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Tampa International Airport Baggage Claim Expansion and Renovation

Counterintuitive reduction in number of baggage claim devices eases use, smooths passenger flow

...a treat not only to see, but to use.

GS&P’s solution to increased passenger volumes in the baggage claim areas at Tampa International Airport was somewhat counterintuitive. The design team actually specified fewer baggage claim devices to handle projected increases in volume, complemented by the re-design and expansion of baggage claim areas to improve way finding and reduce congestion. Developing the solution required hours of observation as well as the assimilation of data provided by multiple airport entities. The design team was led by Grant Clifford, whose years of experience in aviation design brought a fresh perspective to a common problem experienced by many airports.



What circumstances at Tampa International Airport (TIA) prompted the re-design of its baggage claim areas?

Grant Clifford: There were several areas of concern. Primarily, there was significant overcrowding at individual claim devices. Modern aircraft are larger than when the terminal was originally constructed, and therefore the claim devices were undersized.
There were also bottlenecks caused by the claim devices being too close to the elevator/escalator cores, and by the location of the seating and luggage carts. In addition, the bag claim area in and around the claim devices was underlit. The light fixtures immediately above the claim devices switched on only when the devices were operational.

What were some of the conditions you analyzed prior to designing a solution to the baggage claim problem?

Grant: First of all, we observed passenger behavior, literally for hours, during peak times. We also performed some technical evaluations, including recording the actual presentation length of the baggage devices and taking light readings in areas that were dark. But the big exercise was performing an analysis of the flight schedule. We took every baggage claim device and plotted out a 24-hour period. Every 15 minutes we would plot a flight against a claim device. We wanted to determine how many claim devices were being used concurrently on an average design day during a peak month.

What were you looking for while observing passenger behavior?

Grant: We would run a stopwatch to determine how long it took passengers to get from deplaning the aircraft to the claim device, how long they waited at the claim device before the bags arrived, and how long before the claim device was cleared. In conjunction with the flight schedule analysis, this helped us forecast future use of baggage claim including a projected 20% increase in airport use. We also observed that some areas would be overcrowded while at others you could hear a pin drop.

During this process, did you find other design inefficiencies?

Cathy Grimm: We noticed that the lights for a baggage device would not come on until right before the bags were released. Passengers didn’t want to gather around the device because it was dark. They stayed in other areas that were well-illuminated.
Grant: …which blocked flow throughout the whole bag claim area. We also found that some of the devices were located too close to key circulation areas, and passengers congregating and waiting for bags to arrive blocked access to areas beyond. Our goal was to open up those bottlenecks.

Ultimately, GS&P’s new design specified a reduction in the number of baggage claim areas, as well as a repositioning of them?

Grant: Yes. When we plotted all the flights for a design day at 15-minute intervals, we were able to determine how many claim devices were simultaneously in use. It was clear that they had plenty of claim devices, but that they were too small.

What they really needed to do was make the claim devices bigger to allow room for passengers to comfortably gather around them, and if that meant fewer claim devices, this was not an issue because we had proven through schedule analysis they did not need as many. In airport planning, you don’t just design for today, so we also plotted a 20% increase in traffic over the next 15 years.

Are there other elements of the project that improved functionality?

Grant: We completed upgrades to a number of systems behind the scenes. Improvements included electrical upgrades to support increased demand resulting from the additional square footage and additional motors to support the increased length of the claim devices. New mechanical rooms were also built on the quad decks, followed by the decommissioning of the existing mechanical rooms. The new mechanical rooms alleviated access and maintenance issues.

Improvements were made to the paging system, access control and CCTV systems, and a new distribution system was installed to facilitate future needs for communications and electrical distribution.

We also added new airline baggage service offices (BSOs) adjacent to the central claim devices. These locations were previously under utilized by the airlines due to their remoteness from the supporting BSOs. This recommendation came from taking the time to observe, understand and then seek to improve.

As the project neared completion, how did you bring new or renovated areas online in an operating airport?

Grant: We could only do pieces of work at a time, including nine different phases of work and numerous sub phases. We would basically barricade certain areas, perform the work, finish the work in that area, bring the new claim device on line and then move to another one.

There was a phasing plan and we had to overlay peak travel schedules so that any time the airport got busy we minimized our impact on the traveling public.

Cathy: When workers were placing terrazzo flooring, we used lower barricades for those areas so that passengers could actually see the terrazzo going down. There were also information boards that updated passengers on the progress of the terrazzo. They could see what the final result was going to look like and what phase of the installation they were looking at.

Grant: The lower barricades also helped maintain sight lines throughout the baggage claim so that passengers could see their end destination.

