Recovery of the Sleeping Beauties

What will airport terminals look like after the pandemic crisis is over? One day when the authorities and scientists will tell us it is safe to return fully to normality, I wonder what the new ‘normal’ will be like for passenger terminal buildings.

I have always viewed these structures as exceptional arenas where emotions, sentiments, anxieties, fears, joys and thrills come together and interact together with many diverse activities and functions. Dissimilar to any other structure, terminals have a unique aura and ambience that can easily seize cultures, attitudes, principles, beliefs, languages and allow them to coexist.

An unoccupied passenger lounge during the lockdown period, Athens International Airport ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’

Communities and other enterprises who decide to reinstate empty or derelict properties have numerous options open to them. Investment, redesign, demolish and rebuild, modernize and/or bring back to life a property. However, generally speaking, as result from the occurrence of the corona virus, airport terminals ‘froze’ in time rather than regenerated. Therefore, to revive terminals to the state they were prior to this predicament it will take skill and talented manipulation more than architectural intellect. Why this? . . . One may ask.

No Need for an Architectural Intervention

Terminals should not require cosmetic restoration during recovery. Nevertheless, in order to comply with the pandemic era’s social order and the interpolated safeguarding measures – like physical distancing and disinfection – these buildings must go through revamping. This will involve spatial re-arrangements, fitting signage and a large-scale make over. When we are to consider all of the public places and the common areas entangled in processing passengers, stakeholders and employees, then the task can be enormous. From kerb-side, parking, check-ins, arrivals, departures to lounges, security screening halls, retail units, catering facilities and many other spaces, open and functional 24/7!

Yet, the most challenging aspect in the industry’s recuperation trek will be to reinstate travelling customers into the air travel channels. At this moment (at the time of writing this article the UK has merely initiated public vaccinations) a return of passenger numbers to where they were prior to the pandemic, seems a fictional notion. Realistically speaking, we can only hope to have limited passenger numbers returning during the reopening phase. This view is shared among many leading industry Executives including Paul Griffiths, Dubai Airports CEO, who on his interview to Associated Press (27 October 2020) predicted a “possible slow virus recovery”.     

The slow comeback of passengers is a multidimensional issue connected to other complex segments. For a start, to restore public’s confidence in flying we must ensure everyone about his or her own safety but no one has the answer how to do this. Secondly, the pandemic crisis brought economic and social destabilization and subsequently, events created unemployment, market uncertainty and instability for everyone. Additionally, tourism, hospitality, hotel as well as commercial and market networks have literally ceased to operate for months. Thus, these factors supported along with other Covid 19 related socio-economic and political conditions have pushed air travel low down on people’s list of priorities.

In any case, I am confident that the aviation industry will gradually recover. Successively, we will see airport terminals coming out from a long thaw to blossom again, slowly regaining their energetic appeal. We must always remember airport terminals are platforms that facilitate daunting public interactions and service networks.  Their imposing character is lost when we lock them up or close them down while is magnified when they are fully operational.

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