Concourse Chicken

May 20, 2019

I’ve noticed that passengers are totally screwing up our nation’s airports.


Yes, wouldn’t our airports be much nicer, much more comfortable with less passengers in them? While the answer is yes, that is not very likely to happen as more and more people take to the skies. However, the lack of decorum is palpable as pedestrian etiquette gives way to Pedestrian Pachinko (PP), where everyone is reduced to a silver ball trying to avoid other people and obstacles along their travel path.

Are there guidelines for those walking through our nation’s airports that will help keep traffic flowing without resulting in pedestrian chicken? And what about the nasty little golf carts that continually invade our pedestrian walk space with incessant beeping or someone calling out “excuse the cart, please”?

Perhaps there are no published rules for pedestrian traffic in an airport, which is why I’ve put pen to paper to create guidelines for foot traffic in our airports. Please keep in mind that these guidelines are for U.S. airports only. We call these rules WWII (Walking Without Incident and/or Injury).

It is important to note, when visiting an airport, you should have some idea of which side of the road automobile traffic drives on in that area. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, there is a good chance you should not be flying anywhere. In the U.S., for the most part, we drive our cars in the right lane, which means oncoming traffic is to our left. With some exceptions, we do not drive on either side of the road or down the middle without expecting some fairly negative results.

The same applies in our airports. For all practical purposes, pedestrian traffic in U.S. airports should also move on the right side of any walkway with the flow of traffic. So, let’s get down to the rules.

Keep to the Right!

In the U.S. we keep to the right. Walk like you are supposed to drive (notice the words “supposed to” here). Fast walkers take the left most lanes, mid-speed walkers take the middle and those that have obviously arrived at the airport 7 hours before their flight and are out for a Sunday stroll keep to the far right. Just like driving, do not text and walk.

There is nothing worse than someone who screws up an entire walking highway by walking on the left. Suddenly all the rest of us are PP swerving around some errant object swimming upstream. It’s kind of like the person that is heading to the back of the plane to retrieve their luggage while the rest of us are trying to deplane. Don’t be that person.

Don’t walk in a Group

Walking in a group causes trouble in multiple ways. Two or three people walking side-by-side, taking up all the lanes in one direction – or as we see many times, taking their half out of the middle – while refusing to shrink can result in “concourse chicken” (no this is not an airport delicacy). This “first person that moves loses” mentality creates a full-body game of chicken that only raises the anxiety of airport passengers.

The rule in walking as a group is simple: you must disband.

This includes couples. While it’s all lovey-dovey to hold hands and stroll gaga-eyed at each other through the concourse, you need to break the chain and give your hand a moment to dry out.

Parents know it can be fun to watch the tots dragging their tiny roll-onboards behind them, but children are unreliable to follow, easily distracted, and can stop on a dime, resulting in high pucker-factor events for those following too closely and create PP. Pick those babes up and keep the traffic moving.

Don’t Stop in Traffic

Just like you shouldn’t stop in the middle of a busy, moving highway, you should not suddenly stop when walking through a concourse. If you pass the restroom, bar, pretzel stop, etc., ease to the right and step out of traffic before coming to a stop. You can always turn around and rejoin the counterflow to get to where you want to be.

I’ve almost hurt myself several times while moving in a flow of pedestrians when the person in front of me suddenly throws on the brakes and comes to a screeching halt. While not the same as “concourse chicken,” I have many times considered the ramifications of mowing that person over as opposed to a certain hernia as I hit the e-stop button on my walking stride.

Most amazing of all is the apparent lack of physical awareness the stopped person has as the die-back of their sudden stone-cold stop creates near multi-pedestrian pile-ups in the passenger flow behind them.

Bob ‘n Weavers

You know these folks that landed in Concourse G and have 10 minutes to make their flight in Concourse A. Or the folks that arrived at the airport very late, struggled through security and now are doing Olympic sprints through the terminal.

These are like the high-speed motorcycles bobbing and weaving through traffic on the freeway, dodging in and out between passengers with the narrowest of room as they run for the gate. Often these are the ones that face the greatest propensity of being involved in “concourse chicken” or shooting a gap that suddenly disappears. This group is often the most fun to watch for those of us that like to watch train wrecks. Just like the freeway motor bikes, give these guys some room.

Mannequin Pis

We take this title from the famous Belgium statue. This type of passenger is the one that exits the restroom, straight out, without looking, into the flowing traffic and then stops, turns around and tries to get their bearings or find their travel companions.

Like the “don’t stop in traffic” folks, the Mannequin Pis clan can have a tremendous negative effect on the flow of pedestrian traffic when it runs perpendicular to washroom entrances. These locations are magnets for sudden and abrupt turns, stops, and cross-traffic. Slow down when approaching restrooms and pay attention to and be aware of crossing traffic.

Texting Zombies

Walking and texting is like driving while impaired. The list of sins of those texting and walking is long, from walking into people and objects to swerving and stopping and basically moving at an inconsistent pace, which makes them infuriating to walk behind.

If you must text, find a spot out of the pedestrian traffic while you attend to, what must be, a very important matter. And, for Pete’s sake, do not start texting while you are walking off the aircraft onto the jet bridge. You are holding everyone up. Finish your text in the plane before you step into the aisle or text once you are in the departure lounge, out of the flow of traffic.

We’re sure that there are many other rules that can be applied but these, we’ve found, are the major contributors to pedestrian pachinko and a primary detriment to WWII. Sometimes we’re just all in our own little world out there.

Like driving, know where you’re going, think about what you’re doing, stay in a straight line, and be predictable.

Remember, it’s all fun and games until someone misses their flight.

Roddy Boggus, Vice President, Aviation Architecture, RS&H

Roddy is the Buildings Service Group Leader for the Aviation Practice at RS&H. A 30-year aviation professional, he is an architect with a Bachelors' of Design from Texas Tech University. Roddy was the 2017 Board Chair of the Airports Consultants Council (ACC) and sits on the Board of Directors for the International Partnering Institute (IPI) as well as the International Association of Airport Executives (IAAE).