Terminal Tech for the Future

Today’s airport terminals are more than just a labyrinth of security lines and endless hallways. The modern airport terminal blends cutting-edge inventions with passenger needs to serve passengers in ways never before imagined. The following are 7 ways airports can ready terminals to serve the passenger of the future.


#1 Arrival Amenities

One aspect of air travel that is in a state of flux is the arrival experience. Large ticketing halls, once the hallmark of every airport terminal, are becoming less and less essential. In the not-too-distant future airline agents in the check-in area will be a thing of the past. Passengers will check themselves in, tag their own bags, and retrieve their boarding passes through the Internet. For infrequent travelers, a few roaming “customer service agents” will teach passengers how to perform these tasks.

In this scenario, it’s clear that technology will transform the departure experience. Interactive terminal signage and video walls embedded in the architecture of the terminal building will direct and aid passengers on how to check in and where to find security checkpoints. All check-in processing may be performed remotely. This will include incorporating the use of home bag tag printing in which passengers virtually check their bags, print their own bag tags, and insert the home-printed tags into plastic sleeves attached to their luggage.

Providing customer service to passengers will become an important part of terminal design. The airport terminal of the future will need dispersed check-in locations for both “carry-on only” passengers and full-checked baggage passengers. Check-in locations will be needed throughout the facility, in parking garages, at the terminal curb, in transit centers next to the terminal, and at kiosks located on other levels of the terminal.


#2 Simplify Security Screening

Someday soon passengers will breeze through security and be scanned from all sides, without having to remove jackets, belts, jewelry and shoes.

Airport terminal design architects working with the TSA have made great strides in creating passenger screening checkpoints that are efficient, comfortable and easy to manage for passengers. This includes installing flooring that is comfortable for passengers without shoes, incorporating soothing and comfortable lighting, creating private search rooms, and fashioning a pleasant area with comfortable seating for passengers to re-compose themselves. Amenities such as water bottle refill stations or concessions that are adjacent to the recomposing area are important since passengers may have been compelled to dispose of items in the screening process. In the recomposing area, access to flight information and intuitive way-finding within a pleasing architectural environment guides passengers to concessions and gates without an overabundance of signage.


#3 An Eye on the Passenger Experience

Terminal buildings and their operations are more business focused, providing services and amenities that passengers want with a high level of customer service. Technology will continue to drive innovation in the travel experience. At the heart of this technological revolution is the more “informed” passenger. Today’s digitally connected passengers demand that information and services be delivered to their preferred personal electronic devices (PEDs) at all points of their journey and specifically inside the airport terminal. As a result, silos of stand-alone automation are being replaced with integrated systems that allow the exchange of information between the airline, airport ground handlers, and the customer.

Emerging mobile computing platforms provide new ways to communicate and control passenger flow. This includes accurate and instantaneous information on flight arrival and departures sent directly to passengers’ mobile devices. Airlines can manage passengers’ expectations by keeping them constantly informed on flight status, delays, gate changes and overbooking.


#4 “Synergized” Concessions

A synergistic concession marketplace within terminal buildings is the future in maximizing the revenue from passengers by incorporating food and beverage venues, retail stores, customer service providers, entertainment, integrated art and interactive advertising in a space that interacts with all components. The new “Sunset Cove” synergy market at San Diego International Airport’s Terminal Two provides a great view of the airfield while co-locating integrated art, entertainment and shopping opportunities to raise the revenue synergistically for the airport in one centralized space with easy access to multiple gates.

Geo-fencing capabilities will allow airports and retail/concessions to push targeted messages to passengers. In the future, as flight information and announcements from gate agents are broadcast via each passenger’s mobile devices, passengers will be able to stay at the marketplace until the very last moment of their assigned boarding time.


#5 Don’t Forget Departure

Airlines are researching and experimenting with self-boarding at departure lounges. In the future, passengers will self-board through control gates at the door to the boarding bridge. A few roaming customer service agents or security personnel will teach passengers how to “self-board” by swiping their mobile device or boarding pass. Airline agents will primarily be engaged in specialty passenger issues, accommodating upgrades for passengers and conducting airline pre-flight tasks rather than checking in passengers at the loading bridge door.


#6 High-performance Facilities

Airports will continue to focus on operating and constructing new terminals, which position the airport as a leader in sustainable stewardship. However, the focus is shifting from achieving Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to incorporating true return-on-investment (ROI) technologies into an airport’s sustainable and energy strategies. This will include on-site alternative energy generation, energy conservation strategies and more energy-efficient baggage handling systems. San Diego International Airport analyzed a myriad of energy-saving and energy-generating strategies and calculated ROI in order to select the best strategies with the highest payback.


#7 Landside Enhancements

Terminals in the future will also need to be seamlessly connected to ground transportation infrastructure. This can connect passengers to the entire airport complex or “Aerotropolis” as well as the city and region beyond. Landside roadway curbs, transit stations and multi-modal transit centers must be integrated with the airport terminal to make the total travel experience simple and convenient for passengers. This includes providing passenger amenities within these facilities.


Tom Rossbach, National Director of Aviation Architecture, HNTB Corporation

Rossbach provides strategic direction for projects within the national aviation market and has nearly 30 years of terminal planning and design experience. Rossbach can be reached at trossbach@hntb.com.