For most people travelling through an airport, speed and efficiency is far more important than having a nail bar, an art gallery or a well-stocked duty free outlet airside.
But with most passengers now checking-in online, there’s more time to appreciate just how far airport facilities have evolved over the years.
Many major airports today aren’t just departure points, but entertainment and lifestyle centres.
It all paints a blurry picture of the purpose of the future airport. Is there anything it can’t do?
New research suggests that airports in the coming years won’t just be a means to an end for travellers, but destinations in their own right – offering something for everyone, even if they’re not catching a plane.
Technology giant Amadeus said in its latest airline industry report: “Imagine an airport where the retail experience is so impressive you choose to shop there without even flying?
“Or how about taking a pre-flight swim and sampling some local cuisine sourced from the airport farm?
“No time to shop? Then just use your in-flight app to make purchases in the air, which you pick up on the ground.
“These concepts are all just around the corner.”
But, they add, airports won’t be able to offer passengers these kinds of experiences unless both airports and airlines work together.
This, however, is easier said than done, because of their competing commercial interests.
Airports, after all, don’t make money from passengers waiting in security lines or at check-in, but from their own ‘non-aviation’ services such as car parking and shopping.
While airlines often don’t want to foot the bill for airport facility upgrades and extra passenger services, particularly when they won’t see the financial benefits.
No-frills airlines are a case in point.
Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary has helped pioneer low-cost travel in Europe by only doing business with airports that charge the lowest fees to use their facilities. He told CNN in March that he feels airports serve “very few purposes” except as “international shopping centres.”
“People want to arrive, get on a plane and fly. They want to spend time at destinations, not waste it at airports,” he said.
But over in Asia and the Middle East, major airports in cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai are already transforming into ‘super hubs’, backed by their national carriers, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Emirates respectively.
The transformation of these major airports is happening because they are helping to drive economic development within their cities.
The rise of the airport city
Al Maktoum International, which is part of Dubai World Central is just one example of an airport that is striving to be far more than just a global transport hub. With plans to build five runways, as well as office, hotel and retail space, the airport aims to become one of a number of ‘airport cities.’
The operator of South Korea’s Seoul Incheon Airport also has plans to build a $3 billion (£1.9bn) resort, complete with medical centres, shopping centres, and luxury goods outlets to attract more Chinese and Japanese tourists who collectively buy almost half of its duty free goods, according to the Amadeus report.
Amadeus adds: “Twenty years from now, the airport environment will be unrecognisable. We will see mini-city airport ‘destinations’ emerge which are completely self-sufficient, alongside ‘bus stations’ offering minimal services.”