Airport design can improve travelling experience

Long view of the inside of an airport building.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. 

Some airports are improving their services for people with a range of disabilities, but some stressors are common to everyone. 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. 


The purpose of this research is to understand what aesthetic and spatial conditions contribute to a passenger’s stress within an airport terminal. The atmosphere of the airport terminal typically promotes stress, increased tension, and negative emotional responses for the many millions of airport travelers. As Symonds (2012) states, “airports can be highly emotive places.” 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 again reach its prior level of use when the pandemic subsides. Therefore, it is important to examine the relationship between airport design and its impact on the emotional experiences of air travelers. 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? Multiple methods of gathering information included a literature review on airport terminal design, and related research on design elements that increase or reduce an individual’s stress level. Complementing the literature review was a survey completed by 88 air travelers, a focus group of six design experts, as well as previous information gathered through an interview pilot study of 42 air travelers. The survey of air travelers found that various areas within airport terminals had differential effects on stress levels. 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. The findings from this research resulted in design recommendations for improved security checkpoints as well as recommendations for the isUD certification program (innovative solutions for Universal Design) to improve the airport experience for all air travelers.

Transport and disability sector engagement

A white SUV is parked across the footpath nosing into a drivewayHow do you find the people who are most disadvantaged by transport system design when they don’t or can’t travel? If you can’t find them then how will you know what an inclusive transport system looks like? A guide to disability sector engagement for transport professionals is a great idea.

One of Bridget Burdett’s research interests within the transport sector is transport inequity.  Her paper, which includes a good practice guide, explains the issues and how to address them. One of the key issues is for professionals and users to understand each other. The language of transport takes time for professionals to learn, let alone community members. So that’s one place to start.

Burdett’s paper sets out recommended practice for transport and lists specific terms of engagement. The research for the Guide was commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The title of the paper is, Disability sector engagement: Good practice guide.  The Guide will be useful for engaging with the disability sector for any infrastructure project. 

Bridget has also written a case study about a wheelchair user and her experiences. It’s titled, Transport and Disability: Brook’s Story.  Here’s one of the quotes from Brook: 

“I was told by a security guard, “you can’t be here, it’s a fire risk”. And I said, Why? Am I more flammable than other people?”

The kerbside and mobility

A streetscape of the future with street plantings, outdoor eating and a driverless car in a 30 kph zone.
Image from the whitepaper depicting a future street

The idea of smart cities, driverless cars, and artificial intelligence is propelling us into the unknown. But there are some things we can predict. Everyday things will be seen in a new light. The kerbside for example. Other than kerb ramps most of us don’t think about the kerbside and mobility. But somebody else has.

The Future of Place webpage has a link to a report that looks at the Future Ready Kerbside. The publication by Uber and WSP explores what the future might hold in the context of shared mobility and liveable cities.

The kerb is the intersection between the pedestrian area and the road. How space is allocated each side of the kerb dictates who can access these spaces. The kerbside is not passive infrastructure so we need to prepare for its future use. It needs careful management by city leaders.

There are ten recommendations in the Executive Summary of the report and they include:

    • Co-design the vision for places in partnership with the community, businesses and governments. 
    • Move from general parking to pick-up/drop-off for people and goods to improve kerbside productivity and access to local places.
    • Take a people-and-place first approach so that new mobility is an enabler and not a detractor to realising the co-designed vision.
    • Street design guidelines must get ahead of new mobility and proactively focus on the best possible outcomes for people and places.
    • Prioritise walking to access local places, along with transit and
      micro-mobility, supported by funding for local infrastructure. 

The full report is titled, Place and Mobility: Future Ready Kerbside and has more technical detail.  Both the full report and the executive summary have interesting infographics and images depicting how the future might look. 

Pedestrians on Wheels: A new paradigm?

Personal mobility devices are shown as the Segway, Hovertrax, Ninebot Mini, Solowheel, Onewheel, and Z-board.Pedestrians are becoming more diverse. Moving through public spaces needs more design consideration by urban designers. It also means accessibility is more than having kerb ramps and level footpaths. Pedestrians on wheels is a new paradigm.

Mobility will become more complex as mobility choices increase especially with battery powered devices. Added to strollers, wheeled suitcases, mobility scooters and wheelchairs, are Segways, skateboards, hover-boards, unicycles, and scooters. Manoeuvring around all these different pedestrians is difficult enough, but then we need to add in people who are using umbrellas, carrying large parcels, pushing delivery trolleys, and those looking in shop windows and their smart phones. 

