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Airport Design Gone Wrong

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Terminal Illness

The challenge for airport designers is to consider the complex function of an airport and then cap it off with some truly striking architecture. Most airports get at least some of it right. Some get all of it wrong, or fail miserably in key respects.

Heathrow International Airport interior

Worst International: 
Heathrow International, London

Heathrow is famously confusing and perhaps an easy target for airport complaints. Passengers traveling through Heathrow’s attractive new Terminal 5 will notice much-needed improvements, but overall the airport lacks a cohesive plan and is woefully inadequate for the number of passengers coming and going. (Airport management admits Heathrow can comfortably serve 45 million passengers annually, when in fact more than 65 million people pass through each year.) In older terminals, signs are lost behind support structures and construction scaffolding, and in some cases they steer you in the wrong direction (and suspiciously through the duty-free shops). Security bottlenecks and interminable check-in lines break the flow at every turn. And an endless series of drab hallways hook and crook between connecting flights. Another new terminal is in the works, and is badly needed. Heathrow’s renaissance is still a few years off.

Worst in the United States: 
Los Angeles International

Exterior view of Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles International

Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world? You wouldn’t know it at the Los Angeles International Airport, where there’s nothing inter-esting to do to kill time during a 
layover. Like Heathrow, LAX suffers from a half century of insufficient and clumsy expansion. It is best described as a collection of drab terminals 
connected by a traffic jam, which starts 
out on I-405 and coagulates on a circular drive that loops around the Landmark Theme Building. (The Theme Building, looking like something a 1950s sci-fi set designer dreamed up, is LAX’s only architectural positive.) The terminals are painfully overcrowded and seating is limited—–
likely as not, you’ll wait for your flight seated on a suitcase or the floor. Clear signage and amenities are scarce. The crying shame of it all is this is a primary gateway to Asia and the Middle East, with an international cast of characters strolling through its portals. The scene ought to be inspired and dynamic, rather than stressful and depressing.

  • terminal three beijing aiport thumbnail

    101 Airports

    Modern air travel is about far more than merely making it from point A to point B. The journey is the destination, and we take a look at airport design and how terminals are evolving: which innovations take flight and which are left grounded.

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ha, at least Heathrow and LAX have places to eat. I got stuck in Charlotte due to bad weather on a flight from Miami to Kennedy and trust me, I would star in a sequel to The Terminal in LAX than ever set foot in that airport again. LaGuardia is not much better; unfortunate weather will almost certainly delay every flight out of LGA no matter where it occurs...O'Hare or Charles de Gaulle.

Having used both airports regularly, I found LAX a rip-off for its food, but actually not a bad airport compared to Heathrow: Heathrow is a festering third world cesspit unworthy of a western world nation. It says a lot about the state of modern UK and its inability to plan, treat people properly, provide value for money, or hold back the onslaught of the third world's ditritus. Bring on Terminals 6 and 7: and dismantle 1,2,3, 4.

LAX is far superior's simple in & out design. Heathrow is a real nightmare to connect & no fast food outlets in the new & old worn out dingy terminals...what is with that...just a lot of expensive stores & restaurants...don't care for it...O'hare, JFK, ATL, DFW, CDG Paris, NRT Tokyo & YVR Vancouver all requires major improvements...I like CPH Copenhagen... it's simple...great beer lounges.

I like LAX. It is an elderly lady well accustom to functionability and less to glitz. But, this is
a major entry way into America and should be a little more welcoming. But, for this old guy
from Denver..., she works fine.
Ron McKey 5/29/09

My favourite world airports: Hong Kong: absolutely brilliant: you are quickly whisked into HK on a bullet train in true 21st century style. Copenhagen is great too: pure Scandi style and great food and drink. Staff are thoroughly professional and well turned out. Schipol has amazing cafeteria food surprisingly. Frankfurt is okay and like most things in Germany, civilised: awesome food in the airport. Madrid now has a beautiful airport and worth a visit. As for Toronto, Canada: Canadians still haven't clued into providing a train service between the airport and Toronto. They seem to have let donuts get in the way of their brain synopsis.

Toronto is working on an air/rail link... unfortunately it will run diesel trains through the entire west end of the city through mostly residential neighbourhoods. The Government of Ontario doesn't have the will or the foresight to invest in electric trains like the rest of the developed world. I guess the donuts ARE clogging our brains.

(PS: the bus to the airport from Kipling subway station is free with the cost of the subway ride. $3/adult).