Around the Middle East & other Asian Countries, massive airport projects are beginning to take shape. At the same time, the United States is investing in new technology to scan passengers and their luggage more quickly. These new airports are being labeled as the “airport projects of the future” where passengers are expected to be able to travel to-and-from faster than ever before, while also being more enjoyable.
According to scholar Janet Bednarek, who wrote a book about the history of US Airports, as well as an article on CNN, she is seeing all the new “state of the art” technology that is being implemented still having issues solving the problems that have plagued airports since the 1950s.
Ever since the beginning of the airplane travel age, airports have had trouble moving passengers and luggage efficiently. It is still unclear weather bigger airports, serving an increasing number of passengers will fair better at moving passengers easier than smaller, less crowded airports.
The commercial airline industry began growing at a fast rate back in the 1950s. With that came larger jets. Larger jets meant airport projects boomed right along with it. With larger jets, that meant more passengers, which meant terminals needed expansion, which also meant runways needed to be longer.
With the terminals taking the shape of long, sprawling fingers, passengers at airports in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles would sometimes need to walk over a half mile to reach their gates. These airports were heavily criticized for this.
Eero Saarinan, designer of classic jet-age terminals at Dulles and Kennedy airports, proposed a couple different solutions. At Dulles, outside Washington, D.C., he proposed large, bus-like vehicles to assist with moving passengers from terminals straight to their airplanes. These buses were called “mobile lounges”. The mobile lounges have more recently been phased out with another system known as the underground train.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Denver officials believed they had the ultimate solution by implementing an automatic bag handling system. After repeated failures, the machines were shut down and baggage handling was put back in human hands. This is unfortunate because we have all had the lost bag experience. You know, the experience at the baggage claim where you’re the last one staring hopelessly at the luggage carousel.
The 2001 terrorist attacks resulted in an increased demand for more security personnel, as well as more passenger screening technology. This invariably caused longer wait-times and more frustration from passengers. The need for additional security as well as additional waiting space challenged systems that were never designed to accommodate the security level required after September 2001.
For example, a terminal completed in 1997 at Reagan National Airport included stores and restaurants, as well as an integrated plug-in to the region’s public transit system. Now that entire layout is under construction at a current cost of US$1 billion. The goal is to enhance the travel experience and accommodate ever-growing passenger numbers. This is an example of airport projects of the future.
As the pace of life continuously speeds up, as businesses around the world become more connected, the demand for more people to fly more often will continue to grow. The increasing growth rate as well as increased security has overwhelmed even the most well-thought out systems. After more than 60 years of failing, it’s still a viable question whether airport projects of the future will ever bring a solution of moving people through a space that’s enjoyable to be in.