Research Projects

Universal Design for Airport Terminals/Passenger Facilities

Objective is to develop airport-specific design guidelines and best practices for airport terminals and passenger facilities to make them accessible to all persons.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

The number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060. As a result, the design for aging air passengers continues to be discussed throughout the industry as airports and airlines grapple with the best way to accommodate these passengers, while providing an acceptable level of customer service.

Wheelchair queues in passenger boarding bridges continue to get longer while narrowing the throat that ambulatory passengers use and potentially invalidating legal emergency exiting requirements from an aircraft. Large hub terminals continue to expand, further increasing the distance of travel from curbside to aircraft door. Concourse walkways are becoming more crowded with passengers, moving walkways and personal transportation devices all vying for the same circulation space. Facilities that were designed decades ago don't have enough elevators and they are often separated from the primary flow of stairs and escalators making wayfinding challenging.

From those who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistance devices to those pushing strollers, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our facilities do not allow for ease of access for many passengers traveling through them each day. Navigating expansive terminals where concessions, advertising, and artwork take up more visual real estate can be challenging and stressful, and with limited mobility, vision, hearing or ability to process large amounts of information those difficulties can become burdensome for many travelers.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

Although facility design should account for all user groups including airport and tenant employees, the objective of this guide is limited to the traveling public. The guidelines and best practices should address the entirety of the passenger journey from curb (inclusive of all modes of transit and entry points) to aircraft sea.

The aim of Universal Design is to make environments accessible to all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. The concept of Universal Design is expanding design beyond accessibility accommodations and towards a process of designing for human diversity. However, due to growing demographics and the specific needs, the guide should specifically address the aging population as well as others who share some of the same challenges and needs.

Although the design guidelines and best practices should acknowledge code requirements and regulations, the design process should not be limited to strictly meeting regulations but go beyond to truly design for all passengers. This research should also address the challenges and constraints of existing facilities, identifying both common issues as well as best practices for addressing them.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

Identify challenges of the aging population or other passengers that should be considered when designing for all (wheelchair users, difficulty walking long distances, vision or hearing loss, sensitivity to overstimulation or stressful airport environment)

Outreach to a diversity of passengers to identify specific challenges in an airport environment.

Identify specific program areas and elements within airport terminals or other passenger facilities that need to be addressed. Identify specific program areas, elements, or technologies that are not typical in airports but should be considered when designing for all (i.e. sensory rooms)

Provide design guidelines and best practices addressing the above. Both design processes and solutions.

Identify commonly seen issues in existing facilities and best practices on how to address them.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Approximate cost: $300,000
Approximate duration: 18 months

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.
  1. ACRP Report 130, Guidebook for Airport Terminal Restroom Planning and Design
  2. ACRP 07-130, Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities (research completed, publication pending)
  3. ACRP Synthesis 11-03, Topic S07-02 Strategies for Airport Passenger Access and Mobility
  4. Online Articles related to Background:
    https://www.apa.org/pi/disability/resources/publications/newsletter/2013/11/inclusive-environment
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/denisebrodey/2019/07/21/people-with-disabilities-want-to-help-make-over-the-travel-industry/?fbclid=IwAR2lUSIZpbr6dvhOHP5NoZ3nm1GIoB586af_H6BZTqO6Pd9euP6nieMEHaU#2c2ff314513b
    https://www.todaysparent.com/family/special-needs/autism-friendly-airports/
    https://www.cntraveler.com/story/how-airports-are-making-travel-easier-for-fliers-with-autism
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Idea No. 273