Designing smarter security for airports with minimal passenger disruption
As travellers, we want to know that we are in safe hands, from the minute we step foot into an airline terminal to the minute we reach our destination – in this day and age, safety should be a given. Matthew Abbott explains how passenger experience and security benefit from good design.
For many, the comfort comes in seeing and experiencing the various security checkpoints that are in place, and knowing there are numerous other measures that we aren’t privy to as we go about our business of getting from A to B.
So when designing an airport terminal, how do you achieve the highest possible standard of security while ensuring minimal intervention and disruption of passengers?
There is a worldwide vision for airport security checkpoints that focus on minimal intervention and disruption to passengers, with the ultimate goal of not being separated from your luggage. It’s what’s known in the industry as ‘smart security’.
In airports of the future, passengers could simply arrive, check in for their flight, and walk into the terminal through a tunnel or similar structure where they will be electronically screened. Passengers would have minimal-to-no interaction with security personnel unless identified by the ‘smart security’ concepts. If it is identified that you have any banned items or are acting suspiciously, you will be diverted to a more vigorous screening process.
This type of airport security relies on passengers pre-registering their details when purchasing tickets and being subsequently profiled based on their level of perceived risk – which presents moral and ethical issues relating to who is stopped and why. But, on the whole, this has the potential to deliver significant improvements to the passenger experience through reduced processing time.
It’s important the security process itself and the technology that underpins it reinforce this passenger experience. A streamlined screening process is what shows the passenger that security procedures are in place and they are working.
There are now process innovations that allow for multiple passengers to be screened simultaneously without the need to wait for the person in front to empty their bags and be individually screened.
Advanced technology and screening systems are already available where passengers don’t have to take gels and liquids out of their bags. This is also the case with simultaneous multiple divestment of baggage, where multiple passengers’ baggage can be screened at the same time.
These process innovations are all about how you manage the flow of passengers and eliminate the time people spend going through security. In a recent HASSELL project, for example, we made the conscious decision, in consultation with our client, that a streamlined approach to process passengers was the key focus of the aesthetic approach. It became more about the process than the environment.
As designers, we often draw parallels between airport design and a luxury sports car factory. These types of factories are large, elegant, highly technical and functional. It is all about the production line and following a predetermined process. The end result is a state-of-the-art sports car. At the airport, the focus is to process the passenger and enable them to enter the terminal in the shortest time possible, which has flow-on effects to the revenue generating potential of the hospitality and retail offerings.
Developing a streamlined process is the role of the designer, the execution of the process is the role of the airport staff, and the passenger’s role is to focus on the task at hand; i.e. catching their flight on time in a relaxed and enjoyable manner.
Taking a customer-led approach to design, we consider the experience of the end users. In the past, airport design was about increasing the number of security lanes to process passengers. This clearly has flow-on effects to the amount of space left for other design elements of the terminal.
Now it is about using the advanced screening technologies to reduce the resourcing burden on staff and increase the speed at the security lanes. Fewer security staff required at screening stations means more security personnel can be deployed around the terminal.
The reduced space requirements for security screening also allows for more revenue generating spaces at the airport. Experiential-based design elements are becoming more attractive to clients and are generating a higher demand from passengers. Less time taken up in security means the passenger spends more time shopping, eating, drinking and relaxing.
This is a particular issue in Australia as the majority of Australian passengers are domestic, frequent flyer travellers. They spend less time and less money at airports, so it is about designing an exclusive environment within the terminal that makes the passenger want to arrive early and spend money. As an example, this could include celebrity chef restaurants or luxury brand stores that aren’t located in the city.
There are a number of different stages in the passenger’s journey through the airport, and for the designer it is about creating an exceptional travel experience at each stage. It’s about doing the thinking for the passenger, making visual links and making the process intuitive.
This has particularly been the case on a current project that will see the reconfiguration of the Emigration and Security Processing Hall at one of Australia’s largest airports. Working closely with the appropriate government departments and the airport, HASSELL is working collaboratively to increase processing capacity and deploy advanced screening technology.
The first phase focuses on the incorporation of automated border control, additional security checkpoints and an enhanced entrance, which opens up sightlines and addresses intuitive wayfinding. The latter phases and holistic vision for the processing hall will also look at the development of innovative security processing initiatives and additional ‘smart security’ technology.
HASSELL is responsible for defining the passenger experience and ‘look and feel’ for the landside departures journey as part of a longer-term strategy of redevelopment for the airport. As part of this strategy, a passenger process map has been developed, which defines both the aspirations for materials and finishes, and the emotional experience.
In a contemporary airport where hospitality is often seen as the focus of the terminal environment, inspiration has been drawn from the aforementioned high-end luxury sports car production lines to inform the aesthetic of the processing hall. More like a futuristic laboratory environment than a dusty factory, the notion of the production line and efficiency has an interesting synergy. Using elegant and streamlined forms also assists to focus the passenger on the task at hand and enhance the intuitiveness of the journey.
Further to this project, HASSELL is also currently working with clients in the border protection sphere to integrate automated biometric screening processes into terminal design. This technology would streamline the immigration process and, when rolled out across Australia, would run adjacently to security screening processes.
What it comes down to is that innovations in technology and airport processing practices are changing rapidly. The long-term goal is that security screening won’t really be something passengers are aware is happening. The short-term vision is about increasing the streamlined nature of security processes. This not only increases passenger confidence, but it also increases the space dedicated to passenger, staff and visitor amenities, which ultimately improves the entire passenger experience.
Matthew Abbott is a senior associate at international design practice HASSELL.