As part of its mission to develop near-term, practical solutions to problems faced by airport operators, Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) officials solicited the development of a guidebook to assist airports in creating departure and arrival processes, passenger services, and wayfinding techniques for international travelers in U.S. airports. Gresham Smith worked with Landrum & Brown as a contributing author and led the project’s research into the wayfinding needs and expectations of international travelers.

The research and recommendations outlined in ACRP Research Report 161 highlight wayfinding as a top-rated element of the international customer experience, addressing key satisfaction elements such as how to consistently communicate information for departing, arriving and connecting customers. More than 1,000 international passengers were interviewed about their travel experiences during at eight U.S. gateway airports. The research team also made additional site visits to five top-rated international gateway airports to gain perspective on the wayfinding expectations international passengers have when they arrive in the U.S.

The combined research effort used the data gathered from the top gateway airports on current wayfinding solutions to evaluate and disseminate the exploration into the best wayfinding practices. The guidebook helps airports understand 1) that wayfinding is more than signage, 2) how clear and consistent communication is vital to the international customer, and 3) how information must be shared consistently across all forms – verbal information, visual information and virtual information (e.g. via web-based, mobile-based and interactive technologies).

The culmination of the research is summarized in The Gateway of the Future. This chapter combines the most innovative approaches for using the key elements of customer service, physical environment, and information dissemination to enhance the customer experience.

Additional topics covered by the guidebook include the evaluation of processes, descriptions of essential entities’ roles and responsibilities, and an explanation of airport-based employees’ attitudes, awareness and knowledge that influence the passenger experience. Guidelines for arrival and departure procedures and services are also included, along with potential opportunities to develop new processes, technologies and strategies.

Click here to download or purchase a copy of ACRP Research Report 161: Guidelines for Improving Airport Services for International Customers.


Airport Cooperative Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board


Washington, D.C.

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Jim Harding, SEGD
Jim Harding, SEGD
Director of Experiential Design & Wayfinding