One of the seven Lime designs. A two seater tricycle.Micromobility is now accessible for people with disability thanks to seven new designs launched by Lime. They are not “disability” specific – just good design useable by more people. 

 An interesting study on personal mobility devices is reported in  Diversity of “Pedestrians on Wheels”, New Challenges for Cities in 21st Century“. In the conclusions, the authors discuss the need for regulations for users and on the use of the devices and using designs which can be easily detected by other pedestrians by using colour and sound. 


Traditionally, pedestrians were identified as singular entities with standard needs. Reality shows us that pedestrian diversity is a reality that is becoming increasingly complex. How does urban design face the changing reality of pedestrian typologies? In the same way that in the 20th century the car set aside horse carriages and pedestrians, in the 21st century pedestrians are returning to take centre stage with regard to motor vehicles, but with new formalizations that imply new considerations in the design of streets, many of they are still unsolved. Citizens strolling on scooters, skates, skateboard, segway, unicycles, are added to the already traditional baby strollers, wheelchairs, and suitcases with wheels … “pedestrians on wheels” that pose new challenges of coexistence and design. Own functional requirements to walk and maneuver, to see and be seen … functional requirements of coexistence with other pedestrians that make a different use of the street (people looking at shop windows, pedestrians with umbrellas, reading on the smartphone…) or changes of use of the same space when the conditions are different: snow, strong sun, fog, at night … These are considerations of Universal Accessibility and Design for all that we cannot leave out while our society progresses. This paper identifies some of these new needs and studies this new pedestrian mobility is carried out through a progressive analysis in three phases: 1 classification of the different user of the street, 2 study of the Personal Mobility Devices (PMD) and 3 the new accessibility barriers that arise with the use of PMD. As a result, some action strategies are pointed out to respond to the difficulties of accessibility derived from this new reality and to integrate them into the Universal Design of the urban public space.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland. It is open access publication.


Autonomous vehicles, independence and universal design

Three children stand in front of a small driverless bus.New cars have automated features, but they are not yet driverless, that is, driven by computers. The mining and agriculture industries already use fully autonomous vehicles. So we have the technology. Driverless cars will be about passengers – all passengers. However, we need to solve roadway issues before this technology can be rolled out for everyday use. As we glimpse a future where anyone can utilise a car, we need to make sure the designs work for everyone. Autonomous vehicles (AV) can bring independence with universal design. 

The Australian and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has produced a short paper explaining the key issues and recommendations. It covers:

      • Existing Barriers to Transportation
      • Benefits of AV Transportation
      • Increased Economic Opportunities
      • Limitations and Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
      • Gap Analysis for People with A Disability Table
      • Pilots of Autonomous Vehicles with Aging Communities

The title of the paper is, The road to independence: Inclusive design of autonomous vehicles. The scope of transport solutions includes private, shared, business and public transport options.


1. As part of a Roadmap for autonomous vehicles, Australian governments and other stakeholders should ensure that the development of autonomous vehicle technologies consider the needs of the disabled.
Program Pilots
2. Governments at all levels should prioritise facilitating autonomous vehicle pilots for the disabled, including those integrating other allied and emerging technologies.
3. Australian testing facilities / proving grounds for autonomous vehicles should include testing of technologies to assist the disabled with regards to autonomous vehicles.
4. By successfully adopting the concept of universal design through co-design, it is forecast that there could be a growth in the vehicle market of up to 17% if all people living with a disability could access private transportation.


In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled may require the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey.

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Accessible rail systems: A global study

Global map with different coloured dots depicting different levels of accessibility in different cities.If you are a wheelchair user and want to travel by train, the best places are in Asia and Europe. That’s according to a global study on accessible rail systems. The key points of the study are:

    • The lack of accessibility is not only an issue in developing countries.
    • The systems’ accessibility level varies even among cities of the same country.
    • 62% of all systems with good accessibility are located in Asia and Europe.
    • 19% of the systems do not provide any information about their accessibility status.

The title of the article is, Wheelchair accessibility of urban rail systems: Some preliminary findings of a global overview. It is open access from ScienceDirect. 

The article has a graphic showing the level of accessibility by city (shown above). It shows Sydney as “fully accessible”. However, in 2021 Sydney is still retrofitting lifts into urban rail stations. The historical context of accessibility, or lack thereof, in each country is a key factor in the current accessibility status. 

The authors conclude,

“This study aimed to present a preliminary and general overview that can be valuable as a starting point for other studies on this subject. Thus, we encourage future studies to consider the real accessibility at the stations (and the availability of all the required infrastructure), not just the accessibility that is declared by the systems’ operators on their official website, as that information may not be updated nor even realistic.”

