But as flight technology has improved, have airports kept up?
The answer is largely “no.”
Airports today feature more shopping and amenities and better restaurants compared to fifty years ago, but the concept of the airport has generally remained the same.
The future of airports will be shaped not only by technological advances, but also by airports becoming more common in general — and playing a larger role in our global infrastructure.
The Dawn of Robotized Air Travel
Many of the technologies that will reshape the future of airports are already being rolled out in technological centers like Singapore and Dubai.
Similar to the way the new iPhone can unlock by scanning its owner’s face, biometric technology will help eliminate wasted time spent verifying identities and checking into flights.
Face-scanning technology isn’t the only new party trick we have to look forward to, though. In places like Seoul, Korea, the job of handling baggage no longer goes to human porters.
Instead, travelers hand their bags off to a robot. Robots are also being tested in roles like foodservice and cleaning — the ones in Seoul even wear butler’s uniforms.
Taking the Stress out of Air Travel
With more people than ever using international air travel regularly, terminals are becoming more and more crowded.
Airports that offer travelers an expedient and stress-free experience are sure to earn more business than those who continue to impose long lines and crowded terminals. You can see why the upgrades are attractive to airport owners.
Forward-thinking designers envision not only an improved infrastructure within the airport but also more luxurious accommodations.
With a few notable exceptions, many of the world’s airports are dreary places that can fall short of delivering a positive travel experience.
Since so many American air travel hubs are already long in the tooth, we can expect to see these new designs appear first in places outside the U.S.
The Jewel extension at Terminal 1 of Singapore’s Changi airport features an atrium filled with over 1,000 living plants spread across five stories. Another installation in Helsinki, Finland, will use a similar approach.
The Big Picture: Airports as Growth Centers
China is one of the world’s fastest-growing nations, with an immense population that engages in frequent air travel. For the Chinese, the future of airports isn’t just about improving the experience for people catching flights. It is also about the airport’s role as a stimulant for developing areas.
In the far eastern reaches of China, Zhengzhou — a city little-known to westerners — is home to a popular airport that is undergoing a major expansion.
A massive new addition will allow Zhengzhou airport to move over 70 million travelers in a year and give it the ability to handle over three times the baggage that London’s famous Heathrow can.
Modern business occurs on all corners of the globe, so companies will inevitably flock to cities where these new super airports exist.
That’s why China plans to install several of them in other provincial capitals over the course of the next decade. There’s even a chance airports will become so large and comfortable that entire businesses will make their offices inside the airport facility.
Lowering the Cost to Fly
The third factor that will significantly influence the airports and air travel is the rise of low-cost airlines.
Already, companies like Spirit and Ryanair are delivering incredible value for the money, particularly for passengers seeking short flights to vacation destinations.
Expect to see more low-cost carriers like these spring up. As the old model of more traditional airlines like American and United becomes increasingly difficult to make profitable, these larger airlines can’t uphold the “luxury” experience they rely on to separate themselves from cheaper carriers.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see air travel become a more prominent piece of our global infrastructure.
The world is getting smaller, after all, thanks to a globalized economy that now can’t really be undone.
When you consider the trudge through security and hours of waiting in bland gray chairs that millions endure every day, it’s really about time.
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