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The touchless advantage


Orlando International Airport’s new user-friendly South Terminal C will showcase an array of touchless technologies, writes Curtis Fentress, principal in charge of design at Fentress Architects.

Orlando International Airport (MCO), which started 2021 as the busiest gateway in the US for passenger departures, is about a year away from opening its new South Terminal C.

Designed by Fentress Architects in association with HNTB, it is part of the largest expansion project in the Florida airport’s history.

While recovery from COVID-19 is still underway, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Central Florida’s investment in the South Terminal C complex. For one, MCO went from the tenth busiest airport in the United States (as ranked by passenger volume) in 2019 to the ninth in 2020.

During that same period, the airport also moved up five spots on the list of busiest airports worldwide. And even though monthly passenger loads across the US remain lower than they were in 2019, they are also steadily rising.

This rise is largely being driven by a surge in domestic tourism, which has long been a dominant segment of the Orlando market. South Terminal C’s opening in 2022 is sure to further support passenger growth with a near touchless experience.

Reducing the time spent at check-in, security and at other key touchpoints at airports has long been the goal of airport planners and designers, and this desire to make passenger processing smoother, more efficient, and indeed pleasant, has been accelerated during the COVID pandemic due to new global health and wellness concerns.

And with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that 80% of all infectious diseases can be transmitted through touch, arguably the industry goal should be to strive for a completely touchless experience for passengers.

Numerous technologies such as automatic lavatory fixtures and mobile boarding passes have long been the industry standard as a means to reducing touchpoints at airports and enhancing the passenger experience.

Now, with current demand propelling the industry forward, incremental advancements in touchless technology are being introduced en masse. One such advancement is gesture-based self-serve kiosks, which transform the traditional self-serve kiosk into a completely touchless device. Likewise, foot-pull openers for lavatory stalls and foot-activated buttons for elevators are also turning touchpoints touchless.

Along with these developments, there have been a vast array of solutions introduced for holdrooms. This is an area that has traditionally provided passengers little to no opportunity for social distancing.

Basic reconfiguration of seating rows into a honeycomb shape is one solution to allow for more social distancing. Additional solutions include cluster configurations and highly flexible seating like Arconas’ Place Chair. Designed by Michael McCoy in collaboration with Fentress Architects, Place Chair can be assembled in a variety of configurations to achieve multiple objectives. Each seat is also outfitted with extra-large arm rests and electrical outlets.

While incremental solutions are important, a truly touchless airport experience requires the addition of more comprehensive solutions such as contactless concessions and biometrics.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles International Airport piloted an on-demand food service programme in Terminal 2 that prepares pre-orders from existing kitchens, otherwise known as a ‘ghost kitchen’. While that solution is perfect for existing facilities, new construction projects present the opportunity to radically reinvent the means and methods of presenting and delivering all types of food, beverage, and retail products.

New construction also allows for the seamless integration of biometrics, an artificial intelligence technology capable of providing touchless check-in, security, boarding and international arrivals processes for passengers.

At South Terminal C, passengers will be able to engage a variety of biometric devices.  Moreover, all 15-gates will be outfitted with technology to provide 100% facial recognition for international arrivals and departures. In this example alone, it is easy to see the advantages of a touchless experience: passenger safety, health, comfort and convenience.

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