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5/18/20

People, SOM in the Press

Why Airports Die

Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo © Jeff Goldberg | ESTO

If you think crowds are a challenge to your business model, try not having any. That’s the story of much of the American economy in the coronavirus era, but rarely so dramatically as in the case of air travel, as surreal photos of empty airports attest.

Air travel hasn’t ceased entirely (indeed, continuing a minimal level of service was a requirement of the industry’s bailout), but it collapsed to levels not seen since the 1950s: TSA screenings of passengers plummeted 96 percent in the early weeks of the pandemic. “We expect to fly fewer people during the entire month of May than we did on a single day in May 2019,” United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz wrote in a company letter last month.

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“Airports terminals are some of the most rapidly obsolete building types of our time,” says Derek Moore, aviation practice leader at the design firm SOM. “They are not really used in anything like the same way they once were.”

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