Monday, November 10, 2008

Airport Dehydration

A thorough tour of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, ABIA, revealed a humanistic approach to creating a traveling experience that addressed issues of security, way finding and overall identity. A main focus on comfort and ease in airport design reflects the progressive nature of flight; however the primal human need of hydration is not well considered in the grand scheme. The current system for acquiring drinking water, within the isolated setting, is limited, impractical and disregards health and environmental concerns. Airports need to support and promote proper hydration habits for their own image and more importantly, the well being of travelers.

The issue of water is first evident when people reach the security checkpoints at airports. In the screening area of ABIA there are large signs addressing 3-1-1, a campaign implemented in 2006 by the Transportation Security Administration in response to “an alleged terror plot using liquid explosives” (Helton). Each passenger is confined to carrying on liquid or gel in individual “three ounce or smaller containers” that must fit into a one “quart-size, clear, plastic, zip-top bag” (TSA). Bottles of water are unfortunately no exception to this rule and unless empty, they are confiscated. TSA employees are known to adhere strictly to this liquid ban and are fueled by the widely publicized threat of terrorist acts, with just cause. Health risks of travel caused partly by dehydration are not as evident as terrorism yet they cause plenty of danger to people flying. The 3-1-1 Campaign is a solution for the issue of security but hinders prevention of dehydration by limiting options for drinking water.

People are succumbed to buying bottled water at an inflated price once they have reached sterile area of an airport. After the ban on liquids was enforced, “beverage sales at Oakland International Airport rose nearly 20 percent” in the span of three months with the majority of the increase coming “from bottled water sales” (Goldman) A range of beverage companies including, Nestl
é, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Fiji Water Company, has exploited the simplicity of drinking water and marketed bottled water to the public as a superior alternative to tap water. Harriett Baskas, author of Stuck at the Airport and USA Today travel reviewer, evaluated the best selling items at various airports and discovered that at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, “bottled water is the highest selling item” (Baskas). The irony of the bottled water market is that in Seattle and plenty of other airport cities around the world, the quality of the local tap water is just as good if not better than the foreign water being shipped and sold to thirsty consumers.

Carrying a bottle of water is the most practical way to stay consistently hydrated through long flights, layovers, and delays but the variety of disposable plastic bottles sold in airport are not safe for general health or the environment. The health issue with most bottled water is the plastic material contains  “a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA”, proven through research to “mimic or block the function of hormones” and potentially leading to infertility, prostrate cancer, and early puberty (Claudio). As if that isn’t enough, the total production of water bottles “for the U.S market” requires “seventeen million barrels” of oil “each year” and “they are often purchased at big concert venues or airports with no recycling bins,” partially causing “eight out of ten bottles” to end up in landfills (Royte139) (Knopper38). The effect this system has on the environment is unfortunate because it is preventable. One could argue that these issues resonate through the entire market space of airports yet water, an essential for living, should be given more priority and not be so closely associated with the plethora of unnecessary goods and concessions.

When travelers want to stay hydrated at no personal cost, tap water is available through water fountains, such as the ones found along the corridors near bathroom entrances in ABIA. In the early 1900’s, “Halsey Willard Taylor and Luther Haws, respectively, pioneered a major change in how water was dispensed in public places” with the drinking fountain (Honeycutt). The tap water dispensed from water fountains is regulated and harmless to drink. In the airport specifically, they are updated along with sinks, toilets, and other plumbing fixtures to look and function in the most innovative way, accommodating children and people with disabilities. The Seattle Tacoma International Airport has an exhibit, created by Jim Green, featuring six drinking fountains “that gurgle loud enough to turn heads when travelers lean over to take a drink” (Baskas). At ABIA there is a “lowered dog drinking fountain” just outside the lower level (ABIA). These endeavors are useful to endorsing tap water but the problem with drinking fountains is their inability to provide people with a constant access to water as they navigate through the security check point of one airport to the exit of another airport hours away. The most critical time for commuters to be concerned with drinking water is during their flight in which fountains are far from available.  

A recent article in “Budget Travel” provided a list of tips for future fliers including a common solution for the all the preceding problems and advises people to “avoid paying high prices for bottled water at airports by carrying empty bottles through security and then filling them up at a water fountain” (“20Tips”). This response is clever but water fountains are clearly not designed to efficiently fill water bottles. The slow projectile stream of water that is ejected from a fountain forces people with bottles to find a perfectly odd angle to fill up. When found, the process is longer than necessary and water often spills around the rim container’s opening.

The issues of security restrictions, plastic bottles and water fountains at airports may not seem to be vital considerations for redesign individually, but the ultimate concern is dehydration, a common factor in health issues resulting from flying. Deep Vein Thrombosis, a syndrome characterized by blood clots gathering in the legs, has been a problem amongst passengers, leaving many injured and some dead. A research experiment on this issue, conducted by the “Saitama Medical School in Moroyama, Japan,” proved that “drinking fluids” is the most reasonable way to prevent acquiring the condition (Hadfield). Additionally, dehydration is more prevalent while traveling by plane because of the low humidity levels on board aircrafts. (“How To Fly Right”145). Many people believe that all fluids aid to hydration and consume various beverages besides water such as alcohol, soft drinks, or coffee. These drinks may seem to be desirable choices to consume while waiting for a flight but their high level of sugar and caffeine negate hydration. As of August, US Airways began charging passengers for plain water, promoting the necessity as a commodity. When airlines make moves like this, they are sending a message of carelessness to the public and prove that they are more concerned with profit than general health of passengers.

