Ten Commandments of Airport Design and Operation

3 Conversations

Every day, all over the world, people are using airports and benefiting from their unique features without thinking for a minute about how much work has gone in to make airports the way they are. So for your benefit, here are some basic principles that you can follow to make your airport as much fun as Gatwick, as helpful as JFK or as well-organised as Brussels. Please note, however, that simply slavishly following these principles will not be enough to create the kind of special hell that is Paris CDG, or Aruba. You'll need to try harder...

1) The overall structure of the airport

Some people will tell you that 'size matters' and 'big is beautiful' are clichés. Don't listen to them. It's well known that the western population doesn't get enough exercise. We all need to walk more and the airport is the ideal place. Even better, many exercise-deficient passengers will be carrying heavy baggage, thus affording them the possibility to get a whole body workout. They may curse as they're sweating and panting, but they'll thank you for it later. It is possible to achieve distances of nearly 2km from the car park to the departure lounge. Transfers from one side of the airport to the other are an ideal opportunity to force a long walk or even a run/waddle if you can cut the time for the flight short enough. Stress makes the heart beat faster, as does running with small children and big cases. An exercised heart is a healthy heart.

Think to yourself - would Hitler have approved1?

Best practice examples - Brussels. Bordeaux. Schiphol. Changi. Heathrow.

2) Check-in

The only exception to the rule of giganticism should be at check-in. The queues for four 747s will form intricate winding patterns, interwining with each other when forced into a 10M by 10M space. From a bird's-eye view it will look magnificent, like a nest of rattlesnakes. Send floor cleaning machines and other vehicles through at speed to shake things up a bit.

Best practice examples - Paris CDG. Lembang. Meru.

3) Seating

No. Those passengers aren't supposed to be seated. You'll have to put some chairs in just to break up all those cavernous spaces, but they should be hard. Wire mesh is good - that way any slovenly sleepers will wake up with their badge of shame blazened on them, in the shape of a waffle pattern imprinted on their flesh. Prevention is better than punishment though - put plenty of elbow-rests in so they can't lie down at all - they'll only fall asleep and miss their plane.

Best practice examples - Gatwick. Vienna. Dubai. Malaga

4) Food and drink

There should be at least one fizzy drink and chocolate-vending machine every five metres. After all that walking, passengers won't consume if they have to go any further. Pubs, bars and restaurants all have to be called 'Les aviateurs', 'Phileas Fogg' or themed vaguely with the local area. As this will be the only spot in the whole airport where smokers will be allowed to light up, the ventilation should be dreadful.2

Best practice examples - Gatwick. Heathrow. Paris CDG. Brussels.

5) Shopping facilities

As everybody knows, people go to the airport to do their luxury shopping, because it's so convenient if you have to take something back. Therefore it should be possible to buy a camera, a pair of shoes or a £200 handbag, but impossible to buy a stamp, a city map or a pint of milk. Or why not sell a six foot statue of a giraffe? That'll give the crew a laugh when they try and stow it in the overhead locker.

Best practice examples - Stockholm. Dar es Salaam. Oslo.

6) Signposts and directions

Many people arriving at the airport will be strangers to the city, and could get lost. Prepare them for this experience by getting them lost before they even leave the airport. This can be combined by making the choice of terminal or direction as irrevocable as possible, and in the case of Jo'burg, allowing dodgy characters to stand outside the badly signed exit, and helpfully show people to the internal flights terminal via the underground car park where they can have their wallets lightened before their onward flight.

In life, the child learns the hard way that many choices are irreversible and that errors in their choice of studies, career or partner have to be paid for in cash. Your airport can be part of this learning experience.

Best practice - Kuala Lumpur. Paris CDG. Heathrow. Jo'burg

7) Departure lounges

Here the passengers should be clearing their minds. Air travel is a spiritual experience, bringing us closer to the heavens. In addition, in the event of catastrophic engine failure the passenger may well meet their maker in the hours to come. There should be no distractions. Any facilities other than coke and chocolate machines will prevent the passenger from reaching nirvana, and condemn them to repeat the cycle of travel through many other airports.

Best practice examples - Dar. Copenhagen.

8) Transport services

Quite simple this one - everything should be geared to making the passenger take an expensive taxi. Put the station miles away and make the buses irregular. Route the bus through all the 'gritty' urban areas round the airport before getting anywhere near a public transport hub.

Best practice examples - London City. JFK. Lima. Any British regional airport. Any Ryanair airport, but especially 'Frankfurt' Hahn and 'Paris' Beauvais.

9) Training of staff

For UK airports, staff should be forbidden to learn any foreign languages. People who speak minority languages, like Spanish, will just have to learn English if they want to catch their plane. Obviously, politeness and courtesy is not applicable to anyone important enough to have a spiffy uniform.

Best practice examples - Any British regional airport. Any French airport 10 years ago.

10) Climate control

If your airport is somewhere hot, show how rich you are by keeping the air conditioning at a breezy 18°C. Alternatively, herd them into busses in the icy cold, and then leave the doors open while the bus waits for a business class passenger to finish his shopping.

Best practice examples - Dubai. Aruba. Kuala Lumpur. Frankfurt.

1He liked big buildings. The Paris Opera, the Brussels law courts... You get the idea.2In Aruba, mainly a stopover airport where people can stretch their legs after nine hours on a plane, there is nowhere in transit to smoke at all. Guaranteed to get people in that Caribbean holiday mood, no?

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written and Edited by


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more