Image: Nadi International Airport (IATA: NAN), Nadi, Fiji © Woods Bagot


The solution, suggests Berry, is to reconfigure the arrival and departure halls to better suit their contemporary utilisation.

‘The physical requirement associated with the arrival and departure processes have changed considerably,’ says Berry, ‘which means that we should also be allocating capital and operational expenditures differently.’ In other words, the areas that represent the greatest potential impact and value to passengers have changed, and airport spaces need to acknowledge this change.

‘Airports that right-size their arrival and departure facilities will likely benefit from an increase in operational efficiency’, says Berry. ‘So too will tenants who will profit from reduced payments, and passengers will enjoy a more proportional distribution of space. 

A final word from Berry: ‘The trick to the check-in and arrival halls is now in balancing the diverse needs of travellers – we need to accommodate the exacting frequent flyers who care less for anything standing in the way of a seamless route to the airside of the airport, and we need to appease passengers that expect the full-service experience of a grand departure and a warm welcome. And all passengers expect an experience where orientation is optimal and queue times are minimal.’

wechat qr code