Airports of the future may be so much more
No matter how well-regarded a particular airport happens to be, the slog from curb to cabin is pretty much the same wherever you go. A decades-old paradigm of queues, security screens, snack vendors and gate-waiting prevails - the only difference is the level of stress. Transiting a modern hub such as Munich or Seoul is more easily endured than threading your way through the perpetual construction zones that pass for airports around New York.
The sky portal of the 2040s, however, is likely to be free of such delights. Many of us will be driven to the terminal by autonomous cars; our eyes, faces, and fingers will be scanned; and our bags will have a permanent ID that allows them to be whisked from our homes before we even set out. Some of these airports will no longer be relegated to the outskirts of town - they will merge with city centers, becoming new destination “cities” within a city for people without travel plans. Shall we get dinner, watch a movie, see a concert, shop? People will choose to go to the airport. Your employer may even relocate there.
These are the types of infrastructure investments and technologies that will, in theory, allow airports to largely eradicate the dreaded waiting. Travelers will migrate around the terminal faster and see fewer walls and physical barriers thanks to the abundance of sophisticated sensors, predicts Dallas-based architecture and design firm Corgan.
The company recently assembled its concepts of how airports will evolve, based on extensive research of passenger experiences at various airports and the greater role technology may play.
One day, the airport will know “everything about everyone moving in the airport,” said Seth Young, director of the Center for Aviation Studies at Ohio State University. The goal will be to deploy “a security infrastructure that’s constantly screening people from the door to the gate, and not having this toll-booth mentality,” he said. “We know that 99.9 percent of the passengers are clean, so why are we wasting time screening all of those?”
Much of this technology is likely to be seen outside the U.S. first, given the advanced age of most American airports and the more robust infrastructure funding available in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In the 2017 Skytrax awards, only 14 airports in the U.S. even made the top 100.
One can look to Singapore for a glimpse of how airports will change over the next 20 years. Changi Airport, a pioneer of the industry, recently opened a “living lab” to pursue further innovation. In March, it was named the world’s best airport for the fifth consecutive year by Skytrax.
“It’s not a space to be in, it’s a space for you to move through.”
One reason airports tend to look and function remarkably alike is that they’re designed to accommodate air travel infrastructure - security, passenger ticketing, baggage, ground transport - with the primary concerns being safety and minimal overhead for their tenant airlines.
As part of the research, Corgan designers measured anxiety levels for different passenger types. The greatest offender among all groups was the security checkpoint, that confined space of shoe-doffing, laptop-extraction, and frisky government agents barking orders.