Designing an Equitable and Connected Airport Experience for Every Traveler

Gensler Design Exchange Podcast
5 min readDec 16, 2021


Pittsburgh International Airport | Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects


Ty Osbaugh, LEED AP; Principal, Aviation Leader, Gensler

Derrick Choi, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB; Senior Associate, Aviation Leader, Gensler


Charishma Hunjan, AIA, NCARB; Associate, Architect, Gensler

Mason Edge, AIA, CDT, LEED AP BD+C; Senior Associate, Architect, Gensler

Guests (L-R): Ty Osbaugh, Charishma Hunian, Mason Edge, Derrick Choi

On November 19, 2021, more than 2.2 million passengers were screened at airports nationwide — the highest amount on a single day since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As the holiday travel season intensifies into the end of 2021, what can airport travelers expect now and into 2022? In this episode of the Gensler Design Exchange, four Gensler aviation industry experts explore how the pandemic has introduced airport design innovations in health, wellness, technology, and equity.

“At Gensler, we see airports as small cities. We take inspiration from parallel industries and integrate them into the airport experience to create a great experience for all passengers, not just for few elites.” -Charishma Hunjan, Associate, Architect, Gensler

Since the start of the pandemic, safety, wellness, and sustainability have become just as much of a requirement for passengers at airports as speed and efficiency. Ideas like outdoor areas, touchless technology, and automated disinfection are now at the forefront of terminal design. Gensler’s work at the Pittsburgh International Airport, for example, introduces outdoor spaces as passenger amenities and employee oases. The airport has even introduced hospital-grade UV cleaning robots that roam the halls scrubbing floors clean. These new implementations serve a key purpose as visual reminders to travelers that airports are adapting to keep people healthy and safe.

Generous green space inside the terminal, planned and maintained in conjunction with a local conservancy, blends with the biophilic notes and incorporates an educational element | Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects

Technology will also play a large role in airport designs of the future. Biometrics, which uses travelers’ unique physical characteristics such as faces or fingerprints for automated recognition, is a popular implementation within airports. Services like Clear use biometrics to provide a fast, touchless screening process, and passengers can expect a larger adoption of this type of technology throughout airports as well as other venues that draw large crowds such as stadiums as a part of their COVID-19 health and safety response, and into the future.

“With new technology, passengers can get a customized experience because all of these bits and pieces around the airport are talking to each other, and the system is optimizing what their experience could look like, from the time they enter the airport to the time they step onto their plane.” — Mason Edge, Senior Associate, Architect, Gensler

The pressure is on airports and airlines to continue working with companies to better use technology and data for a more frictionless, tailored experience for passengers beyond the security checkpoint. In this episode, our experts discuss how Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, which uses store scanners and online payment systems to allow customers to grab their items and walk out, could be employed at airport terminal concessions to cut down on checkout line traffic. Additionally, data that airports are already tracking could expand to produce more individualized customer experiences, including congestion monitoring, personalized concession recommendations, and real-time queuing information. This does raise the question of privacy protection, which is something airports and airlines are considering when implementing new technologies.

The Pittsburgh International Airport design philosophy combines nature, technology, and community as a nod to its location, its residents, and its commitment to innovation | Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects

“Moving forward, technology will be critical in enabling the customer. But we need to be careful in how we properly harness that technology. With encryption and blockchain technology, the world is moving very quickly to protect the customer.” — Derrick Choi, Senior Associate, Aviation Leader, Gensler

A key fact that architects and designers must keep in mind when designing terminals is that not all passengers are created equal. Designing with equity in mind is key. Many passengers are brand new to flying and may not understand how airports work. Our experts are seeing a push from airlines to diversity their staff and provide training on sensitivity and assisting customers from different backgrounds and experiences. Common denominators such as technology and smartphones can help globalize the airport experience — and with more of the work being done by tech, more time is freed up for staff to provide support through human connection.

The 635,000-square-foot airport terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport will create a more efficient journey and a more enjoyable travel experience for passengers | Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects

“In our passenger experience research at Gensler, we’ve found that more infrequent flyers are more focused on their flight and flight details, while more frequent flyers are more focused on the airport building itself, and how that building is or is not meeting their needs. So, we are always looking through the lens of both users in our terminal design process.” — Mason Edge, Senior Associate, Architect, Gensler

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to rethink what airports look like. Because of our approach as a cross-disciplinary global design firm, we pull on inspiration from different practice areas cities and urban design and digital experience design to create terminals that feel more like town squares with a curated mix of local retail, food and beverage, healthcare, and hospitality functions that result in a more tailored journey for travelers and locals alike. As travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, we plan to lead with empathy in reimagining how airports will be experienced well into the future.

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Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

The Gensler Design Exchange creates a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters & thought leaders to discuss how we can shape the future of cities.