Flight crew are not to be excluded from this critical topic and should be brought to the foreground of this problem. Nina Anderson, FAA Wings Program human factors seminar leader and performance nutrition specialist, has evaluated the misconceptions that lead pilots to undermine the importance of water and references “the Spring 2000 edition of the Federal Air Surgeon Bulletin” to outline the “three stages of dehydration, heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke”. Symptoms begin with reduction of alertness, vision, and coordination and escalade to fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fainting and ultimately can cause severe mental confusion and disorientation. In attempts to “heighten general aviation’s awareness of this often overlooked condition,” The Federal Aviation Administration added pilot dehydration to a list of physiological conditions in an aviation training text (Anderson). Educating pilots on the gravity of dehydration is a positive direction and passengers should also be considered as an audience for instruction.

            Airport design needs to attend to the importance of hydration and develop a reliable and effective system for the large flux of people that cycle through the enclosed space everyday. A solution that might prove fruitful is a campaign for general health that highlights hydration and clears up the misconceptions associated with it. Water fountains can be improved to have a station that is intended for filling bottles. In 2007, the mayor of San Fransisco, Gavin Newsom, ‘declared a ban on bottled water” and “installed large dispensers in city buildings that poured out pure tap water.” (Knopper) This type of system communicates local tap water as a valuable source against the competitive market for bottled water. To further promote the use of the dispensers, airlines could sell reusable bottles that are made from materials such as aluminum or BPA free plastic. Near these additions to the airport setting, insightful signs could be designed and placed to heighten the awareness hydration. This type of arrangement would be directly beneficial at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport where there is an aim to reflect the image of Austin. Austin is known for being environmentally friendly and the local water follows regulation. When tested tap water proved to have less impurities than a bottle of Dasani. (Blessum) By communicating a detailed concern with how water is consumed, ABIA would support local resources. Likewise, any airport could advance their image with a thoughtful hydrating scheme.

 With the technology and knowledge of today, there is no reason why airports haven’t coordinated a more sensible arrangement for drinking water. As an institute for innovation and progress, the modern, ideal airport should seek to educate and provide its society with a practical way of maintaining hydration and not attempt to maximize profits at the expense of human health and unnecessary environmental waste.


Works Cited

ABIA. “Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Text Map.”  10 Nov. 2008 austinairport/textmap.htm>.

Anderson, Nina. “Flying High & Dry.” Weblog post. Plane & Pilot.  10 Nov. 2008 proficiency/pilot-skills/flying-high-a-dry.html>.

Baskas, Harriet. “Better Than A Key Chain.” Editorial. USA Today 5 Sept. 2006. 10 Nov. 2008 travel/columnist/baskas/2006-07-25-baskas_x.htm>.

- - -. “Quirky amenities and priceless souvenirs: Hitting eight airports in seven days.” Online posting. 29 Mar. 2005. 10 Nov. 2008 .

Blessum, Scott. Personal interview. 10 Oct. 2008.

Goldman, Kiran. “Bottled-water backlash has many drinkers tapped out.” Online posting. 26 Nov. 2007. 10 Nov. 2008 .

Hadfield, Peter. “Don’t Drink and Fly.” New Scientist (Jan. 2001): 7. Academic OneFile. Gale. U Texas at Austin. 10 Oct. 2008 itweb/?db=AONE>.

Helton, John. “TSA hopes 3-1-1 will keep lines moving.” CNN 21 Nov. 2006. 10 Nov. 2008 2006/TRAVEL/11/17/>.

Honeycutt, Al. “Water, Water, Eveywhere.” Buildings Aug. 2000: 20. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. U Texas at Austin. 10 Nov. 2008 .

“How To Fly Right.” Health Nov. 2007: 145.

Knopper, Melissa. “Bottled Water: Backlash.” The Environmental Magazine May-June 2008: 37-39.

Royte, Elizabeth. Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. New York: Bloomsbury USA , 2008.

“20 Tips.” Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Mar. 2007: 10-13. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. U Texas at Austin. 10 Nov. 2008 .

U.S federal government . Transportation Security Association . Make Your Trip Better Using 3-1-1. By Transportation Security Association. . U.S Department of Homeland Security. 9 Nov. 2008 311/index.shtm>.

Safety First?

