Implementing dynamic glass in airport spaces improves passenger comfort, increases retail revenue, and saves energy.
In airports, windows shape customer experience more than in most places. Whether it’s waiting for a connection after hours on a cramped plane or about to depart for a destination, passengers wish to feel like they are in an open and secure environment. For some, being able to see the plane they are about to board can provide a level of comfort that allows them to overcome any butterflies about flying. In the language of biophilia, it’s called “prospect and refuge.”
Increasingly, airport designers and managers are recognizing the key role natural light can play in creating a positive passenger experience. In such a challenging space, airport administrators who prioritize comfort are experiencing a competitive and economic edge. Smart glass is rising to the top of airport lists of technologies that can replace conventional blinds and motorized shades and improve the passenger experience by providing increased comfort. The technology also improves environmental outcomes for airports by improving energy efficiency.
Few people really want to be at an airport. They tolerate them to get from point A to point B. On top of that, the desire to be anywhere but there is exacerbated by the fact that they tend to be busy and stressful places.
Today, with airports shifting their focus toward non-aeronautical revenue sources, creating conditions that encourage commerce is more important than ever. With many airports originally built as little more than big boxes with artificial lighting, the lack of a natural aesthetic contributes to passenger discomfort. When passengers are uncomfortable, they are less likely to spend money at on-site businesses such as shops and restaurants. In fact, there is a major business opportunity for airports that prioritize comfort. According to one study by J.D. Power and Associates, “Happy passengers are super spenders” and passengers with high airport satisfaction spend 45% more than those who aren’t satisfied.
Smart glass contributes
While traditional blinds and motorized shades are the most common tool airports use to regulate light, they come with several drawbacks. Blinds must be manually raised and lowered, and motorized shades require constant maintenance, which adds other tasks for busy airport staff. Meanwhile, light conditions are constantly changing and it’s tough to always know when to close blinds or shades. Most important, closed blinds and shades obstruct the view and reduce the amount of natural light, which can make passengers feel even more confined than they already do.
Smart glass is becoming a more attractive alternative for leading airports as it allows seamless regulation of natural light while maintaining open and unobstructed views. Unlike traditional blinds, smart glass tints automatically in response to outdoor conditions, maximizing the amount of natural light that can be let in without compromising the view. Smart glass supports these efforts by also helping to improve energy efficiency by better-regulating building temperatures, reducing demand for heating and cooling.
Elevating comfort at Sea-Tac
The Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport is the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest and the 28th busiest airport in the world. In 2016, the facility served more than 45-million passengers and is considered one of the fastest growing airports in the country.
Delta Airlines, wanted its new Sea-Tac Delta Sky Club to establish a reputation for being a luxurious and relaxing space. This required using innovative, scalable technologies such as dynamic glass. At 21,000 sq. ft., the club ranks among the five largest facilities in the airline’s system. It can comfortably seat as many as 400 customers across two levels.
The Sea-Tac club design uses 7,500 sq. ft. of View Inc., Milpitas, CA, smart glass, which allows members and guests to enjoy unobstructed views of Mount Rainier—the tallest mountain in Washington state—in a relaxing environment without unwanted glare or heat. Since the installation was completed in late 2016, passengers and Delta employees have been enthusiastic about how the glass helps increase their comfort during visits. Claude Roussel, Delta Sky Clubs managing director, said the dynamic glass has become an architectural showpiece for the club.
“View Dynamic Glass is one of the Seattle Club’s architectural showpieces,” stated Roussel. “Installing smart windows shows Delta’s commitment to elevate our guest experience. We are excited for our guests to enjoy exceptional views free from heat and glare as part of their club experience.”
Sustainability at SFO
Another airport that is looking to increase sustainable design while enhancing comfort is San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The airport is the largest in Northern California and the 23rd busiest airport in the world, serving more than 53-million passengers in 2016. Servicing an area renowned for environmental sustainability, with its current Terminal 1 renovation project, the airport established a goal of becoming a net-zero facility, meaning it would possess renewable energy sources with a generation capacity that is equal to the airport’s total energy consumption.
In addition to investing in building energy efficiency to become the first LEED Gold-certified airport terminal in the United States, SFO evaluated other projects to find technology that would help meet their environmental goals while extending Bay Area eco-culture into the terminal to dazzle passengers. Two SFO architects chose View Dynamic Glass, which was also preferred by the airport authority because it simplifies maintenance.
The project, expected to be completed in 2024, will use 66,000 sq. ft. of dynamic glass to create a world-class travel experience while achieving leadership in energy efficiency. As part of a multi-pronged strategy to invest in energy efficiency, the smart glass is expected to help SFO reduce its energy requirements and significantly simplify the terminal conditioning system.
“Our goal is to set a new standard for passenger and employee experience and operational flexibility. Incorporating dynamic glass at San Francisco International Airport helps us achieve that design objective,” said Kirsten Ritchie, sustainable design director and principal at Gensler, San Francisco, the architectural firm leading the project. “View Dynamic Glass is the ideal solution to improve the comfort and travel experience for millions of passengers and thousands of SFO and airline employees by bringing in more natural light into the terminal, while minimizing glare and heat.”
An assessment found that installing the smart glass would help drive millions of dollars in economic benefits when energy savings and increased customer comfort were factored in. In total, the project is expected to drive $6 million in business benefits against a cost of $3 million.