Throughout 2020, we’ve seen the great efforts airlines have made to quickly adapt the passenger experience from check-in all the way through to onboard. However, airports across the world have also had to play a part in enhancing social distancing and help space out the flow of passengers throughout terminals and gate areas.
Luckily, both airports and airlines alike have benefited from the heavily reduced passenger numbers because of the decreased demand due to Coronavirus. As we start to enter a vaccinated world, and airlines look to increase their schedules, passenger numbers may indeed swell as demand returns, but what will that mean for passenger comfort and security?
No matter how safe travel may become in the months and years ahead, consumer habits have already been ingrained in to us through the past 12 months, such as personal hygiene habits, distanced greetings and self-awareness of what we consider our own personal spaces.
That means that airports will still have to give the perception of space, which will be near-impossible to achieve should we return to close to 2019 passenger numbers. Only in the past few days, UK news covered the crowds at immigration, highlighting how it could create a super-spreader style event, this perception can have a negative effect on main hub airports, meaning passengers may prefer smaller, local less crowded airports.
However, these main hub airports have one thing as an advantage, and that’s space. Generally larger hub airports have sprawling terminals, which means there is more opportunity to add passenger space. But how?
Fundamentally, as airports look to space out crowds within the terminal, there is one place they can turn to – airport roofs. While those in less temperate regions of the world may shudder at the thought, or those in the Middle East might find the idea a little too hot to handle, the ability to expand terminals vertically is a real opportunity for many hubs. That said, those with good weather are already monopolising on the outdoor trends, such as Singapore Changi, or Punta Cana’s recent lounge opening with a pool and an apron view – does it get much better?
In fact, many airports have already looked to the skies in order to bring more space to the terminal. Airlines like Delta and Virgin Atlantic, already have lounges with rooftop terraces, even Swiss has a roof terrace for its most premium passengers. JetBlue has rooftop terraces in JFK’s terminal 5, LAX’s latest star alliance lounge has a rooftop terrace and both Amsterdam’s Schiphol and Barcelona-El Prat have huge outdoor areas as well. While lounges usually take over these spaces, airports also currently utilise roofs for observation decks, but there’s little in the way of any real ‘waiting areas’ for passengers to fully utilise the space while waiting for flights.
While there might be a desire to close these areas in to make them more useable year round, actually as science has shown, the spread of viruses outdoors is significantly reduced, therefore those who are more concerned about transmission would relish an outdoor space to wait for their flights.
Added advantages to rooftop spaces, is that it’s fairly straightforward to convert airport terminal roofs without impacting heavily on the day-to-day operation of the terminal, and have a marginal effect to the height to the overall building.
However, many new terminals and airports feature large vaulted terminal spaces, opting for higher terminal ceilings to give the illusion of space which make increasing outdoor space much harder. The only benefit to these higher ceilings is that the airflow in such spaces is much more dispersed.
Some new airports, like the new development for Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea airport, already feature a semi-open air terminal, similar to Honolulu’s International airport, could it be that we’ll start to see more terminals embrace the outdoors a little more over the years ahead? Quite possibly, but in the short term, we expect to see a few more roof terraces – both as part of an airline lounge and as part of an airport’s expansion – pop up in a bid to provide more space and psychological safety to the returning passengers of 2021.