• Gebler Tooth Architects

6 Things you probably didn’t know about Airport Terminal Design



As you walk through the airport, you are receiving subliminal messages.


Airports are designed to facilitate passengers transiting through an unknown environment. This is called 'wayfinding', and it is a collection of signs, shapes, colours, and lights that send subliminal messages to the brains of those making their way through the airport.


Colours and shapes of signs often differ from terminal to terminal, the carpeting patterns change, and large art pieces serve as distinctive place markers for orientation. If ever you’re walking through an airport and suddenly sense that you are going the wrong way, you’re probably responding to subconscious wayfinding cues.


You’re being lured into the shops from a seated position


It’s not exactly a trap, but it is a clever trick: The reason the most comfortable seats—from rocking chairs to plush sofas—are near the airport retail zones is because you are being lured into the shops from a seated position.


This practice is called “revenue seating”; the goal is to get you to whip out your credit card during the “golden hour” (the first 60 minutes after you have cleared security).


Arriving two hours before your flight will only cost you more


Occasionally it will take hours to clear security and arriving early will justify your decision, but the majority of the time you don’t need nearly as much time at the airport. This “helpful” airport recommendation is a ploy to get us eating, drinking, and shopping in the terminal. After all, the longer you’re there, the more money you’ll spend killing time.


The time between when a passenger clears security and boards their plane is called “dwell time.” This is when passengers are at a loose end and most likely to spend. Especially crucial is the “golden hour,” the first 60 minutes spent beyond security, when passengers are “in a self-indulgent mood.”




People get nervous in airports, so they are designed to calm you.


Lighting and materials are a key focus. You need things to be clear and simple, with a lack of visual chaos. Noise and public address announcements contribute to people’s anxiety.


Security screening can be handled in such a way where it’s open, and there are things for people to look at and do and think about while they’re waiting in line to distract them.


Newer airports incorporate as many windows as possible, even in shops. Passengers tend to walk more into shops that have direct access to the sunlight. If shops are closed off with artificial light passengers feel they are too dark and avoid them.



Airports use carpeting for a reason


In many airports, the long walk from check-in to gate is paved in linoleum (or some other hard surface), the gate waiting area is carpeted. This is an attempt to make holding areas more relaxing by giving them a soft, cosy feeling, like you might find in your own living room.


Happy, relaxed travellers spend 7% more money on average on retail and 10% more on Duty Free items. And it doesn’t stop with a layer of carpeting. Yoga rooms, spas, and even airport therapy dogs are becoming more common as airports look for new ways to relax travellers and encourage spending.


Walkways curve to the left


The majority of humans are right-handed, and according to Intervistas, this influences airport design. “More sales are generated if a walkway curves from right to left with more merchandise and space on the right side because passengers are looking right while (perhaps unconsciously) walking left.”


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