Safer skies: How airports must adapt post-COVID

May 20, 2020

How airports must adapt post Covid to ensure the (safe) return of the traveling public.  James Berry and Matthew Abbott share their insights on designing people-centric airports post-Coronavirus.

Post-Corona, air travel will adapt to reflect a global refocusing on safety and wellness. As a result, airports of the future will become cleaner, safer and more sustainable – while also being ready to act as the first line of defence against the next global pandemic.  

 

A plausible immediate action for airport design post-Corona is a focus on becoming touch free – eliminating unnecessary contact in order to be as safe as possible from the spread of disease. The installation of biometric contactless technology will become more commonplace and allow passengers to be processed without physical travel documentation such as passports and paper boarding passes – decreasing the chance of contamination and processing and creating a more seamless journey from arrival to take off.  

 

This efficient contactless revolution means that we might also see a reduction in airside dwell time post-Corona – with travelers feeling confident that they can reliably predict how quickly they can board their flight. Virtual queuing technology that notifies passengers when their seat is boarding and remote ‘off-airport’ baggage processing services – which collect luggage from a person’s home and deliver it straight to their accommodation – will also decrease the need to arrive early.  

 

It’s likely that, at least in the immediate short term, many of us will feel safer avoiding being in crowded indoor spaces for prolonged periods of time due to lessons learnt from the current infection risks. As a result, airports hoping to host travellers for longer may encourage dwell time in flexible indoor and outside spaces – limiting time spent in crowded conditions that can promote the spread of airborne viruses more quickly. 

 

These spaces have the potential to be exceptional. Traditionally, airport lounges are ‘airside’ and feature an outward view of airfield activity, but partly open-air ‘landside’ airport lounges hold the promise of a genuine connection to the local context and culture – bonding users with the landscape by placing them within it.  

 

These vibrantmixed-use spaces will create meaningful associations with their unique setting – moving airports firmly away from the homogenized ‘white box’ design towards being site-specific spaces that create a unique sense of place. 

Imagine a partly outdoor landside civic realm with space for dining, retail and entertainment where people – travelling or not  could mingle and relax. Lush, convenient and safe, these destinations would use native flora and sensitive references to the natural landscape to foster connection between travelers and the unique natural features of the setting.  

 

Airport designs that work to cultivate a connection between airport users and nature would also have health benefits. Tenants of biophilic design such as greenery, high air quality, and natural materials are likely to be integrated into airport design and budgets due to their proven ability to reduce stress and enhance human health and wellbeing – creating green, people-centric spaces.  

 

It is predicted that, post-Corona, non-essential travel will be reconsidered by consumers due to its impact on global warming. Thanks to lessons learnt from social distancing measures across the globe, the need to meet in person for business have been revealed as less critical than our need to care for the planet – with many embracing the efficient and carbon neutral benefits of video conferencing. The projected rise in people practicing low-impact living may see air travel mindfully returning to being treated as an activity done out of necessity or for a special occasion.  

 

Air travel may decline, but it will by no means die out. And, when people do travel, airports may actually have a very important role to play in avoiding the next pandemic. The anticipated widespread installation of contactless biometric screening will allow borders to respond dynamically and with agility to control the risk of outbreak – potentially stopping the spread entirely. In short, airports could become the first line of defence 

 

Biometric technology can already detect the physical and emotional state of passengers by monitoring heartrate, temperature and facial cuesTherefore, it’s feasible to imagine its reach expanding to the detection of symptomatic characteristics such as fever in a post-Corona world  identifying those that are positive or exposed in order to best support them.  

 

The use  of airport carparks and hotels could be extended – with carparks being designed (or redesigned) with the capability to become field hospitals and hotels easily being upgraded to include simple isolation measures for those affected. The need to design for the next pandemic may be intimating, but it’s certainly time – California has already pinpointed the ability to monitor and test for the next pandemic in its guide to lifting the state’s Coronavirus restrictions .  

 

The repercussions Coronavirus has had on how we live, work and think have yet to be measured in full. However, a silver lining has already emerged – the crisis has brought us together. By bringing into sharp focus how closely we’re connected, the pandemic has made it clear that our future survival will depend on looking after everyone – including those societies with poor health systems. For air travel, this means a dramatic reassessment to ensure our airports are safe and sustainable – at last, the wellness of travelers is not just for a few but an imperative for all.  

 

We can’t know exactly how people will adapt to life back in the real world, regardless we must augment our airports to ensure we are prepared for the next wave, or worse the inevitable next pandemic. We must A. give the traveling public the confidence to return to airports and B. regardless of what comes next (and there will be a next time) we are prepared to stem the spread. Our global airports team explored some of the top priorities/actions airports must adopt to ensure the safe return of the traveling public and the future viability of our airports: 

Social Distancing – designing for 6 feet & under.

Social distancing requires the luxury of space, but this isn’t always possibleAdditionally, it is unlikely that existing airports will be able to mobilize a complete redesign to accommodate the new rules of social distance. As a result of these factors, designers must invent new ways to augment existing space to protect passengers from threats like Covid in the future. These improvements are already a top priority for the design of public spaces such as entertainment complexes and auditoriums, but will also need to be accelerated to airports in order to ensure the return of passenger trust and confidence.  

Contactless – the acceleration of existing tech strategies – automating EVERYTHING!

A plausible immediate action for airport design post-Corona is a focus on becoming touch free – eliminating unnecessary contact in order to be as safe as possible from the spread of disease. The installation of biometric contactless technology will become more commonplace and allow passengers to be processed without physical travel documentation such as passports and paper boarding passes – decreasing the chance of contamination and processing and creating a more seamless journey from arrival to take off.  

 

This efficient contactless revolution means that we might also see a reduction in airside dwell time post-Corona – with travelers feeling confident that they can reliably predict how quickly they can board their flight. Virtual queuing technology that notifies passengers when their seat is boarding and remote ‘off-airport’ baggage processing services – which collect luggage from a person’s home and deliver it straight to their accommodation – will also decrease the need to arrive early. 

Safety first.

For the aviation industry this is a moment of great change. Testing, tracking and quarantine is the best chance we have at flattening the curve, and keeping it flat. In Dubai, according to a statement released by Emirates, the first rapid COVID-19 blood tests took place at Dubai International Airport, with passengers on a flight to Tunisia all reportedly tested before departure. This could become the new normal of travel. Testing stations, holding rooms for quarantine and treatment will now be an airport must have. With Biometric technology already detecting the emotional state of passengers by monitoring heartrate, temperature and facial cues, it’s feasible to imagine its reach expanding to the detection of symptomatic characteristics such as fever in a post-Corona world. Similarly, the capabilities of airport carparks and hotels could be extended – with carparks being designed with the capability to become field hospitals and hotels easily being upgraded to include simple isolation measures for those affected. The need to design for the next pandemic may be intimidating, but it’s certainly time. 

 

The only thing you want to Catch at the gate is a flight.

Gate design and boarding methods will to be reimagined, and quickly. The future of these often densely populated spaces will change to reduce overcrowding, waiting and queuing with auto boarding and personal “just in time” boarding notification becoming the norm.  

 

James Berry is global transport sector leader for Woods Bagot

Matthew Abbott is regional aviation sector leader (Australia) for Woods Bagot