It’s not bad or anything, but it is interesting. There’s so much thought that goes into absolutely every aspect of what we see and experience when walking through an airport – I honestly never thought about it, which I guess is part of the point. But there is an enormous amount of planning and strategy that goes into the building of a place that’s a part of so many people’s daily lives.
Hopefully you’ll feel a little more educated and aware the next time you take a trip. At the very least, it’ll give you something to notice and/or chat about while you’re waiting for your inevitably delayed flight.
#10. They use things like art and flooring to help nudge people along.
Airport art isn’t just there for looks; it’s another thing that helps people unconsciously orient themselves in a strange place. You can arrange to meet your family back at the sculpture in the middle of the terminal, for instance. In the same way, flooring will change from linoleum to carpet when you step from a common area into security so you understand that you’re entering a new phase of travel.
#9. Automation helps them as much as it helps you.
The faster you get your butt through baggage check and security, the more time you can spend browsing airport stores, grabbing something to eat, or dropping $10 on a bottle of water (or $40 on a pair of earbuds because you forgot yours).
It makes sense, right?
#8. They employ wayfinding techniques.
Wayfinding is simply the way that humans and animals use points in their surroundings to find their way without directions. In an airport, it means that they allow you to see the tarmac – and the planes – from as many vantage points as possible so that you know which general direction to walk in even in the absence of signs.
#7. If a walkway curves, it’s to the left.
The majority of people are right-handed, and are more likely to check out merchandise (and hopefully stop to browse and buy) when it’s on their right. Walkways curve to the left, leaving your gaze free to wander on your right.
#6. One long line is better than two.
It might seem counterintuitive, but even if it’s a really long one, people are more at ease with a single line. That way, you don’t have to stress about whether you chose the wrong one. Not only that, but you can see the constant progress as people ahead get their boarding passes, drop their luggage and move along.
#5. Every component of every sign has a purpose.
From the font (something in sans serif, which is easier to read at a distance) to the size (every inch adds 40 feet of viewing distance), to the design of the sign itself, airports have a reason for choosing it. It also helps kick you back on track if you’ve lost your way – signs will change shape or color when you wander into a different terminal or airline, and your brain responds to the change and interprets it as a mistake.
#4. Local merchandise is key.
People love to buy things from the places they visit, and that goes double when it’s something that’s “famously” local – the Sleepless in Seattle merch, local sports teams, cacti in Arizona, etc. I’m from Missouri, but that doesn’t stop our airport from selling all sorts of Wizard of Oz stuff.
Close enough, I suppose.
#3. TSA agents are getting chatty…on purpose.
They used to be trained to spot suspicious behavioral traits, but it turns out that humans suck at that. Instead, TSA agents are staring to use open-ended questions in order to help spot people they might not want on their planes, which, according to this 2014 study, proved much more effective. Regular passengers have no problem chatting about themselves – where they’re going, where they went to college, etc – while people with something to hide will often panic at the most inane of inquiries.
#2. They embrace the concept of natural lighting.
Loving natural light isn’t just for people on HGTV, y’all. It turns out that humans are drawn to it, and will be more likely to go into stores or stop at kiosks with great lightning than those shrouded in darkness. I’d imagine that’s hard-wired from the days when dark places = big animals that could eat us alive.
#1. Did you know there’s a “golden hour?”
The time between when you clear security and when you board your plane is – you guessed it – the time when you’re most likely to spend money. You’re happy that you’re about to be on a plane somewhere new and/or exciting and the stress of security is behind you, and you’re feeling footloose and fancy free. That’s when they’ll get ya. Or try their best to.
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