January 20, 2018

A terminal modernization program can be a complicated and expensive task that airport operators may be hesitant to undertake unless necessitated by demands for increased capacity. This is the first post in our series examining why airport operators should bother to upgrade their facilities, even if capacity isn’t forcing the issue.

Entering some airports in the United States can feel like a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when many of them received their last facelift. As an aviation architect, it’s hard to miss the design details that are clearly reminiscent of the days before government regulated baggage and passenger screening, and certainly well before the notion of self-service and mobile check-in. But knowing the complexities that come with construction at an active airport, in spaces that are operational 18- 22 hours a day, it’s no wonder many airport operators tend to resist major renovations until capacity dictate them. But at what cost?

Over time and without enough TLC, these aging facilities are becoming operationally and structurally inefficient. Security requirements and passenger processing are ever-changing, while old buildings are simply less efficient. From space planning considerations based on functional changes like self bag-tagging, to upgrading mechanical and lighting systems for energy efficiency and materials specifications that are easier to clean and maintain, the processes and building must change with the times. Opportunities abound to increase efficiency, maximize opportunities for non-aeronautical revenue such as advertising, improve performance and reduce operating costs.


Norfolk International Airport’s terminal modernization provided operational and functional improvements as well as brighter, more open space for passengers to enjoy.


With the rapid advancements in technology and on-demand everything, passenger expectations are also high. They want the ability to streamline the process or they require a higher-touch experience. This translates to expectations for more choice in concessions, high-tech facilities with ubiquitous wi-fi and places where they can plug in and connect. Address these areas and in turn, airports are seeing increased revenue from non-aeronautical sources. Research shows that unhappy passengers tend to spend up to 45% less at airports and it impacts that always coveted passenger satisfaction ranking.

The airport typically bookends a person’s experience in a place, so why wouldn’t airports work to deliver an exceptional experience? The Airports Council International – North America (ACI) predicts that in the next three to five years airports will offer a wide range of new and expanded amenities. It’s critical to an airport’s success to meet the passenger’s changing needs and new expectations, not just achieve parity with other airports. Let’s choose to look at this as an opportunity for improvement.


Prominent airport information desks and signage eases wayfinding and improves the passenger experience at Tampa International Airport.


In this series, “Why Bother?”, we’ll delve further into terminal upgrades, offering insight and case study examples for how airports can address them from the financial, operational and passenger experience perspectives. Ultimately, we’ll help you consider whether upgrading is worth the time, the expense and the bother.