Making your way through security checkpoints in any airport is chaotic, frustrating, and time consuming. The security at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is certainly no different. First you must weave through a roped off maze, intended to shrink the amount of space the line takes up. All the while, you are bombarded with informational signage, “Simplifly: Pack simply and fly through security”, lists of prohibited items and specifications for the size of your carry-on. It is a lot of information that seems to be thrown at you last minute. Then, you rustle to gather your identification and boarding pass for the daunting officer ahead. Once passed him, you are forced to take off your shoes and place them, along with any carry-on items, into a plastic bin that runs through a conveyor belt x-ray machine. The floor is hard, cold tile covered in whatever germs and filth the person before you could have been carrying. Next you are ushered through a full frame metal detector by an attendant as equally cold as the floor. She holds a metal detection wand, just in case you fail to proceed through the full detector easily. Now through the metal detector, you must rush to gather your belongings from the tray and put on your shoes in a timely fashion. This is typically resolved by hopping on one foot while grasping any stationary object to steady yourself, which in turn creates a back up in the line. After all this, you are finally through security and on the sterile side of the airport where you can shop, grab a bite to eat, and wait for your flight to begin boarding. Now wasn’t that pleasant and efficient? Of course!
Pleasant? The abundance of graphic signage, attended to aide the passenger in line, ironically can just confuse them more. Even the plastic bins that go through the x-ray machine carry advertising messages in some airports. Shouting these different messages at them graphically, combined with the stress associated from waiting creates a very hectic environment. The removal of ones shoes and the process of putting them back on creates another dilemma and adds to the calamity of the situation. As Matt Blaze, Associate Professor of Computer Science at University of Pennsylvania states, “There’s no better place to get away with something than a chaotic environment”, proposing that this supposedly secure process is really just aiding those trying to bypass the system. Removing your shoes also brings the issue of hygiene into the mix. Airports are high foot traffic areas, susceptible to an array of bacteria and illnesses. Efficient? Standing in a long line, removing your shoes, waiting for your luggage to scan and the opportunity for officials to scan you can be very time consuming. Airplane passengers often arrive up to 2 hours before their scheduled flight just to allow time to go through security. This just adds to the stressful atmosphere projected in these check points.
Once upon a time, all you had to do to get through airport security was walk through a metal detector. You didn’t need a boarding pass or to take off your shoes. Even baggage scanning was not required in most airports. Airport Security was then regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, a branch of the Department of Transportation that regulated air traffic and kept our skies safe. But all this changed on September 11th, 2001 when four United States Airplanes were hijacked and intentionally crashed into the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, causing nearly three thousand fatalities. After this tragedy, Congress passed the Aviation & Transportation Security Act, creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its three main duties. The TSA was responsible for the security of all forms of public transportation,
established to recruit, hire and train Security Officers for U.S. commercial airports and provide screening of all checked baggage for explosives. In December of 2001, Richard Reid, more commonly known as “the shoe-bomber” brought another security issue to light when he attempted to ignite explosives he had hidden in his shoes and gotten past security. Shortly thereafter passengers were asked to remove their shoes to be scanned along with their carry-on items, bringing the system, which we are now accustom, into effect.
There are, however, new technological solutions to quicken the process. The SmartCheck System, first implemented in February of 2007, scans the entire body to create a contour outline that can examine the exterior frame for guns, bombs, and other explosives. This obviously brings up the question of privacy, practically performing a strip search through a virtual medium. The SmartCheck system has other issues as well.
For example, the system cannot detect anything that may be hidden in body cavities, a likely hiding place for drug trafficking. The machine also generates radiation, but at this point the system is so experimental and the radiation is so minimal that it is the least of their concerns. General Electric (GE) Security has recently created an explosive trace device. The device takes a trace of your finger when you touch a screen and sniffs for over two hundred different chemicals associated with explosive devices. A similar device manufactured by GE, the Trace Portal Machine or “Puffer Machine”, can detect explosives and narcotics by releasing multiple puffs of air on a subject in an enclosed booth. Both seem like good ideas but how much protecting can they really do? The most recent and developed security measure is the Clear system. Clear is an identification system that allows you to go through a separate line with a biometric identification card, in hopes of traveling through security faster. To receive an identification card, a subject must first submit personal information and agree to a background check. Once all their information clears the system they must take an identification photograph, a fingerprint, and an iris scan image. All of this information will be stored on the i.d. card they are given. With this card they can then go through security with a separate kiosk, have no need to take their shoes off, and supposedly get through the check 30% faster than normal x-ray machines allow. But all these technological advancements raise the much bigger problem of privacy and start to infringe on our individual freedoms. The way you choose to travel through security has now become a choice of efficiency or privacy. You can take the longer, more unpleasant approach and wait your turn in line, take off your shoes and bear the chaos. Or you can choose to bypass the line by submitting all your personal information. This option not only calls to question airport security but the very security of our nation. Where do you draw the line between keeping people safe and keeping people free? The issue cannot be solved in an airport or even clearly defined giving the current state world politics are in. That thin line has been walked for generations and just recently, with a more looming threat of terrorism, brought to our attention. For the sake of United States freedom, airport security as a choice is the most effective solution for the time being.
The best solutions a designer can make of the airport security problem ones of general layout and aesthetic concerns. Simplifying the graphics introduced in the area would be a great start. Perhaps presenting the information in a more uniform, organized fashion or reducing the amount of signage would help greatly. The other difficult task would be layout, which would be subject to change depending on the specific airport restraints. Most fully functioning airports were built prior to 2001 and did not allow in their original building plans for the complex security measures we are taking today. A simple solution to the chaos caused in the area would be to spread out the checkpoints- a difficult task though to spread them out enough to reduce clutter but not so much as to reduce security measures. Floor treatments could be added at the shoe removal point in the process to aide in hygiene and comfort. At the end of the security checkpoint, a larger area designated for putting your shoes back on and gathering your belongings would greatly aide in the ease of process. In the end its simple solutions regarding flow, not complicated technological systems that would help the passenger most.


1. Brzenzinski, Matthew. Fortress America. New York: Bantam Books, 2004.
2. Clear. 2007. Verified Identity Pas. 10 Nov. 2008
3. Giblin, Paul, and Eric Lipton. “New Airport X-Rays Scan Bodies, Not Just Bags.” The New York Times 24 Feb. 2007, Section A; Column 3 sec.: 1.
4. Good Thinking. "The Privacy-enhanced SmartCheck System." Weblog post. GizMag.
5. Nader, Ralph, and Wesley J. Smith. Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety. N.p.: TAB Books, 1994.
6. Schiavo, Mary. Flying Blind, Flying Safe. New York: Avon Books, 1997.
7. Sharkey, Joe. “Bad Enough Being Shoeless Bug Just Look at This Decor.” The New York Times 23 Oct. 2007, Section C; Column 0 sec.: 6.
8. Sharkey, Joe. “Finally, a Way to Catch a Flight Without Shedding Your Shoes.” The New York Times 19 Dec. 2006, Section C; Column 1 sec.: 8.
9. Transportation Security Administration. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 9 Nov. 2008
10. Wallis, Rodney. How Safe Are Our Skies? Assessing the Airlines’ Response to Terrorism. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003.


