Why Are Airports So Confusing [Answered]

Most people get lost at the airports. That’s because airports are way too confusing for them. If you are currently going through this confusion, you should have a clear understanding on why they are so confusing.

People are slowly beginning to fly again after several months of historically low air traffic. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said that almost 863,000 passengers passed through its airport checkpoints on August 16, the largest amount since March 17. There are still a lot of unknowns about the future of commercial airlines and the intricacies of COVID-19 transmission aboard planes, but it’s safe to say that no one wants to waste any more time at the airport. Because airports may be difficult to navigate, here are a few pointers to keep you on track.

Why are airports confusing?

Although no one has conducted a global study of terminal confusion, there are smaller, more general studies of airport dissatisfaction that cover criteria such as on-time performance. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the most inconvenient airport is New York’s LaGuardia, which is followed by Newark, Washington Dulles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and New York John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But, honestly, do you need a research to tell you that airports are perplexing? No. Simply travel someplace and you’ll almost certainly witness the pandemonium.

For passengers, airports generate “sensory overload.” When you’re traveling, airports create sensory overload. Chances are, you’re more concerned with your next meeting or when you’ll be able to see your family than with whether to turn left or right for your gate. Airports make your brain hurt.

Airports, however, can be perplexing even for seasoned travelers. That’s because, according to Dr. Janet Bednarek, an aviation historian at the University of Dayton, they weren’t meant to carry that many people. “Even the finest designs have been swamped by greatly exceeding estimates in passenger numbers or, more lately, altered security protocols,” she told USA Today. To address this, airports install signage all over the place to compensate for design and capacity issues.

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While such indicators should assist in principle, it might be tough to determine which way they’re pointing in practice. (Does that diagonal arrow going upwards and to the left indicate that you should use the escalator ahead or turn left at the next fork in the hallway?) In addition, airports are a sensory overload for us as we try to traverse terminals full of screaming children, conflicting Cinnabon and Panda Express scents, and signage pointing in every direction—all while attempting to board a flight or exit the airport.

This nonintuitive design is normally aggravating and might make us lose patience. Things may become nasty if there’s a pandemic and everyone is trying to get in and out of the airport as soon as possible without touching anything. While we wait for much-needed airport upgrades, here are three methods to save you from getting lost.

Even the finest designs have been swamped by greatly exceeding expectations in passenger numbers or, more lately, altered security protocols, It’s not uncommon to get lost at the airport. That’s because airports try to make up for bad design by plastering signage all around the terminals, which overloads our minds. What’s the solution? New terminals and a little technology.

Others are perplexed by airports as well. Many air travelers I’ve met with have told me that they frequently lose their way when flying. In the United States, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington receive the most complaints, although they are up against international competition.

According to Patrick Smith, author of “Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need To Know About Air Travel,” “Charles de Gaulle and London-Heathrow are as complex as airports can get.”

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How bad is airport terminal confusion

Although no one has conducted a global study of terminal confusion, there are smaller, more general studies of airport dissatisfaction that cover criteria such as on-time performance. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the most inconvenient airport is New York’s LaGuardia, which is followed by Newark, Washington Dulles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and New York John F. Kennedy International Airport. But, honestly, do you need a research to tell you that airports are perplexing? No. Simply travel there and you’ll almost certainly witness the mayhem for yourself.

Can a better airport design help you to overcome the problem?

Airports are aware that they are perplexing, and some are taking steps to alleviate the situation. Take, for example, the new Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport. To avoid misunderstanding, the terminal will employ better design rather than additional signage. To screening areas and gates, there will be a clear line of sight.

“Travelers will not be overstimulated by an abundance of directional signs, digital displays, or information booths,” says Robert Chicas, head of Aviation and Transportation at HOK, the architecture company that designed the terminal. “Having good sight lines to your destination can bring comfort and reduce some of the tension associated with navigating through airport facilities.”

To clear things up, you don’t need to create a new terminal. Larger signage and the removal of some of the clutter, such as billboard advertisements and TV displays, might assist. Moving stuff around all the time is also ineffective. For whatever reason, airports enjoy doing this with rideshare services. They’re in this parking lot one day and then in another the next.

But we’re in a bind. So, you’re going to ask for your money back, right? Why don’t you fly out of a different airport? Airports may be as perplexing as they want and yet get away with it.

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How to avoid getting lost at an airport

Airports may be confusing, especially for first-time travelers. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the terminals and check-in stations. To help you navigate the airport more successfully, we’ve included a few pointers that you may use to prevent getting lost on your next flight.