The research was carried out by an international team funded by institutions in Taiwan, Brazil and Chile. 

Designing and reorganising transport hubs: A framework

Inside Kings Cross Railway Station in UK showing two floors with shops inside a giant atrium.Seamless transitions between walking, cycling and public transport are important for the environment, inclusion and for reducing traffic congestion. That’s not a new idea. How to do it is another matter. The MATCH-UP project in Europe developed a method to assess how policies are measuring up and creating design solutions. The method and background to the project are presented in a new article published in Sustainability.

The aim of the method is to support designers and decision-makers who need to re-organise existing transport hubs and plan new ones. This detailed document is good for anyone in transport planning and transport policy, sustainability, accessibility and universal design in the built environment. Accessibility and universal design are embedded in all aspects and not listed at the bottom as an afterthought. 

The title of the article is, Assessing the Performance of Modal Interchange for Ensuring Seamless and Sustainable Mobility in European Cities.  

Embedding of universal design principles is discussed as a first step. It will “ensure high-quality spaces in every condition and for every ability, being permanent or temporary.” Key factors are listed as, universal design, accessible pedestrian routes, parking facilities, shared mobility and wayfinding.

Dedicated staff and services to assist people moving inside the main transport hubs. That’s because distances and wayfinding are often complex.


Make flying less miserable

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seatsWhat brings repeat business to an airline? Improving snack selection, smiling staff, warm welcome messages on video screens? None of these. Anyone who has travelled by air, even those who do it regularly, will know that the aircraft itself is rarely the issue. The issue is anxiety. And you can double that for anyone with a cognitive or physical condition which makes it more difficult. So what can be done to make flying less miserable?

An interesting article in FastCompany explains how the anxiety begins before leaving home. Will I miss my flight? Is my baggage under the weight limit and will it arrive safely? Will there be room for my carry-on? And in the current situation, will I catch COVID? The anxiety continues with queues for passport control, waiting for baggage and finally getting to the destination. No wonder travel is tiring.

So the answer to improving customer satisfaction and repeat business is finding ways to reduce anxiety and smooth the the travel experience. The article makes no mention of travellers who need additional supports, but the content of the article has some good points. It is basically about designing the travel experience to be more convenient and easy to use – aligning with universal design concepts. 

There are lessons here for any business selling an experience. The title of the FastCompany article is, Three shockingly obvious ways to make flying less miserable

There is a related article about the future of air travel and how problems might be solved with AI. The article covers  boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour.


Out and about with “new mobility”

A 3D model of urban streets and different forms of transport. Transportation’s latest buzz-word is “new mobility”. The focus of transportation has moved from infrastructure to people getting out and about. That is, a move from what it is to what it does. Our mobility, whether walking or riding, is key to everything else in our lives. Transportation connects us to people and places. The impending changes to the way transport services will be delivered in the future is the topic of a new strategy document.

The Smart Cities Council released a transportation strategy, Mobility Now: Connecting Communities, Smarter, Sooner, Safer. We are on the cusp of major change with electric and automated vehicles. But this change will offer little to our sustainability and inclusion goals if the only thing that changes is the type of car we are likely to buy.  

The strategy outlines steps including redesigning the urban environment, introducing more accessible mobility, and creating an incentive regime. Of particular concern is solving the problem of  “first and last mile” options. 

You can read an overview of the strategy and also download the full document. It is a call to action for a coordinated approach across government, the private sector and the community. 


Movement and Place: A guide

Front cover of the movement and place guide.Transportation is more than trains, planes and automobiles. The design of the built environment can make or break a successful transportation system. Transport for NSW and the state government architect recognise this and have come up with a great guide to movement and place. 

The guide aims to change some established ways of working so that we get better places and better outcomes. It outlines:

      • a collaborative method for practitioners, stakeholders, and the community 
      • shared responsibility and a shared language to support collaboration 
      • a process for implementing this approach in decisions and project types
      • criteria for measuring and evaluating movement and place now and in future projects

The Practitioner’s Guide to Movement and Place has three main sections. The introduction to the concept and implementing a place based approach cover the practicalities. The third section is more about understanding why this approach is important. The guide is necessarily technical in places and has a reference list at the end.

Established working practices and standards are likely to change, according to the guide. It is asking professionals to think differently about their role in creating successful places. 

There is a companion guide, Aligning Movement and Place. 

Editor’s Note: I couldn’t find a mention of accessibility and inclusion. I assume that practitioners will make this part of the process, but that means it will likely rely on existing standards.  Aboriginal custodians get a mention.