Dear Airport Designers,
I respect the work you do. Really, I do. Airports are complicated places that have to serve a multitude of needs. Getting passengers on and off planes. Immigration. Baggage facilities. It’s tough work, I’m sure. But you could really stand to learn a thing or two from Asia…
Yes, Asia is putting all your western projects to shame. Here, airports are BEAUTIFUL! A good deal of thought is put into every detail. Dramatic architecture like in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. Stunning decor and amenities like in Singapore’s Changi airport. I mean, how many American airports can boast orchid and butterfly gardens, a movie theater and a swimming pool? How about a chance for everyone, not just people in a lounge, to step outside the concourse and admire a cactus garden?
Asian countries have taken steps to make their airports destinations! Why, yes, Singapore, I’d love to have a long layover at your airport. Yes, I’d rather spend a little bit more to fly from Kuala Lumpur’s beautiful main terminal than from their crappy Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). Am I crazy? Maybe. Or maybe I’m just an airline, airplane and airport connoisseur (self-proclaimed, of course).
But seriously though, there’s something to the design of these airports that sets them apart. Take Singapore, for example, rated the best airport in the world by Skytrax (a fact they are happy to gloat about). Arriving international passengers are not cordoned off on some special level like they are in most countries, treated as if they’re in a vacuum until they clear immigration.
No, in Singapore, you just walk straight into the terminal. You mingle with departing passengers and get to access all the amenities that everyone else does. When you’re ready to officially enter Singapore, you just take an escalator down to one of the arrival areas, where you go through immigration. Or you could just chill in the butterfly garden for a bit before you go down. It’s really quite nice and security is done at each individual gate, which really cuts down on wait times.
I used to think that Singapore could only pull that off because there was no such thing as a domestic flight in Singapore. But then I flew into Kuala Lumpur (KLIA) and had the same experience! You fly in, enter the main departure area and head down to immigration whenever you like! And there certainly are domestic flights from KLIA, they just leave from a totally separate area, as they do in most airports around the world (outside of the U.S.)!
Maybe it’s that these airports were built to be transit hubs for their respective national carriers who do a great deal of international flights. So many Asian airports are built with long haul passengers in mind. Showers. Quiet places to nap. Free WiFi. Outlets. It’s the little things that make you all the happier when you’re between long haul flights. Why aren’t U.S. or European airports built with a mindset like this?
For that matter, why are U.S. airports set up so differently than anywhere else? There’s no outbound immigration check and there are no transit facilities. It’s sheer lunacy to me, but hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy who travels a lot.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that little details matter. In the U.S. they tend to get wrapped up with the big picture. Airports are decaying, left over from an era where terminals were created exclusively for a certain airline. Why don’t we start a new with some fresh new ideas and new terminals? Denver had the right idea in building a whole new airport and look at its famed roof!
But when you go back to that drawing board, take a tip from those airports across the globe. You might just learn a thing or two about how to do it the right way.