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Getting airport seating right is crucial to the passenger experience. Durability, aesthetics and the correct number of seats are just some of the considerations an airport and its architects must consider when searching for the perfect fit. The latest innovations in materials and design are also influencing both the type and location of seats that airports are choosing to install. 

Seating calculations

“Our role in the purchase of seating is specifying,” says Ginger Gee Difurio, senior associate at USA-based architecture and design firm Corgan. “The first step is to meet with the client and understand what their seating standards are. It is becoming more usual to have these standards defined. However, it still comes down to understanding what the needs are and steering the client in the direction of the best product.”

A key factor is the balance between seating, floor space and retail. Space distribution is commonly guided by the airport authority, based on the desire for concessions space versus airline lease space for passenger use.

“Many airports are realizing that, if located correctly, concessions spaces can accommodate much of the seating required for waiting passengers,” says Leesa Coller, senior project designer at global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK. “Space for circulation is necessary and can’t be sacrificed due to exiting requirements and general movement. Airlines also usually require at least half of their standard aircraft load factor to be accommodated within the gate lounge area.”

At gate lounges, flexibility of seating choice is often determined by the level of service proposed per passenger. If there is a higher level of service expected, for example, then the square footage per person often increases.

Most airports determine the number of seats needed in a gate area by assessing the aircraft size expected to use it, then estimating the number of passengers likely to prefer to stand or visit retail outlets before they board their flight.

David Kim, civil engineering associate for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), agrees that multiple factors must be considered before making a final decision on seating and its location.

“When buying seating, the building design, people’s comfort, maintainability and cost must be taken into consideration,” says Kim. “When we design our spaces, we bear in mind IATA’s service standards, designing to no less than a ‘C’ level of service, which represents ‘good comfort’.

“We have carried out research to ascertain the amount and type of seating by conducting functional tests with sample furniture in an active concourse. In Tom Bradley International Terminal, we decided to install over 3,800 Arconas Flyaway seats, which are also used in other terminals throughout the LAX campus.”

Kurt Wallner, managing director of Poltrona Frau, says, “Concourse seating is increasingly an integral part of the overall architecture of an airport, so there is growing attention to the design of the seating system and how it fits aesthetically to the overall airport interiors.

“We have different bestsellers in different regions. For example, our Onda Airport model is very popular in Europe, while the sleek Fly_Air model is our bestseller in the Asia-Pacific region. We are very confident that our brand-new model, the Aetos, will become our bestselling model due to its unique design and functional features.”

Accessories and branding

When deciding how to position seating, the changing requirements of passengers have to be considered. Once a rare luxury across terminals, power outlets are in demand more than ever by travelers who want to recharge their electronic devices before boarding an aircraft.

“Due to increased passenger expectations, it is almost a necessity now that they have access to a power source,” says Shelly Nichols, vice president at Corgan. “If it is not on the seat, airports are offering alternatives. After-market parts are also an option.

“The greater challenge is having the power infrastructure to support the additional sockets. Getting the power to the seat is expensive and in most renovations and new constructions there is a need to install additional power sources, at extra expense.”

Leesa Coller, a design principal at architect HOK, agrees: “With the digital age we are living in, airports must prioritize providing power sockets in all gate lounges, restaurants, food courts and club lounges.”

Demand for accessories such as drink holders, tablet holders and footrests are on the rise, as are bespoke designs. Airports and airlines are increasingly keen to brand seating in a way that makes it clear to customers where they are and the level of service they can expect.

“There is a trend of free and easy,” says Johan Berhin, designer and founder at seating supplier Green Furniture. “Nice and personal seating areas have the effect of slowing down the pace, making passengers realize they have time for a bite or for strolling around the shops.

“This is good for passenger satisfaction and for airport business, something that many airports are now realizing.”

“For the best passenger experience, every airport should have many options,” adds HOK’s Coller. “Business benching, tandem seats, lounge seats, bar height stools, children’s furniture and so on. We look for durable, high-quality material with solid connections.”

Quality considerations
“When buying seating, we look for a few specific features,” says LAX’s Kim. “Power sockets, cupholders, comfort and maintainability are essentials, and the seats should be vandalism-resistant, with easy-to-replace upholstery and readily available parts should they be sought.”

Maintaining the quality of airport seating is one of the biggest challenges. With millions of passengers passing through an airport every year, the average life expectancy is 20 to 30 years.

Many factors contribute to a typical seat’s life expectancy. The amount of use is the primary one, but improper cleaning can fatigue upholstery and poor maintenance can reduce quality. Passengers sleeping overnight on seats can bring added abuse to upholstery and even sunlight can have an impact over long periods of time.

“If the seating has upholstery of any kind, it will wear first,” says Coller. “It is critical to get this right. We would recommend going with the manufacturer-tested upholstery products and mock-ups are a must – they enable the client and maintenance team to experience the space and weigh in on what will work for them.

“New seating must be physically hard to
move or able to be anchored in place after nightly cleaning.

“We look at newer products and manufacturers that have successful products in heavy-use environments. We then test seating mock-ups in-house with our team so that we can examine joints, welds and connections.

“After we narrow down each product to three options, we put them in front of the client and the groups that make up the larger team, which can include customer support, ADA, maintenance, operations and marketing.”

As well as durability requirements, the position of seating in an airport is an important factor when specifying. Airports and architects are more likely to invest in luxurious seating for their premium lounges, for example, while seating in popular areas such as gate lounges needs to be harder wearing.

Architects and designers will need to look at future changes in customer demand in order to keep the passenger experience the very best it can be.


“Innovation focus will be on diversity and possibility to create unique and appealing places,” says Green Furniture’s Johan Berhin. “Traditional airport seating is not noticed by the passengers, so it is now time to create seating areas that are surprising and memorable, yet functional and durable. The demand for this kind of architectural, place shaping furniture

will rise.”

“It comes down to an overall level of service expectation the airport wants to set for its passengers,” says Corgan’s Nichols. “There is also a need to be mindful of having a consistent look and feel to maintain the brand, but more airports are going toward the lounge look. This is being driven by the passengers and the level of comfort they expect when traveling.”

LAX has been experimenting with its seating, shifting away from the Herman Miller Eames Tandem Sling offering over the past five years after using it for decades. “We have been exploring ‘soft’ seating such as free-standing lounge seats and benches in the open areas, and incorporating row seating,” says Kim.


A recent HOK seating project at Tampa International Airport also explored the use of different types of seating, with six bench types, three stool varieties, four lounge seat types, two stacking options and children’s seating. “The main difference is open public use versus private club use,” says Coller.


“Although the first usually receives higher use, both must be extremely durable. Training is important for cleaning crews, as harsh cleaning products can destroy furnishings.”

Misuse mitigation
Airports and their architects face a number of challenges when allotting seating. The turnaround times of orders have to be considered, for example. “The location of the installation and the level of security you must go through to get the seats placed is also a big consideration,” says Corgan’s Difurio.

“Interestingly, we see that US passengers and airports have higher standards and expectations for seating compared with the international projects where we have incorporated new seating. The products vary less between domestic airports than they do internationally.”

Despite the research that goes into placing the most durable seating in the right locations, it is still difficult to prevent the improper use of seats by passengers, which can reduce lifespan. Such actions can include moveable seating, such as is used in food courts, being moved to a different location where it is used more frequently than anticipated, or adults sitting on seating made for children.

Trends may change, but seating will continue to be an integral part of airport design. Having somewhere comfortable to relax before boarding a flight is an important part of a journey, and airports will continue to cater to the passenger’s demands to make sure they have it just right.

June 15, 2017 



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