When pondering the major precautions of an airport, wildlife would probably not make most people's lists. Consider this however: one in every four planes that takes off collides with some type of wildlife, most commonly birds. While often there are no serious problems resulting from these strikes, they still have the potential to cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the plane and a delayed flight. In addition, there are enough documented fatalities resulting from these strikes to make any flyer at least a little nervous, especially around airports such as New York’s JFK, which has one of the most well documented bird problems of any airport in the world. These wildlife concerns have created a unique problem for the designer in which he must consider the best way to lower the risk of an animal strike while not harming the animals themselves, nor their environment. Also, because there are many different wildlife environments around airports worldwide, each airport has its own unique list of issues it must consider in order to come up with a solution that is beneficial to both humans and wildlife.
According to a 2008 USA Today report, between 1990 and 2007, the FAA documented more than 82,000 wildlife strikes, 97% of which we’re birds. The strikes totaled $291.1 million in damages and 362,073 hours in aircraft downtime. Documented damage ranges from minimal body damage to extreme engine and airframe damage. For example, one Learjet overhaul shop in the Midwest reported a jet colliding with nine snow geese while being ferried in for maintenance. The repair cost for the jet was $300,000 to fix the airframe and $200,000 to fix the engine. At Palm Beach International, a bird collided with a cabin class corporate jet above the windshield, puncturing the skin and wrecking six stringers as well as a frame. The time to complete repairs to the aircraft was in excess of six weeks. Given these numbers, it is easy to see how anxious airports are to find a permanent and effective solution to this problem.

The key to finding the solution lies in understanding the location and environment of each airport. Wildlife strikes at different airports are so diverse that no airports share all the same problem species. For example, because JFK is located in the bay, there is a year round problem with seabirds like gulls and geese that would probably not be too common around an airport located in the midwest. Also, while some airports experience a consistent number of strikes each month, other airports located on major migratory flyways see spikes in their numbers during the spring and fall migratory periods. The birds are attracted to environments around airports because, in general, there is a large amount of open, grassy space that was most likely previously undeveloped before airport construction. Typically, this area is lush with insects that birds feed on. In addition, there are not really any predators for birds around airports aside from humans. Specific airports then have their own specific problem features. Auckland Airport in New Zealand had problems with birds being attracted by oxidation pools located near by connected to a water treatment plant on the coast. Similarly, Seattle-Tacoma has pools located near the runways containing fish attractive to bald eagles.            

In brainstorming design solutions for these issues, the first thing to consider is the environmental impact. Animals were living in these spaces long before humans developed them. Often times, airports are built in undeveloped spaces that served as a refuge to all the animals previously forced outward by city development. Therefore, a good solution should be one that not only guarantees aircraft safety, but also does not harm the wildlife or environment. Auckland Airport recognized the problem with the oxidation pools, and in response, opened them up to let the sea in so that the birds would be drawn back out. This has not only relieved the number of bird strikes, but has also created new inner coastal environments for aqua life. Christchurch airport, also located in New Zealand, has been experimenting with endophyte fungi in the grassy areas where birds graze. The fungi are hosted by the grass, and in return, release a toxin if the grass becomes stressed by predators. This toxin has shown in experiments to only make the birds sick rather than kill them. Also, tests have shown that the experience is apparently memorable enough to the birds that they generally do not graze in the same areas again.

Despite the success of the solutions, some critics argue that they required substantial amounts of money and time commitment. Auckland's coastal revamp took nearly six years, and Christchurch's endophytes cost $30,000 to inoculate only fifty seeds. Still, there have been more simple solutions that have had success. The International Journal of Pest Management released an article last year discussing the results of anti-perching devices tested around airports with a high density of wire area for birds to perch. The study surveyed which species of birds preferred which width of wires and placed anti-perching wire at the the appropriate heights to deter specific species. The tests showed promising results in deterring blackbirds and starlings from perching around airports, which are two of the most common problem species. Even simpler solutions include replacing grassy area with FAA approved airfield turf, or training dogs (as used at JFK in addition to the famed falcons) to stalk and chase the birds away.

So, where does the designer fit in all of this? Is this not an issue that a wildlife specialist, engineer, biologist, or even a landscape architect would be more suited to deal with? Most people would probably not read an article about a biologist using fungi in grass to deter birds and consider him a "designer". So then what is a designer? Common notions would probably ascribe someone involved in fashion, graphics, furniture, architecture, or some other artistically creative practice to the title of "designer", and this is not at all wrong. To call anyone in the previously mentioned fields a "designer" would more than likely be totally accurate. However, it is important to understand that the fundamental idea of design is simply to formulate the best solution to any problem, regardless of the nature of that problem. Good designers are constantly building their knowledge and understanding of diverse subject matter from cars to posters to your mother's desk lamp. They are experts at becoming experts in any field they need to be so that they can help to solve any problem. They blur the lines between boundaries in the same way Theo Jansen's kinetic sculptures blur the line between artist and engineer.

In closing, it should be safe to say that not only do airport wildlife issues fall under the category of a design problem, but also that they are issues of which everyone should be made more aware. The solutions listed above were executed by biologists, landscapers, animal trainers, etc., not one of which would probably refer to themselves as a designer. The fact that people involved in so many different areas have all come forth to tackle the same problem demonstrates that regardless the issue, anyone can take up the fundamentals of design and use them to solve that issue.

Why so blue?

Colors have a wide array of meanings and symbolism – they become very versatile in the realms of art, design, and marketing. This allows for flexibility when it comes to branding and identity. For instance, Southwest Airlines is branded by primary colors, and Continental Airlines uses blue primarily. While there may be room for diversity, in color combinations among airlines, the opposite is true when it comes to major American airports. The majority of airports use the color blue in varied hues as a part of their logo. Sometimes airports will pair yellow and light neutrals (like gray and white) with the cool color. I aim to explore why many airport logos incorporate blue and if other colors might work in blue’s place.

