Acoustics’ Role in Travel Innovation

Facilitating an Accessible Travel Experience | June 17, 2024

In a world where most environments are emphasizing the focus on interactivity and efficiency, airports are also adapting to meet these demands.

As hubs of constant activity, airport designs are incorporating unique spaces and amenities. However, as these new and exciting features are added, it becomes essential to prioritize their acoustical impact within the airport terminals.

It’s important to remain focused on the primary purpose of airports – to facilitate travel. Enhancements must not compromise efficiency or punctuality.

In today’s hyperconnected world, people seek constant stimulation and engagement in airports, leading to the integration of playgrounds, decompression spaces, workout areas, interactive zones, mini museums, meeting spaces, and more.

These additions highlight the greater importance of space planning, underscoring the need for an acoustics consultant involved in the project from the beginning.

Airports already have a lot going on.

Airports, by their nature, are inherently noisy environments. With their expansive structures, towering ceilings, bustling terminals, and constant activity, they generate a lot of sound; the shuffle of footsteps, the hum of conversations, announcements blaring over the loudspeakers, and the roar of aircraft outside.

Beyond the bustling terminals, it’s also essential to account for the sources of noise behind the scenes.

From the HVAC systems and other mechanical equipment to the private conversations in airport offices and the TSA machinery, the unseen noise within airports adds another layer of complexity to their acoustical considerations.

When considering the acoustics of an airport, we must think about each person’s individual experience. From staff, ground crews, and passengers, communication is the key to getting to the right places and performing their duties efficiently. For quality communication, you need sound isolation.

This comes from good STC rated walls in private rooms and proper space planning to separate the loud equipment rooms from the concourse.

Accessibility is crucial in airport facilities, ensuring that everyone can experience travel without limitations.

As for the terminal area, there needs to be as many sound-absorbing surfaces to control the reverberation time of the noise.

The goal is to control all the ambient noise to an acceptable level inside, so it’s loud enough to mask some sound, but not too loud to distract the public’s ability to hear announcements and conversations.

Accessibility is crucial in airport facilities, ensuring that everyone can experience travel without limitations. 

Speech intelligibility is often perceived as primarily important for individuals with hearing impairments, but it’s essential for individuals of all hearing abilities. Ensuring clear communication is especially vital for travelers who speak English as a second or third language.

It’s crucial for them to hear every word clearly, establishing a smooth and convenient travel experience.

Speech intelligibility goes beyond mere audibility. While audibility refers to the ability to detect sound, intelligibility is the comprehension of speech, allowing listeners to discern specific words and phrases over background noise. 

Achieving quality speech intelligibility comes down to the signal to noise ratio. The signal is the message that’s important to hear over a loudspeaker. It’s important to keep the background noise quiet and the signal loud enough to be heard over the background noise.

The signal must be high enough quality to hear the high frequency consonant sounds like T’s and P’s. The lower frequency vowels are less important for speech in the English language, but you should still be able to hear them. 

Limiting the information broadcasted through loudspeakers to be specific to the individuals in a particular area is one potential solution to effective speech intelligibility. Not blocking the high frequencies with partitions or baffles is also essential.

Being mindful of the loudspeaker levels, especially at the higher frequency ranges with consonant sounds, is also important. 

Adding New Spaces

Airport acoustics present many challenges, with various components contributing to the complexity of the acoustical environment. However, despite these challenges, it’s possible to integrate additional, innovative spaces into airports with the expertise of an acoustical consultant. 

By involving an acoustical consultant from the project’s inception, airports can explore creative solutions and brainstorm possibilities for enhancing the travel experience while accommodating the diverse needs of travelers.

For more of our acoustics insight, check out an article from our Acoustics Lead about LEED Documentation. 

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