Here's why airports are such an inefficient nightmare, according to an architect

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The INSIDER Summary:

  • For his master’s degree in architecture, Radu Gidei re-invented the airport by designing a “distributed airport” where not everything is under one roof.
  • During his research he found that airports are designed to make a profit, not for efficiency.
  • 62% of airport revenue comes from passengers paying for things like parking and concessions, and only 38% comes from the airlines themselves
  • Gidei thinks airports could be simplified with travellers’ needs in mind.

In his architecture master’s program at UCA Canterbury, Radu Gidei studied airports and pinpointed why they’re notoriously unhappy places for travellers.

Airports are too big and try to do too much under one roof.

“They’re just getting bigger and bigger,” the 27-year-old said. “The problem with having everything under one roof is that if anything within that system fails, everything falls apart and you get a huge backlog. I don’t think it’s a well-designed system.”

Instead of these “monolithic airports,” Gidei envisions “distributed airports” where check-ins, baggage drops, and security screenings happen on the way from home to the hangar.

“Maybe you do security whilst on the train, and you drop your bags before you even get to the train station,” he said. “Everything is done on your journey towards that aeroplane, not airport, so by the time you get to the aeroplane all you have to do is actually walk on board.”

Gidei has started to see this idea being put into practice. Hong Kong’s “in-town check-in” for example allows travellers to drop off their bags and get a boarding pass at Airport Express stations in the city.

“It’s not something that you need to invent a teleportation device to implement,” he said. “This can be done today, with technology today. It’s not that far out, it’s just a rethinking of how the system works.”

The problem with Gidei’s model is that the companies who build airports want to keep people inside of them for as long as possible, in order to make money.

According to Airports Council International, 62% of airport revenue comes from passengers paying for things like parking and concessions, and only 38% comes from the airlines themselves.

“There’s a clash of motives or interests in designing these airports,” Gidei said. “People running them want them efficient and easy to manage, travellers ideally probably want to bypass them altogether, the people that spend the money to build them want to get their investment back, so it’s a divergent set of requirements that you just can’t get a good result out of.”

Gidei believes that the first step to fixing the broken system should be putting travellers first.

“Instead of forcing people to be more organised and learning how to navigate this maze of an airport that we’re currently having to, it would be better if we simplified it,” he said. “The changes they’re making aren’t actually making it easier to navigate them. They’re all centered around spending more time in the shopping areas and the retail opportunities. I see that as a missed opportunity to take a step back and really look at what we want as travellers, why we’re travelling in the first place, and cater to those needs.”

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