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Unexpectedly Expected

Rendering of rooftop park at JFK T5. Image © Gensler

As JetBlue Airlines celebrates the opening of their new international arrivals facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport Terminal 5 (JFK T5) in New York, it’s clear that they are an airline whose brand is rooted in pleasant surprises. Food delivery at your departure gate? Of course! A New York airport that travelers enjoy? What else!? Clearly, being unexpected is JetBlue’s expectation. Knowing that, the design challenge in extending T5 for international arrivals was clear: our team had to set the JetBlue international experience apart from that of any other airline. But how?

For us, it was about using the JetBlue brand value of smart, stylish, and witty as a design approach. We looked for the moments that travelers take for granted, and we identified spaces at the airport designers typically overlook, to surprise JetBlue customers with fun experiences that you just don’t usually have at an airport.

Sometimes, the surprises are subtle. For example, when customers arrive after an international flight, they follow a strict path to disembark, go through immigration, collect baggage, and clear customs. These strictly-regulated border control processes usually take place in generic, placeless, enclosed environments. We saw an upside to this: the opportunity to offer weary travelers something unique and unexpected, like a view and natural daylight.

Sterile corridor replete with views outside and natural daylight. Image © Gensler

The corridor people walk through on their way to the primary hall, where immigration is located, is aptly named the “sterile corridor.” We decided that it didn’t need to be quite so sterile, and infused a little playfulness into an otherwise serene place. Inspired by a pixelated immigration stamp, the vinyl graphic along the wall of the sterile corridor introduces an unexpected pop of color, connecting back to the JetBlue brand. Customers will also notice undulating lights along the ceiling and wall plane, which unfold in varying patterns along the journey.

Graphic inspired by an immigration stamp adorns the wall of the sterile corridor. Image © Gensler

Upon arriving at the primary hall, customers are once again greeted with something unexpected—a view outside—making the time spent waiting to go through immigration a bit more pleasant. And the time required to clear customs is minimized, thanks to the addition of 40 automated passport control kiosks. Seasoned travelers will be able to whisk themselves from plane to curb in about 28 minutes, easing the arrivals experience.

A simple, direct path that can be quickly navigated is the most urgent need of any arriving international passenger, and that's typically the whole focus of airport design for the arrivals sequence. Rather than the architectural pinnacle, we see that as the baseline. Passengers must have speed and clarity, but as they arrive in a new country, shouldn't there be something to enjoy? At JFK's JetBlue terminal, some natural daylight and a view outside will make all the difference.

The primary hall offers JetBlue customers natural daylight and a view outside. Image © Gensler

And for departing passengers, we have a spectacular surprise in the works: a rooftop park and dog-walk area, with views to lower Manhattan, and an up-close perch from which to view the beloved historic TWA Terminal. It’s slated to open in spring 2015, and we think people will appreciate the ability to get outside, enjoy the view, and stretch before boarding a flight. All passengers who clear security will have access to the park; it’s not reserved for elite customers.

It all comes back to simple ideas, and an appreciation for the stresses people endure while traveling. Our hope is that by delivering something special in unexpected places, people will enjoy the time that they spend at the airport.

Ty Osbaugh dreams of flying. More specifically, he dreams of making the experience of flight better through smart design. A principal and leader of Gensler’s global Aviation + Transportation practice, Ty teams with clients to improve their business by creating a world-class passenger experience. And encouraging them to dream as well. Contact Ty ty_osbaugh@gensler.com.

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