Comfort that contributes to the bottom line

Airports across the country are struggling to increase revenue and find funding for these projects.

By James Dietz April 17, 2019

Airports Council International has reported that $38 billion is needed for capital improvements in terminal buildings within the United States. As these facilities continue to age, airports across the country are struggling to increase revenue and find funding for these projects. Fortunately, research suggests that an untapped income potential exists that could be recognized by increasing comfort in their terminals.

To embrace this opportunity, we need to change the way we think about airports. Declining terminal building conditions combined with the stress and discomfort associated with traveling is often enough to keep passengers from purposefully spending any extra time, and consequently money, in an airport. But, if we take a holistic look at building systems and the way they interact with the passenger experience, we begin to realize the true potential of these spaces. At Henderson Engineers, we work with every building system — not only improving the way they perform but optimizing how they work together. Through our experience, we’ve identified three components of comfort and how they contribute to the passenger experience.


Dressing for travel, especially when you’re going from one climate to another, is made more stressful when you have to consider the climate inside the terminal building. Many airport designs have high ceilings and often utilize nozzle diffusers. However, while this design is effective at moving large amounts of air down into the space, they can contribute to uncomfortable airflow (drafts) and inconsistent temperatures. Most people notice airflow at their head and neck around a velocity of 40 feet per minute. When nozzle systems become unbalanced, they can create perceptible airflow issues and cause passengers to avoid specific areas of the terminal, such as food courts. By adjusting the output settings of the mechanical system, the space will see a decreased occurrence of drafts and ultimately achieve a higher level of comfort.


Lighting plays a powerful role in establishing a comfortable environment. It’s helpful to properly integrate natural light and circadian lighting to create a better experience for travelers. Natural light from windows or skylights has a calming effect and can help engage passengers as they travel. The issue arises when too much natural light creates glares or affects the temperature of the space causing passengers stress. Many of the benefits achieved from harnessing daylight can be enhanced by incorporating circadian/tune-able lighting, mimicking natural light to create a comfortable environment and controlling glare. Orchestrating these two sources to work in tandem will help travelers relax and have a better experience in your terminal.


Maintaining an acceptable level of noise given the high occupancy of the space is only part of the acoustical concern in airport design. Equally important, if not more so, is the proper operation of the public address (PA) system. Because many negative passenger experiences are linked to the stress of missing a flight, effective audible communication with travelers can directly impact the passenger experience. Several of the general elements of airport design, such as stone floors, high ceilings, and large windows, amplify sound. This coupled with a quiet PA system can elevate feelings of stress and discomfort for passengers. Balancing the noise levels throughout the terminal can improve the way travelers view your airport.

Airports are often the first and last impression of a traveler’s destination. What we feel, see, and hear all influence how we interact with, and ultimately remember, a space. When we begin to see terminals as an experience, we can intentionally create a place people want to spend their time—and money.

Implementing small changes in mechanical, lighting, and acoustical systems throughout your terminal will improve the passenger experience. Our team can help. For more information on airport design contact James Dietz, our aviation practice director. James will be presenting on a similar topic with the Show Me the Money panel at the AAAE/ACC Airport Planning Design & Construction Symposium next week.

This article originally appeared on Henderson Engineers’ website. Henderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner. 

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: With a passion for the user experience, James Dietz is the perfect individual to pilot our aviation practice. He believes that temperature, lighting, and acoustics play an important role in how much people enjoy a space, and it’s the design of those systems that makes the biggest difference, especially in the aviation market.