At first thought, it appears easy why airports such as Dallas Ft. Worth, San Francisco International, and Austin Bergstrom would choose the color blue to dominate their logos and brandings. We can look to the sky and see the answer there; the message of the airport bringing its travelers across the skies is clear. Matt Coldwell, Austin Bergstrom’s art coordinator, believes that the colors of the airport logo were “easily identifiable with flying.” Still, we can go further than that and think about what other connotations the color blue has. There are two methods of studying color. Color symbolism is the study of colors and what physical things they may represent. Color psychology is the study of how colors affect feelings, emotions, and health. In color symbolism, blue represents air, water, and the earth as a whole; the latter seems to make sense with the earth’s nickname as the “Blue Planet.” With air travel, people cross over bodies of water and go from one point of the globe to the other. Perhaps using blue dominantly best informs the public about what the airport’s primary purpose is – a hub for air travel. When airports combine the color blue with yellow, like George Bush Intercontinental or John F. Kennedy, the connection to the skies become clearer since yellow also relates back to the air and the earth. More importantly, yellow also signifies the sun. If blue is also paired with white and grays, then the symbols of air, purity, and lightness increases. Whether the logo uses blue singularly or with two other air-related colors, it works despite becoming somewhat predictable.

The decision by designers and airports to use blue as the chief color in identity graphics may also have a psychological effect, too. While blue can represent air, lightness, water, and the earth, various shades of blue can affect people in different ways. According to ColorMatters, a quick reference to color theory on the web, and Pantone’s Color Think Tank, lighter shades of blue have a more tranquil effect on people’s mood. The calmness that stems from experiencing blue color can also be a sort of escape which then corresponds well with an airport’s message of travel, sometimes to go on a vacation. When someone looks at an airport logo that incorporates blue, they get the two main messages: air travel and tranquil escape. Blues can also impart the feeling of technology, trust, and security, three important ideas for airports of today to consider. Technology for better and faster aircrafts with trust and security for today’s heightened awareness for terrorist attacks.

Though there are many airports that use blue as their identity’s foremost color, there are several who incorporate other hues into their logos (other than yellow, white, or gray). El Paso International Airport uses the compliment of blue – orange. Passengers can refer to happiness and energy when they think of orange. Here, the clear connection of airport and the sky is lost. However, orange may provide a better indicator of where the airport is and its environment. Orange, to an extent, symbolizes the city of El Paso because of the city’s warm hues reflected in the El Paso Mountains. It’s hard to say what works better; had blue been used, then the airport would have related better to its function. Since orange was used as the prominent color, visitors and travelers will find that the airport relates well to its locale. Two examples of airports not using blue to brand their logos are Washington D.C.’s Dulles International and Reagan National Airport. The airport system uses red-violet as the sole color. Again, the ties to the skies are severed. With the help of color theory, it seems to make sense that the nation’s capital’s airport would choose a hybrid of red and purple – red-violet – to serve as the dominant color for its identity. Red has the meaning of strength and vitality while purple has royal, dignified, and leadership associations.

Austin’s new South Terminal has a reason why it includes the color green in its logo with common blue hues. The building itself is a vibrant green, and the wavy bar of green is a nod to it. The bright green exterior of the terminal attracts attention from a distance, and the other reasons, according to a press release from the terminal’s website, were because “AIB One LLC, the partnership running the terminal under agreement with the city of Austin, wanted a ‘culturally sensitive’ color … Which culture? Well, Mexico presumably, given the initial destinations and airline. This shade of green is also the color of a hybrid locomotive sold by GE, one of the partners in AIB One…” In color symbolism, green represents nature and the earth, so to use blue and green together really symbolizes the globe. This color combination may also be more “true” to an airport as a hub since green symbolizes the land and blue symbolizes air and water. The airport itself is anchored to the ground, but it is a transitional place for air travel at the same time, through the sky and at points, over sea. Other airports across the nation seem to be following this idea, too. Seattle-Tacoma International, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Fort Wayne International, and the Killeen Municipal Airport are among the hubs that use green in their logos.

Though there are airports like the ones above who stray from using blue as a dominant or sole color, the fact remains that many airports continue to look alike. Imagine seeing a stream of airport logos. What we would see is a flow of blues interjected with occasional spots of yellow, greens, oranges, and reds. The overuse of blue makes airport logos seem monotonous, lacking in originality. With numerous airports nationally, of course it would be hard to have unique colors and color combinations for logos. However, there would be far more variation and difference between each airport’s identity. Travelers already know what an airport is for and what is commonly associated with it; planes, travel, the sky. With that knowledge in mind, perhaps an airport’s color use in branding can speak more about its actual identity, involving its surrounding culture and environment like El Paso Airport. For example, Austin Bergstrom could use a mixture of burnt oranges and forest greens to display nature and connect the airport to the idea of how people associate the capital with the University of Texas. Incoming travelers or outgoing travelers seeing the airport’s logo might then have a better understanding about the place they are about to arrive at or depart from. JFK in New York might be effective in using the color red to relate to the city’s renowned vitality. Red can also symbolize the “Big Apple” or the hearts in the “I Love New York” t-shirts.

This idea of replacing blue with other colors for airports to tie in with their cities lessens the hubs’ relationship to the sky in a way. However, airports are not actually the vessels that transport passengers across the sky; they are just the centers of arrivals and departures, firmly rooted to the earth by their architecture. It would make more sense for airlines and their jets to use blues repeatedly to send off the vibes of lightness and air. Using other colors for airport branding has more potential in helping people distinguish between different airports and creating a sense of unique place. If we were to be in El Paso’s airport where things are branded in orange, we will realize that we are in El Paso and that it has a warm-toned environment. On the other hand, if we travelled to Washington D.C. and were met with the red-violet colors of the airport logo, we can easily understand that we are looking at the nation’s capital and not at El Paso.

It may seem like a stretch that colors in airport logos can totally inform us about the place, but using colors that relate to the airport’s locale does more than using blue continuously. Simply using various shades of blue as an airport logo’s main color only reinforces what we know about the airport’s function instead of what we could know about when it comes to where and who the airport serves. The latter information personalizes the airport’s identity and makes it much more memorable.


"Airports of the World." World Airport Directory. November 2, 2008.

"Austin's new low-cost carrier housed in a little green box." South Terminal Austin: News. October 26, 2008.

Coldwell, Matt. E-mail Interview. November 3, 2008.

