Airport Waiting Areas and Golden Rule Design

Frankfurt Airport Waiting AreaGood design for open spaces is often about defining the space for a certain purpose. The goal could be random meetings of strangers, curated strolls that seem spontaneous, yet are deliberately designed. Airports and train stations are often designed now to facilitate shopping as well as security, but rarely waiting. Occasionally an airport is designed to facilitate the flow of people to their gates and then on to their destinations.

Travel is about waiting. – Chris Guillebeau

As much as travel involves waiting, it also involves other people; people who run the airport, move luggage and goods, check you in, make your trip comfortable, and navigate roads or airspace. And then there are your fellow travelers.

As a solo traveler, I am not always keen to travel too closely with people. I like my personal space and like to offer others personal space as much as I can within the design confines I am given. It is this reciprocation of personal space that originally led me to create this site. If I can do unto others as I would want them to do unto me, then we should have a more pleasant journey together.

However much we might try to be nice to each other, we can only do so much within the designed space we are given to wait, or travel in.

Let’s Talk About the Waiting Area or Gate Seating

At airport gates, I encounter a typical situation with rows of identical seats. Sometimes these are packed together with a plan, other times not. Almost everyone chooses a seat that has at least one seat on either side of them. They (and I) will claim this open space with bags to deter all but the most tired traveler from requesting a seat.

This invariably leads to as many as 50% of the seats in the gate area left empty. Few people will deliberately sit next to others (at least in the US) unless absolutely necessary. This situation becomes troublesome if the flight is delayed because people will only stand up waiting for so long.

There are two problems here:

  1. People are not following the Golden Rule because they want to sit are not letting others sit down because they want more personal space. Using bags to deter a request to sit down is a subtle and impersonal hurdle.
  2. The design of the chairs and arrangement of these chairs is not facilitating the Golden Rule.

Which takes me back to my favorite topic on this site…

Good Design Facilitates Golden Rule Behavior

Since it is hard to change people’s behavior, what if we avoided the situation with a redesign of the chairs and seating arrangement? What if this new design started with the Golden Rule Question?

“How can we design these chairs, and place these chairs, to treat travelers the way travelers want to be treated?” – Click to Tweet!


“How can we design the chairs and waiting area to help people treat each other the way they want to be treated?”

I may have found the basis for one solution at American Airlines Terminal 4 at LAX.

LAX American Airlines Terminal 4 Waiting AreaThe placement of the seats enables conversation, meetings, and personal space. The tables offer a place for the junk we all carry on a journey, or a drink. The angle of the end seats permits solo travelers the space they need, while offering the potential for conversation. The center seats allow pairs a chance to sit together. No one is too close for comfort. The layout encourages bags to be placed on the table or off chairs, opening up more space for sitting.

Even if someone claims two chairs, there is enough space such that they should feel comfortable moving their bags and another person should feel it easier to request the seat.

LAX AA Waiting Area Close UpTo make this design more in alignment with the Golden Rule, we could add a power port unit in the center of each table along with a sticker for Wi-Fi details. Now the seats are more enticing to use, people friendly, and each person has enough personal space and electricity to wait patiently.

If the Golden Rule says we should treat people the way we would want to be treated in the same situation, then a good designer should do the same so we have the right tools to apply the Golden Rule.

Let’s face it, not everyone practices the Golden Rule 100% of the time or applies it well. A Golden Rule Designer knows this and helps facilitate the application of the Golden Rule through design. A good designer works with people’s inherent biases, quirks, and inclinations to help the Golden Rule along.

If you are a designer, all you need to start is the Golden Rule Question:

How do I design this [chair, thing, space] to help people treat each other the way they wanted to be treated in the same situation?

At each point in the creation process, a designer might step back to ask further questions, such as, “Would I ask people to use this? Will they use it in the way intended? Will this design help people apply the Golden Rule?”

Do you have Golden Rule airport ideas? Have you seen a Golden Rule friendly layout for gate chairs? Tell us in the comments!

Images: Josh Hill and Flickr hoyasmeg


1 comments on
“Airport Waiting Areas and Golden Rule Design”

  1. I’ve seen more and more play areas in airports. Usually in the nicer ones.

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