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12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Airports

Every facet of the modern airport is designed with a goal in mind: to maximize efficiency, reduce problems, and to make you spend more money. Even the smallest detail is based on research to maximize these goals.

4. They herd you with art

That big sculpture in your terminal isn’t just there to look pretty. It’s another tool to help travelers navigate. “We like to use things like artwork as kind of placemakers that create points of reference through an airport terminal,” says [consulting firm executive Stanis] Smith. “For example, in Vancouver International Airport we have a spectacular 16-foot high sculpture at the center of the pre-security retail area. People say, ‘Meet you at the sculpture.’ It acts as a point of orientation.”

Art also serves to create a sense of place, transforming the airport from a sterile people-mover to a unique atmosphere where people want to spend time (and money!). In one survey, 56% of participants said “a more culturally sensitive and authentic experience tied to the location” is something they’d like to see more in airports by 2025.

5. They use carpeting

In many airports, the long walk from check-in to gate is paved in linoleum (or some other hard-surface). But you’ll notice that the gate waiting area is carpeted. This is an attempt to make holding areas more relaxing by giving them a soft, cozy feeling, like you might find in your own living room. Happy, relaxed travelers spend 7% more money on average on retail and 10% more on Duty Free items. And it doesn’t stop with a layer of carpeting. Yoga rooms, spas, and even airport therapy dogs are becoming more common as airports look for new ways to relax travelers and encourage spending.

There’s more about airport design, with a reason behind everything from the sign fonts to TSA chat, at mental_floss. 


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Schipol in Amsterdam used to have a couple of large section of seats where you could lay down and sleep. Comfy, but it wasn't always easy to get a spot.
Maybe they figure if you want comfort, you can fly business or first class, and use the airlines' lounges - although, depending on the airport, those aren't always much better.
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I wasn't suggesting switching to couches, they'd be more expensive, have shorter life, and be very hard to keep clean. It was just a comparison. There's still no excuse for the uncomfortable seats, shared arm-wrests, etc.

And frankly, as much as we pay for airline tickets, and as often as flights get delayed, canceled, and airports get completely snowed-in, airports SHOULD be providing something their customers can sleep on... They spend huge amounts of money on the high ceilings, they can afford to expand their boarding areas to accommodate customers that need to lie down. After all, security measures since 2001 have eliminated the problem of homeless living inside airports, so it's only verified paying customers past the checkpoint. And with the shops in there, the airports stands to make more money out of it, while customers save money on overbooked lodgings.
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Couches don't work because a small number of people lie down and sleep, so a large number of people would have to stand. The chairs with built-in armrests prevent one person from lying down and taking up three seats.
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