The Evolution of Airports

While we’ve been hard at work answering your flying questions, Slate has taken a look at the history of airport design. John F. Kennedy International Airport, for example, was originally envisioned by architects William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich as “a massive circular terminal building with 700-foot spokes housing the gates.” [%comments]


It seems the London Heathrow Terminal 2 was designed by a team of dwarves, as the ceiling on the departures level must be only 6' 6". With all the signage around, I often find myself having to stoop (I am "only" 6'2").

In addition to this, it seems that they somehow managed to forget to put any lavatories on the entire check-in level.

Thankfully, someone made a better job with Terminal 5.

Johnny E

My worst flight as a passenger (out of more than 600 flights) was a trip from San Juan to JFK in the mid-70's. After an aborted takeoff (because of an open door indicator) we arrived over JFK in a massive thunderstorm. A lot of bouncing around and lightning for several hours while circling.

When the weather cleared for a bit we descended through the clouds. I could hear and feel all the signs of the pilot flaring out for the landing (engines slowing down, nose pitching up). All of a sudden there was a break in the clouds and instead of being a few feet over the runway we were about 200 feet over the International Arrivals Terminal. Needless to say the pilot gave it the gas to get out of there and try again.

As I left the plane the stewardess told me she was scared too. That airline no longer exists.


Al - Terminal 2 built in the 1950s - things have moved on in 50 years. Also, Brits were not as tall then as now so probably quite high enough ceilings!

Bruce Hayden

I am quite prejudiced, but I have grown to love what was done in Denver. It seems that every other airport I have been through over the last decade or so has grown organically, and the result is a significant lack of functionality. Of course, things couldn't last, and at one end of the B concourse, United now has their mini-jets, and that part is pretty kluged. What is a bit scary though is the realization that that concourse has almost a 100 gates on it (including those regional jet gates), and yet, I can, and do, get from one end of it to the other in ten minutes with those moving sidewalks.

Also, it is comforting to know that when a plane has to abort a landing because of cross-shear, there are still plenty of runways left that will work just fine (happened the other day - originally came in from the north, aborted, then landed from the west).

The amazing thing about runways there is the realization that there are plenty of airports around that have comparable volume and yet have only two or three runways, and those aren't all weather, while DIA was built because Stapleton couldn't add a fifth runway (and even that was debatable).



The current check in area at Heathrow Terminal 2 was a car park when it first opened, hence the low ceilings.