By Brett Farley
While airports have not typically been seen as stand-alone destinations in their own right, the simplification of their purpose need not relegate them to serving exclusively as character-free gateways for passengers travelling from point A to point B. If the practical and artistic philosophies behind the design and operation of today’s airports are re-evaluated and refreshed, then they can become places worth going to, not just going through.
Indeed, many of today’s airport executives are seeking to optimize the value of the public’s time in their facilities, not only to make them stand out, but also to maximize their generation of additional revenue, through versatile and sustainable means. As they re-engineer the way their terminals look, feel and operate, light-emitting diode (LED) display technology is particularly well-positioned to help them reach their goals.
Improving the passenger experience
A recent study showed 83 per cent of airport travellers sought out flight information prior to transit, but only 58 per cent of airports were doing an adequate job of providing that information. Solving this problem requires a better understanding of how the travellers move throughout the airports.
Flight information display systems (FIDSs) use data that is constantly in flux, as planes encounter delays, change gates, etc. Simply by increasing the visibility and accessibility of these digital screens, e.g. by making them bigger and brighter, airports can better-inform their passengers.
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), for example, recently commissioned Stantec to design and Eventscape to manufacture a 7.6-m (25-ft) tall steel structure, shaped like a flower. Each of its four ‘petals’ supports a 3.7 x 1.5-m (12 x 5-ft) liquid crystal display (LCD), which displays flight information. There is also an LED ring display covering the two central connecting rings of the flower’s ‘stems,’ which shows the current weather.
This unique project dominates a central gathering area of Terminal 1 at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. It has transformed what was once dead space into one of the busiest locations in the entire concourse. Airport personnel say they frequently overhear travellers telling each other, “Meet me at the flower.” As such, in addition to serving the practical purpose of providing flight information, it has enlivened the passenger experience by creating a new landmark within the airport.
Of course, travellers in an airport are not always going to be standing still, nor will they be viewing each FIDS from a single, predictable point. To minimize this problem, today’s LED displays include models that can be seen clearly at a wider variety of distances and angles, keeping content legible for a non-stationary, off-axis audience.
At Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, a dimly lit LCD that used to force passengers to congregate in a scrum to read flight information was recently replaced with a much brighter LED display. As crowds can read it from further distances and wider angles, they are more dispersed and foot traffic flows more efficiently.
Beyond flight updates, wayfinding directions are also more clearly visible when displayed on LED screens. When Vancouver International Airport’s international arrival customs terminal was renovated, a 9.8 x 2.7-m (32 x 9-ft) LED display was added to help welcome first-time visitors by providing clear and relevant information about where to proceed from their gate.
The dynamic nature of digital signage is also helpful where more than one language is needed. By way of example, on-screen content could be changed based on the primary language(s) of the country of origin for flights arriving at a certain gate.
In all of these ways, LED displays can improve the passenger experience, presenting information in an attractive fashion that lets visitors glance and be on their way.