Big Airport Terminals

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I have been doing a ton of traveling this year. And after seeing all those airport terminals I have a question: why are all of the departure sections high roofed areas?

Here is the new terminal at Raleigh-Durham. Like almost all other terminals and all new ones its ceiling is three or four stories high. Why? They are all like this. For some it extends inside but usually not. But when you enter a terminal, invariably it is a large open vertical and horizontal space. Surely it costs a ton more to build and operate. And none of the vertical space is put to use.

What set of circumstances led to what is clearly a world-wide equilibrium?

8 Responses to "Big Airport Terminals"
  1. You’re about to spend >13hours strapped in a cigar tube with a bunch of sweaty humanity. They lessen the anticipation of pain by offering space when you check in.

  2. My first thought is that it makes things pleasant without too much overhead, but surely it also leaves things open to expansion.
    There is usually no way they can expand beyond the boundaries of the building, and with a 3-story vertical area they can substantially increase the floor space within the existing building if required at some later date.

  3. I think single-storey large-floorplan buildings might be a bit claustrophobic, because you see the same thing with shopping malls.
    At Rome airport many years ago they had a tripod-mounted 50-calibre machine gun positioned on one of the admin offices. The high ceiling gave it a clear field of fire.

  4. I’m not convinced future expansion is the reason here. The “pleasantness” aspects however have more weight in my mind. Large spaces like this are designed specifically encourage the movement of people into the right areas.
    You’ll find as you progress through the terminal the roof becomes smaller. Lower ceiling heights do not encourage people to linger. This is why most of the shopping areas are in larger spaces – to encourage passengers to hang around where it is more pleasant and spend their money.
    The check-in counter itself often has lower ceiling heights. This encourages passengers to move out of that space quickly and into a more open one.
    There’s probably also the lighting issue to deal with. Higher walls and ceiling provide more room for windows and natural light.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070424155539.htm
    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/skyline/2008/04/21/080421crsk_skyline_goldberger

  5. Compare those terminals to the older terminals of Heathrow and you will appreciate the modern airport terminal.

  6. @Mick,
    I was about to make exactly the same comment.  Terminal 3 (I think it is) comes immediately to mind.  What a disgusting place that is to spend any time.

  7. This is a good point. The `pleasantness’ argument would have more weight if people had an option of fast travel without going to an airport–or if there were multiple airports for each city. But airports don’t operate in such a competitive space.

  8. Doesn’t this allude to an aircraft hangar, ie where your plane might have left from 50+ years ago? Once it starts, any airport that doesn’t conform will be considered cheap and boxy which will be a problem if airports are built bu locals with eye to promoting the destination.

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