What Makes a Modern Airport?
The age of the glorified bus stop is over.
For New York and New Yorkers, the impending destruction of LaGuardia represents a step toward modernity. Whether or not the structure that replaces it will be on par with the world’s better airports or even more forward looking, it’s clear that it will be an entirely different artifact.
It’s no longer enough for an airport to provide travelers with a place to sit pre-take off. They should offer real services and ultra-efficient passage. Here are the hallmarks of a truly up-to-date airport:
Real-Time Parking Info
When you’re already late for your flight, having to search frantically for a parking spot is a nightmare. “Smart garages,” like the one at Dallas-Fort Worth International, give real-time information about parking availability to passengers on the run.
Standard check-out time at hotels hovers somewhere around noon. For people traveling at night, that could mean lugging around a suitcase through a foreign city for hours on end. But for passengers in Hong Kong, there’s a “centralized check-in” system — basically an extension of the airline counter — that lets you check your luggage at a convenient downtown location up to a day in advance, leaving you free to travel the city without being weighed down. The next time you see your baggage is when you land.
Competing for precious outlet space at airport charging stations is practically barbaric. Many airports, like Toronto’s Pearson International, are offering a more civilized solution by installing wireless charging mats in the spaces between seats in airline lounges.
Automated Passport Control
LaGuardia is notorious for its long arrivals lines and surly customs officers. Automated Passport Control, now a feature in airports such as Austin-Bergstrom and Chicago O’Hare, scans your passport, takes your photograph, checks your flight information, and spits out the salient info onto a receipt without any of the snide comments.
The last thing anyone wants to do after a long flight is hit up a grocery: that’s how LaGuardia-level airports get you to spend $11 on a disconcertingly moist turkey panini on your way out. The modern airport is less exploitative: At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Dutch supermarket Abert Heijn has set up a “Pick-Up Point” for travelers to grab goods on their way home. Passengers simply order online while in transit, then pick up their groceries from a “cool locker” in the airport as they head out.