  •  Arrive early at the airport.

If this is your first time flying, give yourself plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the check-in procedure. Arriving at the airport two hours or more early for a domestic flight is a fantastic idea. Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours ahead of time for international flights. Arriving early ensures that you complete the procedure efficiently and that you do not miss your flight, even if there are huge lines.

  •  Obey all airport signage.

The airport is meant to make it simpler for passengers to find check-in counters, gates, waiting spaces, and stores, among other things. Although an airport’s architecture and interior design may differ, the essential principles of wayfinding are followed throughout. The tiling patterns, location of ticket counters, security checks, gates, and signs are all designed to nudge you into the next step.

The way-finding signs, for example, are drab and simple to contrast with the neon fancy glitters of advertising. They’re strategically positioned at critical decision points to assist you decide out which path to follow quickly.

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  •  Use your boarding pass to locate your gate.

The gate information is on your boarding card. Another alternative is to look at the electronic displays that run along the perimeter of the gates. Your flight number relates to your gate. Enter the building, take a seat, and listen for any updates on your flight’s status.

  •  Stay away from some annoyances that might create stress and delays.

When your mind is not busy with other things, it is simpler to navigate your way around a new area. This is why you should prepare ahead of time, keeping convenience in mind. You may purchase and pay for your tickets online in advance. This saves you time and money at the ticket desks since early booking earns you discounts.

Furthermore, reserving early allows you to take note of flight information, departure time, and other specifics so that you can adequately plan. Don’t bring anything you won’t be able to carry through the airport. Place your identity documents and boarding ticket in a safe, accessible location. This sort of planning will make things go more smoothly at the checkpoints.

  •  Make use of technology or printed airport maps

You can use a physical map to study the airport and master a few points. This will offer you a sense of where to start, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the airport. Technology, on the other hand, makes it easier to traverse different airports since you don’t have to keep track of instructions in your head. For example, with programs like Bing Airport Maps, you may easily navigate your way around various airports.

The maps indicate how to go from the airport to the boarding gate and include useful information such as terminals and gates, currency exchange, ticket counter locations, baggage claims, parking lots, restaurants, and cafés, among other things. You may also use Google Maps to find airports. Check ahead of time to see if the mapping tool you’re going to use includes the airport you’ll be utilizing.

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  •  Consider using an expedited arrivals service

You don’t always have time to look for instructions in an airport on your own. You could be traveling for work, and your main concern is getting to your destination as quickly as possible. You cannot wait hours to clear immigration and customs before connecting to your next aircraft in this scenario. It’s also possible that you’ll be traveling with youngsters, which will make winding through airport terminals and the frantic procedure much more difficult.

Expedited arrivals are useful for speeding up the procedure for you. The companies have trained personnel who can assist you with your bags, assure quick immigration and customs processing, and provide secure transportation or terminal transfers, among other things. Every traveler, whether on business, vacation, or studying abroad, wishes for easy airport transfers and speedy customs or immigration clearance.

  •  Seek assistance.

If you can’t find the appropriate gate, don’t waste time wandering around the airport. You may always seek assistance. When you don’t have time to figure out the way on your own, security guards or any other on-site employee can assist you.

  • Examine the floor plan of the airport before you go

When you’re attempting to find your way around a new place, you consult a map. Take a few minutes before you arrive at the airport to familiarize yourself with the maps and floor plans available on most airport websites. You don’t have to memorize it (though taking a snapshot is helpful so you don’t have to continually opening up the webpage) but knowing whether to turn left or right after security might be useful. You’ll also be able to see your meal selections ahead of time and arrange how you’ll use the toilet.

  • Use TripIt or airline applications to plan your trip.

For years, regular fliers have flocked to the TripIt app, which gives interactive airport maps for 90 airports across the world. Aside from maps, it also gives you the quickest route to your gate or departure, as well as an estimate of how long it will take. Similar capabilities are available on certain airline applications, which are especially useful if you have a brief layover before a connecting flight. You don’t even need to enter any information because it already has all of your flight details.

Final words

As you can see, airports are confusion and there’s very little on what we can do about it. You will need to keep this in your mind and be ready with your travel plans. If this is the very first time that you are going to a specific airport, it is important to go through all the tips we shared and get ready accordingly. Then you will be able to stay away from getting confused while you are at the airport. This will deliver a more convenient experience to you as you travel.

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