The Design Solution Airport Planning Director Manjit Dhillon: Seating areas should be seen as a key element in the travel experience

Are you sitting comfortably?

Manjit Dhillon of The Design Solution looks at the cutting edge of airport seating design.

Passengers bring a myriad of needs and moods into the departure lounge. For some it’s a feeling of almost childlike excitement, a voyage to a thrilling destination. To others it’s an indifferent business trip, and for some it may even fill them with dread. Of course, our feelings towards airports vary and depend on our personal experiences and expectations.

A relaxed passenger who feels that their needs are being met will rate their whole airport experience higher and will be more likely to explore the options to fill their dwell time, especially in retail. So, what can be done to create an airport lounge area that contributes towards a pleasant and fulfilling airport experience?  In designing the seating within an airport lounge space, there are four key factors that I think are valuable to every passenger and every airport.

  • Design

Ideally, you want your airport lounge to be an ‘escape’; an attractive, comfortable area that relaxes you after the inevitable rush and stress of the journey to the airport and gives you a calm space of your own that takes you away from the frantic pace of the terminal.

Good design is essential but it must be complemented by basic comforts. The designer’s key goal should be to generate a relaxed atmosphere, incorporating optimum temperature/air quality and balanced lighting levels, and natural daylight as a very welcome bonus.

Expanding beyond creating a simple, functional seating area it could even become an experiential zone with integrated Internet points, for example, opening up opportunities for a wide range of activities.

F&B is another key passenger need and F&B kiosks can be cleverly integrated within a lounge seating area, allowing dual-purpose seats.

I particularly like the way the lounge seating zones work in Baku Airport, Azerbaijan (above); the large cocoon structures, smartly integrated landscaping, and the variety of seating as a whole provides a wonderful experience and the space looks very welcoming and visually appealing.

  • Planning / Zones

The physical furniture and fixtures play a large part in setting the right tone, dictating the aesthetic and overall ambience of the space.

Comfort and circulation: Cathay Pacific Lounge, Hong Kong International Airport

Planning the seating arrangement is key, making sure there is adequate circulation space, being mindful that passengers often carry bits of luggage and shopping bags. Ideally, (budget permitting) the designer should try to create a feeling of vibrancy, luxury and comfort into the lounge, through use of colour, texture, materials to iconic shapes.

With most passengers these days having smartphones, the seating should have ancillary points to charge laptops, mobile phones, tablets etc.

Flooring within the seating areas can also play a role a big role. Differentiating the floor finish from the main terminal floor finish will help create clear zone definition. If possible, locating children’s play areas in close proximity is also a good idea.

Obviously space is always at a premium, which is why all too often we see the usual rows of dull Terminus chairs or Trax systems. These types of chairs still have a place, more perhaps within the gate lounge areas where quantity is more important. New airports, however, have more opportunity than older terminals, which is why they should integrate the planning of seating areas with more thought and provide a variety of seating options.

The variety and overall aesthetic of the lounge at Munich Airport (above) really offers passengers a huge choice, I especially like the way the kiosk seating booths allow passengers to have some private space / time to collect your thoughts, and they are also very well equipped with power points – including USB ports in case you need to top up your laptop.

  • Variety

Adding variety to seating types will also cater for the differing needs of passengers, ranging from the couple stopping in for a pre-flight drink – who may prefer a cruise bar & stool arrangement – to a family with children seeking a more relaxed seating style which could take the form of modular seating.

Large groups of passengers often prefer a more intimate arrangement, booth/banquette seating being the preferred choice. All this, in turn, allows passengers to relax and, once oriented with the space, can even lead them to the leisurely pursuit of shopping, creating an obvious bonus for the airport.

Variety, comfort and sociability: Seating plays a part in influencing the mindset of the traveller

One of my favourite seating systems is the configurable winding Nova C series ‘Double Bench’ by Green Furniture Concept. The seats have integrated tables, come in a wide variety of finishes and create an open atmosphere for commercial spaces, including double benches without a backrest, offering more ways to sit and socialise.

  •  Quality

Last, but not least, is the issue of durability. From an airport perspective, whatever the furniture selection, it will receive a sustained attack of wear and tear; therefore it should be robust and exceptionally durable. Obviously, it is important that the seating meets the functionality, but this should not come at the expense of style. Maintaining a high level of aesthetics will ensure that the lounge will tick all the boxes in the design department, creating a space that the passenger will enjoy.

More in The Design Solution series:

The Design Solution: Return to Rangnam – The power of design

“An explosion of Mexican colour and energy” at Cancún Duty Free

The Pop Up Revolution – Trends in the Global Retail Landscape

The Design Solution: The food & beverage revolution leads to Rome

A Venetian Grand Design – how design has shaped the most beautiful store in the world

The Design Solution: Virtual Reality – Bringing the design experience to life

The Designed Experience: Introducing a new series in partnership with The Design Solution