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Tags: airport design, directionality,
spatial configuration, waiting time


Design Decisions

Gate lounges are often provided as assembly areas for passengers in transition from the main departure lounge and the aircraft, and are most commonly found in terminals organized as satellite buildings or with long finger piers [1]. 

The scale of the airport influences the characteristics of the boarding gate. At smaller scale airports, it is typically not cost effective to have a dedicated lounge area at the boarding gate [1]. Seating areas that are shared by multiple gates can reduce space requirements by up to 85% over building a separate seating area for each gate, while simultaneously making it easier to shift a departing flight from one gate to another [2].

The gate lounge is sized to accommodate the number of passengers expected to be in the lounge 15 minutes prior to departure, typically about 90% of the total number of passengers (9). 

Reducing the time that passengers spend queuing at their gate means that passengers will tolerate higher occupancy densities [4].

Effects on Passengers

In their analysis of the departure lounge experience, Rowley and Slack observed that “US airports have much more of a sense of urgency and activity (or a “buzz”)” while  in other parts of the world... the sense is more one of leisure and luxury, calm and relaxation” [5].

Travelers in the United States are notorious “gate huggers”, an airport industry term that refers to travelers who proceed immediately to their gate once through the airport security checkpoint , rather than engaging with the ever-expanding array of retail and dining options in the departure lounge [6].  From the perspective of the airline industry, these passengers are less likely to spend money at food and retail outlets, depriving the airport of potential revenue.  However, the trend for US travelers to congregate at gates more frequently may be influenced less by cultural preferences and more by the ownership structure of airports in the United States, in which processing facilities are owned by a central authority and concourses managed by individual airlines [6].

On a global scale, various sources of anxiety are cited when explaining the tendency for passengers to congregate at their departure gate lounge, including nervousness about missing their flight, the threat of gate-checking a bag if they are one of the last passengers to board, or relatively informal boarding procedures of low-cost carriers (7). 

This dynamic is common enough that such passengers have earned the nickname of “gate lice”; Boston Globe gives the following jetiquette advice: “Don’t crowd the gate before your boarding group is called. In the travel world, we refer to people who block the gate as “gate lice.” A simple fix: If your boarding group hasn’t been called, don’t stand in line or block access to those trying to get on board” [8].

Several startups have developed novel solutions to the gate hugging problem that do not rely on passengers physically occupying the main departure lounge. The food service company HMSHost has deployed mobile carts stocked with beverages, snacks and magazines to serve passengers at gates (9). Startups such as AtYourGate and Airport Sherpa (now defunct) allow travelers to order gate-side food delivery from restaurants in other areas of the airport (6).  

  1. International Air Transport Association, editor. Airport Development Reference Manual. 9. ed., effective Jan. 2004, 2004.
  2. Belin, Steven C. (Steven Craig). “Designing Flexibility into Airport Passenger Buildings : The Benefits of Multifunctional Space and Facilities.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000. 
  3. Horonjeff, Robert. Planning and Design of Airports, Fifth Edition. 5th ed, McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.
  4. Odoni, Amedeo R., and Richard de Neufville. “Passenger Terminal Design.” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan. 1992, pp. 27–35.
  5. Rowley, Jennifer, and Frances Slack. 1999. “The Retail Experience in Airport Departure Lounges: Reaching for Timelessness and Placelessness.” International Marketing Review 16 (4/5): 363–376.
  6. Baker, Joe. Gate Huggers: “Should Airports Look to Deploy More Retail at Boarding Areas?” Airport Industry Review. 37. November 2018. Accessed 9 June 2020.
  7. Gate Anxiety: The Hot Topic for 2018?” Airport Technology, 16 Apr. 2018.
  8. Muther, Christopher, et al. “Avoid Gate Lice and Wear Your Headphones: The Dos and Don’ts of Airport Etiquette.” BostonGlobe.Com. Accessed 10 July 2019.
  9. HMSHost : Home. Accessed 9 June 2020.