Passenger Experience

Optimising the Terminal Footprint


The key driver for change in the aviation industry is the projected global passenger growth over the next several decades. Depending on the source of estimates, it is believed that within the next 2-5 years, over half of the world’s population will be travelling by air.

In order to meet the demands of additional passenger volumes, airports will need to expand their facilities. These expanded facilities must not only provide a positive passenger experience, but also process more passengers per square meter of terminal space than existing designs based on the Level of Service metrics.

Although complicated, at an abstract level the Level of Service metrics define the relationship between desired terminal size and passenger traffic as follows:


From this equation, it is evident that in order to process more passengers through an existing terminal footprint, we need to reduce any of the three variables: SPACE, TIME and PROCESS.

At present, the design of passenger terminal buildings is strongly influenced by several key industry trends, namely:

  1. Automation and
  2. Retail Expansion

These two trends are being pursued in parallel, and in isolation of each other. The remainder of this post looks at the effects that each of these trends is likely to have on the terminal foortprint.


One of the most visible trends in aviation revolves around the move towards automation, self-service and the increased use of technology  as a core part of the passenger’s in-terminal experience.

In general, the goals of the various automation and self-service initiatives are to reduce the amount of time, and also space, which is required to process each passenger through the terminal. The time reduction comes from the anticipation that a self-service kiosk, such as automated check-in, will service passengers faster than the equivalent manual process at a staffed counter. The space reduction is expected to stem from both the smaller footprint of the automated kiosk (for example, self-service kiosk takes less space than a staffed counter), and also from the faster passenger throughput (the faster passengers are processed, the less space they require in-terminal).

Thus, the effect of automation on terminal size can be represented as decreasing the value of the two variables SPACE and TIME. Quite interestingly, there has been very little attempt to leverage automation to reduce the third variable, namely PROCESS. Although organisations such as SITA and IATA have made huge inroads into the development of standards in the aviation industry, as yet, these standards are not being used to simplify or unify the various passenger processing steps.

Retail Expansion

A second major trend in the industry is the expansion of in-terminal retail facilities. In general, the expansion of retail is being pursued as a means to increase non-aviation revenue, introduce differentiation between airports and also in response to the perception that passengers want more ambient “shopping and dining experiences” at the airport.

Related to the expansion of in-terminal retail facilities is the associated trend of creating “airport cities” around passenger. The creation of airport cities is the key to solving big urban issues associated with population growth and increased urbanization. From the airport’s perspective, the creation of an “airport city” around the airport increases non-aviation revenue.

As an example, thanks to a well-connected public transport network, Frankfurt Airport attracts many non-travellers to various functions such as concerts and televised sporting events, hosted at the “airport city” centre. Similarly, it is common place for local residents to do their weekend shopping at the shopping mall at Zurich International Airport, largely due to the convenience of access by public transport and the extended shopping hours.

Looking at retail expansion from the perspective of the variables in our equation, it is evident that the effect of this trend will increase the absolute size of the terminal, as of course, expansion of retail increases the value of the variable SPACE. Indirectly, if effective in its desired effect, this trend will also increase the value of the variable TIME (as ideally, people will linger longer at the airport, and also spend more). If we represent the additional retail options for non-travellers as a new “process” in the extended airport environment, then the creation of “airport cities” also has the effect of increasing the PROCESS variable.

From the above evidence, it is clear that the effect of retail expansion increases, rather than decreases, the terminal footprint required to process each additional passenger. This effect is apparent in the context of the various “super terminals” coming on-line in the last few years, for example Dubai International. As an intersting side note, many of the “super terminals” are being constructed to secure a strategic position by the local government and “provide unconstrained growth” to local airlines (Mazhar) with no direct focus or expectations of positive returns on investment.

Net Effect on Terminal Footprint

Taking the two industry trends discussed above, we can conceptually represent their effects on the three variables from our equation as shown in the table below.


We have argued that the effects of automation are to reduce the amount of space and time required to process each passenger. Thus far, there has been no industry wide move to reduce the number of processes associated with each passenger. Similarly, we showed that the effect of retail expansion was to increase the space and time per passenger. The creation of airport cities was reflected as an additional “process” for non-travellers.

It appears plausible that the net effect of the current industry trends is to increase, rather than decrease, the terminal footprint required to process each passenger. This, of course, would result in the construction of larger terminal buildings in response to a growing passenger load – a situation which the industry has claimed is not sustainable.


de Neufville, R and A Odoni. 2003. Airport systems: Planning, design and management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Harrison, A. “A Passenger Oriented Approach to Terminal Design” PhD in process, School of Design, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Holm, D. 2013. “Why airports will change our cities – For the better.” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 9-11 April 2013.

IATA. 2004. Airport development reference manual, edited by International Air Transport Association. 9th ed ed. Montreal

Livingstone, A. 2013. “Passenger experience in an airport retail environment.” PhD, School of Design, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Mazhar, B. 2013. “Maintaining service excellence through sustained growth.” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 9-11 April 2013.



One thought on “Optimising the Terminal Footprint

  1. Pingback: Leveraging Video Walls to Shape Future Airport Retail | inplaneterms

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