What Do You Do While At An Airport?

A great airport may be the one that’s least visible. Like a good essay, the bits and pieces aren’t really supposed to call attention to themselves so much as they’re supposed to move users seamlessly from one point to the next.

But in reality a great facility can make or break first, or last, impressions of a city. For a small but potentially growing airport like Provo’s, that means opportunities to create an efficient user experience, or to earn a reputation as a city to avoid.

So what makes an airport effective (other than lots of on-time flights)? In Salt Lake City, authorities answered that question with art:

Art in the Salt Lake City airport.

I’m not sure the Salt Lake City airport is anyone’s favorite, but authorities there have clearly put a fair amount of effort into this space. There are even pamphlets available with information about each artwork. Salt Lake International also has free wifi and a playground for kids:

A playground at Salt Lake International.

The point: that people in Salt Lake have something to do while waiting for their flights. In other words, boredom is bad and it’s the airport’s responsibility to fight it.

In New York’s JFK, authorities tackled the same issue with dining and shopping options:

If given the choice, I’d probably choose to spend time in this terminal at JFK rather than at Salt Lake International. If I had kids, however, I might prefer the facility with the playground.

This terminal at JFK feels more like a mall than an airport in some areas.

These two airports excel and fail at different things, but at least they’re trying.

So what are people at Provo’s airport supposed to do with their free time? When I flew out of Provo last year, the terminal was a comparatively minimalist room. If I’d had to wait very long, the experience would have become tedious.

Provo’s airport is new and has so few flights that most people don’t wait around long. But the point here is merely that it’s important to think critically about the user experience. How can it be more painless? How can it be less boring? What can make it into a space that people might actually enjoy? What do travelers need while at the airport?

Sometimes, the design of the airport itself can answer these questions. For example, Madrid’s T4S terminal looks like it belongs in a science fiction movie:

The T4S terminal in Madrid is dazzling.

The baggage claim area of the Madrid airport.

Where Salt Lake used art and New York used shopping, Madrid used design itself to combat boredom. I’m not sure how long I could have stared at this airport, wandering around its hyper-stimulating corridors, but I never reached my limit during my time there.

Every airport approaches these issues in different ways, but as Provo’s facility grows in the future it’s worth thinking about ways to engineer unique, useful experiences.

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1 Comment

Filed under airports

One response to “What Do You Do While At An Airport?

  1. Pingback: “Airports Can Be Hell,” Or, How Airports Are Becoming Destinations | (pro(vo)cation)

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