Improving the air travelers experience through airport design

Alexis Donnelly
Master's Thesis | Fall 2020

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.

Thesis Committee: Sue Weidemann, Beth Tauke & Jordana Maisel