"Color Think Tank - the psychology of color." Pantone /Color Think Tank. November 1, 2008.

Gill, Robbie. "Airport Branding - Airport International." Airport International. October 30, 2008.

Morton, J.L. "Color Matters - Business, Marketing and Trends." ColorMatters. November 1, 2008.

"Psychology of Color." Precision Intermedia. November 2, 2008.

Multilingual Issues in Airports

Airport culture has changed dramatically since the early twentieth century. Technology has enabled drastic growth in economic air travel. From more sophisticated security systems to more efficient ways to process million of travelers through self-service kiosks. Since self-service kiosks have been adopted by all airlines, travelers can now attain boarding passes and check-in quicker than before. Airport culture has evolved in a number of ways except when it comes to communicating with passengers. English is a dominant language across the world, but it has become so by neglecting to communicate in international languages. Because of our global ties, there should be a respect for international travelers coming to America.

English as a dominant language

English has become the dominant language of the world. According to Seth Mydans, in his article Across all cultures, English says it all, one-fourth of the world’s population speaks English either casually or fluently. It is critical to speak English in foreign countries, and is usually a job requirement. Mydan quotes Mark Warshauer, professor of education at University of California, “It’s gotten to the point where almost in any part of the world to be educated means to know English.” Eighty percent of the world’s web information is in English. “By the most common estimates, 400 million people speak English as a first language, another 300 million to 500 million as a fluent second language and perhaps 750 million as a foreign language.” “The largest English-speaking nation in the world, the United States, has only about 20 percent of the world's English speakers.” America is also suffering in language education. Compared to other countries, Americans are not as proficient in language.

Delta accommodates to Latin American travelers

Companies such as Delta are introducing initiatives to cater to international travelers, but in this case failed to translate correctly. Delta has added Spanish language self-service kiosks available in U.S airports and Puerto Rico. Since 2005, Delta has expanded its flights to Latin America and the Caribbean-adding more than 60 flights to 58 destinations in the region. The addition of Multilanguage kiosks will ensure Delta is catering to the needs of the Spanish speaking population. As a result of Delta Air Lines expansion to accommodate to Latin American markets, complaints have arisen about translations in signage. At Hartsfield Airport, arguments started over the Spanish translation for “gate”. Delta used “Salida”, which translates to “exit”. Words lost in translation or translated incorrectly can create confusion for international travelers. Another issue was an inconsistency between the use of “toilet” and “restroom”.

Where Austin-Bergstrom stands

In a local study in Austin Bergstrom International Airport I had the privilege of talking to some of the staff that employ the ticketing counters and self-service check in kiosks. I went through each airline interested in the customer usability, convenience, and language options. America Airlines had four languages available; English, French, Japanese, and Spanish. Pete Patterson, Customer Service Manager for American Airlines says most travelers are familiar with self-service check in kiosks but it can be intimidating for first time users and the elderly not familiar with the technology and interface. He says that new users feel uncomfortable with swiping their debit or credit card because they think they might be charged. Also, when the kiosk requires the customer to swipe their passport, they are often confused by where they must swipe. United Airlines had ten languages available; English, French, Spanish, Deutsh, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese. U.S. Airways had only had English and Spanish as a language option. Jet Blue surprisingly only had English. Jet blue employee, Susanna Gonzalez said it was not a problem since almost everyone knows how to read and speak English. She says that most of the staff can communicate in Spanish, which is the second language in demand at Austin Bergstrom. Continental Airlines had ten languages available including English, French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Deutsch, Greek. Southwest had either English or Spanish. Delta had English, Spanish, and French. Some airlines had the kiosks right in front of the ticket lines and others had then in an aisle separate from the check in counter. Delta representative said that some traveler’s prefer assistance while using the Self-check in because they are afraid they might type in the wrong information. He went on by saying that because the self service check in kiosks are located in the ticket counter that a representative is always there but the customer is not forced to talk to him or her if not necessary. He continued by saying that it is a self-service and technology age resulting in people are walking around with their I-pods and sitting with their laptops, just wanting to go through without speaking to anyone. Mark Gottdiener questions this isolation in airports in “Deterrorialisation and the Airport” asking, “Could the airport be creating the uncaring, detached, self contained individual armed with laptop, walkman, credit cards, cellular phone, palm pilot, and business agenda?” In effect I can understand why self service check in kiosks have been developed to provide more and more do it yourself options.

From the first screen of the kiosks I noticed that most except for United Airlines did not have language options on the first screen. United Airlines had a list of ten languages on their first screen while the rest, for example the Delta Self service kiosk has two small rectangular boxes with Spanish as an option and then other languages. In order to accommodate to International travelers the language option should be on the first screen. The selection language boxes are also too small, which can easily cause problems for the elderly.
Languages available in other airports

During my research I was interested in knowing what languages are available, specifically in International Airports. Seattle Tacoma International Airport has seen a sixteen percent increase in international traffic since 2007, which has increased demand for their phone translation service. Airport translation phones are located in 22 immigration booths and in the main terminal and baggage-claim areas. The service is run by California based Language Line Services, which employs 3,000 translators for 170 languages. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has the highest percentage of Self Service use, has staff and volunteers that speak about 70 languages. Boston Logon International Airport’s Massachusetts Port Authority Interpreter Program started in 1974. The staff speaks 20 languages; Arabic, Cantonese, Creole, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Miami International Airport has translators available for Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, and Creole. If the language is not available, there is a special service where they call for a translator for the language needed. Houston International Airport has multilingual special service representatives that speak more than 20 different languages. They assist arriving international travelers at the US customs and Border Protection processing section.