Were changes noticeable as the new areas began to open?

Grant: As soon as the first phase came online you could see the improvements occurring. When the barricades were removed the lighting immediately improved. We’d take two claim devices out to put in one large one, and you would immediately see passengers being drawn in, the area was generally more inviting, and there was more room around the claim device for them to congregate.

What were some of the other interior design aspects of the facility?

Cathy: We proposed designs for the new flooring, including the patterns for the terrazzo and the pattern for the carpet. There were multiple holes in the back wall where the old claim devices were removed that we had to cover up and redesign. There was an art element integrated into the airport, including some large tapestries. We brought in a tapestry consultant from New York to evaluate the condition of those and to teach the airport how to clean them, have them repaired and put them back up.

Grant: The airport determined that for the high traffic areas, the use of terrazzo was worth the investment on a life cycle and maintenance basis. Terrazzo is probably three or four times more expensive than carpet, so from a budget point of view we had to limit where we could use it to maintain the project budget.

Cathy: We chose terrazzo primarily because of its durability, ease of maintenance and its expansive design capabilities.

Are there aesthetic elements in the baggage claim areas that reflect the Florida or Tampa communities?

Cathy: The design and the colors of the terrazzo are not only intended to help passengers with way finding, there are also metal inlays that depict aquatic life or native birds. This corresponds with existing artwork at the airport. We looked at depicting iconic symbols from across the Tampa Bay area, but the airport decided they’d rather do something that tied in with the art program instead of something that’s iconic to Tampa.

Grant: They were also conscious of doing something that wouldn’t become dated over time. Also, if we included too many colors into it or too many patterns we would have driven up the cost. At the same time we wanted something that gave a warm feel to the baggage area, so we chose warmer finishes.

Now that the project is complete, have you gone back to see what it’s like?

Cathy: Yes. At first glance, it may appear that this project is simply a well-executed interior renovation, with an updated baggage handling component. The essence, and the true success of the project is a result of complex phasing that minimized operational interruptions as much as possible.

There has been an improvement in the passenger flow at the baggage claim entry/circulation points. The bottleneck that used to exist at the elevators and escalators has been eliminated. There was also an increase in square footage for queuing in front of the claim devices. Passengers can now easily maneuver around the claim devices and Smart Carte locations even during the busiest times.

Do you see an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned here to another client’s project?

Grant: I periodically see other airports’ master plans where they’re cramming in more claim devices and I wonder whether they’re even considering another approach, especially one where you would reduce the number of claim devices to be more efficient and reduce the crowding. I’m proud of us for looking at the situation differently. There’s a certain amount of analysis, brainpower and legwork that goes into it, but you really have to take a step back and take time to look at it with a fresh perspective. I believe that’s where GS&P adds value and don’t think a lot of consultants really do that. We were confident that our design would result in significant improvements because, not only had we taken the time to carefully study the airport’s operation, we had also performed the analysis and provided the data to support our recommendations.

Cathy: I think that the research that Grant did was way above anything I would have personally thought needed to happen. I think we have an advantage in the sense that other people probably wouldn’t have done the things he did.

What part of the project makes you the most proud?

Cathy: As an interior designer, I get a great sense of satisfaction when I see someone interact with a space that we created. I get the most satisfaction watching kids playing on the terrazzo, just watching them enjoy the patterns and shapes of the fish and birds. I think the baggage claim design makes people smile, which is what you want whether you’re arriving for vacation or just being welcomed home.

Grant: JD Power & Associates performs surveys of passengers, and TIA has always ranked high. I’m probably most proud of the fact that in 2008 and 2009, while the project was still under construction, the airport maintained its high ranking. In fact, baggage claim was cited as one of the areas that provided a high level of service to passengers. Most importantly, it is very clear that the passenger experience has been improved and that was the airport’s goal at the outset of the project.


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Project Info

  • Client: Hillsborough County Aviation Authority
  • Location: Tampa, FL, USA
  • Market: Aviation
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design, Construction Engineering and Inspection, Functional Space Programming
  • Team:
    • Robert Furr, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP Project professional
    • John I. Johnson, AIA, LEED AP Project Architect
    • Abhijit Joshi, AIA, NCARB Project Coordinator
    • Benjamin Raposa Project Coordinator
    • Catherine Grimm, IIDA, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • Lauren Rasys Interior Designer
    • James R. Harding, SEGD Environmental Graphics
    • Betty Crawford Environmental Graphics
    • Mike Vizcarrondo Construction Administration
    • Gina Voccola Construction Administration
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