Airport wayfinding: Easy for everyone

A broad view of the inside of an airport building with people coming and going. Airport wayfinding is good for everyone..Airlines are working to improve accessibility, but airports also need to step up. People with disability are making regular complaints, and older people are likely to just give up travelling by air. Not good for the travel industry or tourism. So a well researched guide is welcome in this space. Wayfinding is far more than just good signage – it starts with the whole building design. Airport wayfinding is about the customer experience and promoting independent travel. That’s regardless of age or ability.

Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities is a comprehensive guide for wayfinding professionals, signage designers, and interior designers. It is published by the US Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program. It comes with a checklist that emphasises community consultation as part of their universal design approach to wayfinding. The PDF is free but you need to sign in.

Airport design can improve travelling experience

Aerial view of a large airport showing seating and shops.

Whether people fly once or twenty times a year, their stress levels are similar. And familiarity with airports does not reduce stress. Many other factors add to increase tension and negative responses. Travel excitement can easily become travel stress. Long waits in security lines, and getting lost in the terminal are just two stress factors. But airport design can improve the travelling experience. 

Airport design has a major role to play in reducing stress levels for travellers. A research study looked at how stress levels are affected by different scenarios within the airport, and what conditions help alleviate this stress. More importantly, what design features create or alleviated stress.

The study found that security screening was the most stressful. Stress reducers were found to be additional seating, art, signage and access to live greenery. Ready availability of charging points for laptops and phones and more personal space also help to reduce stress.

Improving the Air Travelers Experience Through Airport Design is a thesis that has a lot more detail on airport design including security screening, wayfinding, use of colour and visual information. Most people are able to deal with the stressors of air travel, but for those who can’t, improved design elements might make air travel possible. 

From the abstract

The atmosphere of the airport terminal typically promotes stress, increased tension, and negative emotional responses for the many millions of airport travelers. Air travel excitement can easily be replaced with high-stress levels the moment it looks as though one’s flight may be canceled, one may be running late for a flight due to a long security line, or one gets lost in the terminal due to poor directional signage.

Although the recent coronavirus pandemic has temporarily caused a drastic reduction in air travel, it is expected that air travel will reach its prior level of use when the pandemic subsides. This research aims to understand (1) how stress levels are affected by various scenarios within the airport and (2) what conditions and features help to alleviate stress within the airport.

To what extent can airport terminal design reduce stress among all travelers? More specifically, what design features within airport terminals have either a positive or negative impact on traveler stress?  

The most stressful area was the security checkpoint. Other design aspects such as additional seating, access to visual information, and access to live greenery resulted in stress reduction. Additionally, in contrast to an initial hypothesis, there were no differences in experienced stress between travelers who traveled less than 10 times/year and those who traveled more frequently (10+times/year). This suggests that universal design solutions addressing stress should be helpful to all travelers. 

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