U.S Customs and Border Protection

The airport is the first place foreigner’s experience. The first people that foreign traveler’s interact with are the Customs Border Protection Officers, who according to the job qualifications, are not required to be bilingual or have any language training. Obviously, going through customs for a citizen is much faster than if you are a visitor. First you have to get in the correct line, then you must proceed to answer a series of questions, to an intense bag search, This is usually confusing and disorienting for a U.S passenger, imagine doing this in a language you are not quite fluent in? The customs procedure can be intimidating especially for foreign visitors because of the rules, regulations, and consequences.

Airport kiosks & language options in the future

So what can we expect from self-service kiosks in the future? Research by technology company Amadeus and marketing firm Henley Centre shows kiosks will eventually allow the travelers to control every aspect of their flight. For example, passengers will be able to change their itineraries and gain access to airport maps in order to prevent disorientation and confusion in airports. Customers will also be able to control their flight experience, from seat selection to food and entertainment. Speech technology might even replace the touch screen and it would be available in several languages.

As a result of English becoming a dominant language, airport language options are not a priority. Travelers are almost expected to know how to speak English when they come in to the country. Other countries facilitate to the United States because it is a requirement to speak English. From my experience in Europe, most people can communicate or understand two to three languages. I do think English serves as a unifying language, but it doesn’t encourage Americans to learn a different language. I wonder if this creates less of an appreciation for diversity. In order to provide effective communication and language services, one must understand the difficulty of being in an environment where the language spoken is not your native language. Sufficient languages services are available, but it is always a more complicated and confusing procedure for foreign travelers.

Works Cited:

American Airlines Website.

Altanta Hartsfield Website.

Boston Logan International Airport.

Continental Airlines Website.

"Delta Launches Spanish-Language Kiosks for Growing International Customer Base." Globe Newswire. 6 Mar. 2007. .

Delta Website. http://|1291824848&noflash=true

Gottdiener, Mark. "Deterritorialisation and the Airport." The Cybercities Reader. Routledge, 2004. 1-444.

Houston International Website.

Miami International Website.

Mydans, Seth. "Across all cultures, English says it all." The International Herald Tribune 10 Apr. 2008.

"Sloppy Spanish Translation at Airports." Weblog post. WLSTranslations. 9 Oct. 2007. .

Yu, Roger. "Airport Check-In: Atlanta Leads in Web, Kiosk use; new at JFK." USA Today 20 Oct. 2008.

Yu, Roger. "Airport Check-In: In translation, on arrival." USA Today 28 July 2008.

Fresh Restroom Design Solutions For Airports

The first words that come to mind when you hear “airport restroom” are unsanitary and crowded. After stepping off a long flight, the first place I generally want to go to is the restroom. I expect to see impeccable attention to cleanliness and be provided with high-tech amenities. According to USAToday, Atlanta Airport’s restrooms are cleaned every 15 minutes from 7am – 11pm daily. Fort Lauderdale Airport’s restrooms are cleaned every 15 minutes from 6am – 11pm. Chicago O’Hare has attendants in 17 restrooms maintaining them from 6 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Restroom cleanliness especially in international airports where there is a high amount of traffic affects customer satisfaction largely. However, not only is the cleanliness of the restrooms important, there is a greater need to give consideration to the design of them. People land from long flights desperately desiring to brush their teeth, relieve their motion sickness, and even wash immediate parts of their body. No matter how immaculate these restrooms are, cleanliness can only satisfy so much when many of these airports lack services that accommodate other, more practical needs.

A prevailing complaint of airport restrooms is that the stalls are not spacious enough for a traveler to hold all their luggage while they use the restroom. Alice Wing, a writer for USAToday, states, “Not only is the size and configuration of the average restroom stall uncomfortable, but it is also a security risk because people often leave their luggage outside of the stall…Have you ever tried to enter a stall with a backpack and a roller-board bag, trying not to touch the toilet as the door swings inward and clears the toilet by only inches?” Oakland International Airport in California conducted a customer feedback survey that showed “Travelers want restroom facilities that offer: 1) More stalls; 2) Larger stalls roomy enough for a traveler and his/her carry-on luggage or a young child; 3) Ergonomic layout for improved circulation; and 4) Hands-free fixtures and entrances/exits for increased hygiene.” With the increasing amount of families traveling, it can be hassle when a parent and child both have to squeeze themselves into one tiny, narrow stall, let alone with their luggage. This issue also addresses the lack of family restrooms and children’s amenities that exists in airports.

Some solutions to these issues have been proposed and also have been implemented into many airports. Airport restrooms should include stalls that contain more space, multiple coat hangers, and possibly a small shelf that can hold smaller items. Dallas Forth Worth International Airport’s airport has published their design manual on the web. The design manual dedicates four pages to design guidelines for public restrooms in its terminal buildings. Page two includes a feasible solution that other airports could adopt: “Guideline Provide hooks adjacent to lavatory for hanging bags, purses, and briefcases. Provide a 12” deep purse shelf at back of counter and/or on sidewalls” and “Guideline Provide a 12” deep baggage wall shelf behind toilets and urinal bank.”

Another security risk issue of airport restrooms is when parents or guardians leaving young children unattended, even for short amounts of time. A good example of an airport implementing these design solutions is the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it’s the ninth busiest airport in the US,. The airport accommodates families by having “20 ‘Family’ restrooms available in the terminals at DTW” based on its official website. This helps to prevent children from getting lost. According to an article by Levi Fishman, family restrooms at “Chicago O’Hare airport have only one toilet, but they have a seat attached to the wall for a parent or a caretaker to sit down.” Now that more young families travel, airports are satisfying their specific needs.

A proposal that was designed with children in mind is the Step N’ Wash. On, travel writer Harriet Baskas discusses a new “gadget called the Step N’ Wash. It’s a retracting step-stool that pops up from under the sink to allow kids to wash their hands in airport bathrooms without having to get an adult to pick them up…” Atlanta Airport, the number one busiest airport in the nation wants to “provide the highest level of customer service. Installing Step N’ Wash in the restrooms to assist those traveling with children is a great example of how we meet the needs of the traveling public.” The Step N’ Wash is a great amenity that can lighten the mood and also diminish stress on both parents and children.

