Designing for the Modern Traveler

At the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) conference in Nashville last month, three airport leaders came together Monday afternoon for a panel discussion called “Airport Terminals: Meeting the Demands of the Modern Traveler.” An insightful conversation it was, covering a range of topics. These three pieces of wisdom on designing for the modern traveler harmonized most with our internal conversations at Agati:  

  • Create a Sense of Place
  • Reliance on Tech is Here to Stay
  • Design with Accessibility

Create a Sense of Place

 Shawn Dobberstein, Executive Director of Fargo-Hector International Airport, is embarking on an 80,000 square foot terminal project with an estimated completion date of 2027. From his years of planning, he remarked, “people want more space to themselves… you must get the gates right; more space in the gate.”

Mike Christensen, the Interim Chief Development Officer at Los Angeles World Airports advised that airports, “Tell the architects to create a sense of space and place.” He shared how modern terminals are different from old terminals and suggested to “include local flavor, local artists, and local food.” As well as “light and ambiance.”

Frank Miller, Airport Director from Hollywood Burbank Airport, highlighted the importance of everyone in your terminal having a seat and needing to be able to charge up from that seat. That is what people are expecting.

Airport Holding Room Furniture
Dane County Regional Airport – Airport Living Room featuring Gee Seating and the Sensi Stool
Airport seating with lounge chairs, benches and powered occasional table and charging table
Orlando International Airport – featuring Power Bar Table, Vista Bench, and Gee Straight

Reliance on Tech is Here to Stay

Frank’s comment segues into the second consideration while designing for the modern traveler. During several AAAE conference talks, airport leaders shared, through surveys findings, that most travelers accept and except the ever-growing reliance on technology and its integration into the airport experience. Mike from LAX commented on Generative AI, saying the direction we’re going is this: “one day your face will be your boarding pass.” He continued, “we’re maximizing phones as the tool to get you to your gate; to self-check your bag, to order food while waiting for your flight, and for TSA Biometric check-in.”

One day your face will be your boarding pass.

Mike Christensen, Interim Chief Development Officer, Los Angeles World Airports

That supports Frank’s note from earlier. “Every single person needs a seat and to be able to charge up from that seat”, because they will need it to get through security, to eat, and to ultimately make it to their destination.

Every single person needs a seat and to be able to charge up from that seat.

Frank R. Miller, Airport Director, Hollywood Burbank Airport

Design with Accessibility

A listener from the audience asked the panelists how to design with accessibility in mind. Hollywood Burbank Airport is undergoing it’s first project in 30 years. In addition to executing several surveys to understand what his modern passengers need, Frank also met with 3 accessibility committees to learn. He said meetings and follow-up meetings we’re informative and necessary to get it right.

Shawn of FAR emphasized that designing with “accessibility needs to be a part of the design from day 1.” His airport planning team worked with Freedom Resource Center. They assisted with providing insight on designing with all disabilities in mind and ADA requirements. This sort of due diligence is necessary “so every passenger’s experience is smooth and everyone feels cared for.” 

Mike encouraged that designing with accessibility in mind is “an opportunity for all of us to learn and we’re committed to it.”

Accessibility needs to be a part of the design from day one, so every passenger’s experience is smooth and everyone feels cared for.

Shawn Dobberstein, A.A.E., Executive Director, Fargo-Hector International Airport
Charging power bar with ADA attachment in airport
Power Bar table with ADA extension – Top and Sides in Plastic Laminate – Shown with Sensi Stools
Quad Cities International Airport

It’s an opportunity to learn and we’re committed to it.

Mike Christensen, Interim Chief Development Officer, Los Angeles World Airports
Power Bar Table with ADA extension – Top and Sides in Stone – Shown with Altezza Stools
Our AAAE Booth at Music City Center, Nashville, TN

Final Thoughts

Some final food for thought from Mike, “design and build to be flexible for 5 plus years out. Consider what will your airport’s operating needs be in 5-10 years?”

This panel discussion provided rich insight on designing for the modern traveler. It was led by Airport Leaders Mike Christensen, Shawn Dobberstein, and Frank Miller who have fresh planning experience from their own airport terminal projects. These three design considerations are the ones we want to relay to you/our readers:

  • Create a Sense of Place
  • Reliance on Tech is Here to Stay
  • Design with Accessibility

During your own project planning, if you come across a question or challenge while implementing these concepts, our team is here to chat. Simply send us a message.