Today, restrooms in airports are usually designed similarly to public restrooms anywhere else. However, because airport restrooms call for heavy use, waiting in line for an open sink can be increasingly inconvenient when people decide to wash their hair or brush their teeth in them. My personal experience with washing my hair in Korea’s Incheon International Airport after a long and arduous 16-hour flight led me to realize how bad of an idea it was. After I rushed into the restroom, in desperation to wash my hair, I realized I had taken up one of the only three sinks that were available in that restroom, which I’m sure annoyed everyone else. It took about 10 minutes to wash up, but there was no real open area to dry my hair with my towel. I was in the way and obstructing people’s paths as I attempted to dry it. I realize how exasperating it can be when people are trying to get in an out as quickly as possible.

To solve the problem of people lingering at sinks for too long, proposing separate stations in the restroom for different purposes can possibly alleviate this congestion. Ft. Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas was acclaimed as America’s Best Restroom in 2005. It contains two rows of sinks that face each other, all on one granite top island. Since mirrors are off on the other side of restroom, this forces the traveler from taking too much time in front of what is normally both the sink and mirror. With the mirrors away from the sink, this allows a better flow of traffic in the restroom. Again, DFW is one step ahead with the simplest solutions. In Guideline “ Provide a full-height dressing mirror out of the main circulation path.” In addition, creating separate stations for brushing teeth, and even shower rooms would relieve even more blockage. To prevent lines forming in front of the showers, a fee would be paid as compensation. An example of this occurs at London Heathrow Airport. Not only are there restrooms at each terminal, there is a shower room at Terminal One with a cost of £15 (about $20). Although many large airports, such as the New York JFK airport include shower facilities, they are only for those flying business or first class.

The American Restroom Association discusses some prominent public restroom design issues including waiting in long lines for an open stall. Their philosophy is: “no matter what their configuration, public restrooms portals should be designed with sufficient width to accommodate peak times when users may be waiting in line. People exiting the restroom should not have to jockey their way through or collide with people waiting to enter the restroom.” The American Restroom Association suggests that a labyrinth style entrance and exit into a restroom solves the formation of long lines and more. The labyrinth design reduces the risk of hitting someone with a swinging door, prevents criminal activity since there really is no “doorway”, and allows people to wrap around it when lines form. DFW’s useful manual mentions a similar alternative: “Guideline Entries to the men’s and women’s rooms should not have doors, but switch-back or ‘T’ access halls, that are wide enough for two people to pass. The ‘T’ access is preferred for rooms with larger number of fixtures due to the improved circulation.”

On top of all this, some airports are taking the initiative to implement cutting edge designs in their restrooms. Take for instance the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the second busiest airport in the nation, holds one of the more popular restroom facilities. Baskas states, “Nine years ago, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport installed intriguing self-changing Sani-Seats in most restrooms. The entertaining amenity is extremely popular with female travelers and there are even a few YouTube videos marveling about it. A similar product now on the market, the Hygolet Sanitary Toilet Seat, has now been installed at Iowa’s Des Moines International Airport, Alabama’s Montgomery Regional Airport and a few others.” Not only does the Hygolet Sanitary Toilet Seat automatically flush, it also has automatic revolving plastic seat coverings. This satisfies the cleanliness factor and is entertaining to experience. Already, other airports are adopting this widely popular method.

Another great example of innovative restroom designs is at the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport. It employs an entertaining, yet functional restroom environment. Judith Davidsen, a writer for, speaks of some of the designs in Arlanda Airport’s restrooms: “Urinals in the gents' are backed by a meadow of wildflowers photographed in southern Sweden. On the inner wall, the yellow blossoms reach practically to the ceiling. On the outer wall, the meadow rises just 4 1/2 feet—somewhere between chest and chin, depending on the height of the gentleman in attendance. Above that, there's a window…” The design has “significant pluses. Seamless glass goes a long way toward eliminating the odors that accumulate in grout between tiles around the typical urinal.” Cleaning glass takes only slightly more effort than cleaning mirrors. Another plus is “the gray ceramic floor tiles at the airport are joined by a special grout that's used in hospitals and nursing homes to resist the absorption of urine.”

To create a lighter and more engaging environment, designers should attempt to stay away from the cold, sterile feeling that some restrooms communicate. In an article called “Restroom Design Challenges”, by Abigail Kelly, some tips include having “high ceilings that create a sense of spaciousness; softer lighting schemes or, occasionally, day lighting; and design schemes that carry architectural and aesthetic elements used elsewhere in the facility into the restrooms.” However, the designer must be careful to not let form dominate function, a critical mistake that can easily be overlooked by designers.

Although airport restrooms are cleaned routinely, airports have a substantial need for innovative design that accommodates all types of travelers. Airports are highly sensitive to efficient design because they have to meet the needs of the high traffic of travelers. Whether it’s the Step N’ Wash or revolving toilet seats, airports are expected to be the first with technologically advanced facilities.

Works Cited
Baskas, Harriet.  "Fresh Amenities for Pooped Out Travelers".  2 Oct 2008.
Davidsen, Judith. "A Loo with a View". Interior Design 1 Oct 2006.
Fishman, Levi. "Family Restrooms Overcome Stalls". 11 Dec 2007.

"Public Restroom Design Issues". American Restroom Association. 30 Oct 2008.

"OAK Responds to Customer Feedback with Restrooms Renovations for Terminal 1". Oakland International. 1 Nov 2008.

"December 2007 Airline Traffic Data: U.S. Airlines Carry Record 769 Million Passengers in 2007". Bureau of Transportation
Services. 1 Nov 2008. .

"Airport restrooms: When and how often they're cleaned". USAToday. 30 Oct 2008.

DFW Design Criteria Manual: <>.