Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Wrote a story in today’s paper about the new section of Charles de Gaulle airport being built for the A380, the world’s largest airliner.

Turns out that the aircraft is so big that it requires a reconfiguration of terminal and in some ways it could be good. The second floor of the aircraft, for example, means that you can have two almost entirely separate sections. For people flying business and first class – not me! - they would walk into a separate part of the airplane that could have separate style of reception.

The airport created a first-ever virtual visit of the new section for us to put on our website.

I wonder what other innovations could come of having such a large number of passengers in the sky? Massive online gaming within the aircraft?


Basically, airline seating layout is a cold, calculating science. The trick with design is to come up with the right number of seats of each class to maximise the yield. They have a formula for doing it, and there's a book which explains how it's done. (I have a reference somewhere.)

It's just a question of the yield of the floorspace. You could be on to something with the casino on certain flights because there is so much money to be made, but putting bars and all the rest of it on a plane is basically too difficult to justify economically. There's very little room left for experimentation in the design, because it's very expensive to change the layout of the plane once you've commissioned it, especially for such a large plane where the opportunity cost of taking it out of commission is just so massive.

My pet idea for plane design is to have an economy sleeper section where you'd lie in a triple-deck bunk. (The big problem, apart from consumer sentiment, is that it wouldn't be too popular for daytime journeys. You'd have to build some sort of schedule which would allow the aircraft to 'follow the darkness'.)

On the article: Airports are basically designed to make you walk as far as possible past as many shops as possible after you check in but before you get to the gate. Comfort and logistics are an afterthought. If the operators concentrated more on moving people through the airport quickly and shortening the walking distances, they'd provide a better service (and probably make more money, as a result of operational efficiency and reduced floorspace).


I think you raise some excellent ideas (I love the bunk section idea)

As for the calculations of airline seating, I met the founder of a budget airline recently who said such airlines could arguably be considered more environmentally friendly: They fit in more passengers per flight than normal airlines. As for the tax of 1 euro per passenger to help the environment, he said that goes directly against saving on fuel: It costs the most efficient (and tightest packed) the most.

By the way, you - or other blog readers - should feel free to send a copy of your comments to

Be great to get a cross-over between the newspaper and this blog!

Actually, airport design is a bit more involved than just making people walk past shops. It's really difficult to minimize everyone's walk time in an airport terminal with more than one digit's worth of gates. There are basically only a few patterns you can follow:

1) Make checkin-to-gate really short, but connections really long (e.g. the semicircular terminals at DFW and de Gaulle; people movers help a LOT here)

2) Make long piers so that connections are kind of quick but people often have to hike to their gate (e.g. Kansai, O'Hare, Heathrow, Detroit; people movers help here)

3) Make circular terminals so that everyone has a moderate walk (e.g. T1 at Narita, A and B at Newark)

The simple but hard-to-swallow fact is that it's very difficult to connect a large number of airplanes to a single building without making the distance between them pretty darn long.

Gaming in the air? Not likely. Two Words: Air Rage

Joe: Well, if you built the airport so that the departure lounge and security check are almost behind the check-in desks, then the walk will be pretty short. (This is how Berlin-Tegel is arranged.) It also means that the luggage has to travel a much shorter distance.

Problems with long walks on linear terminals: Easy. Have an electric car (indoor) or maybe even a diesel bus service (outdoor) running on-request along the deck above the departure lounges. The important thing is that it has a clear way to move and isn't impeded by pedestrians.

To my mind one of the most efficient airports in the world is Hong Kong.

I used to leave my HK office 1 hour and 45 mins before the flight departed, check in downtown and then ride the train right up to the terminal. No stress.

Asian airports have the huge advantage, of course, of starting from nothing and building up from the ground.

The ol' war on terror has put the kibosh on many downtown check-in operations. Airport security demands a very high level of control of luggage once it has been checked in, and it's hard to do at a remote location. I believe that Tokyo Narita's remote checkin operation (at TCAT) has been shut down completely. I have no idea about the HK situation.

I dread ever having to travel on an A380 especially if its a budget flight in or out of Asia. Its bad enough having to deal with the cattle car arrangements of a 747 and the crowds that budget flights attract. Its just going to be worse on an A380.

I don't know about gaming, but as an instigator of air rage I think it would be fair to point fingers at seating as at least one major culprit. Travelling between Canada and Japan used to be endurable, if not actually fun, but it has gotten more and more to be a singular form of torture. 'Environment' my ass! Bean counters plain and simple.

I am not a large person- 5 foot 10. But on the flights from Canada to Japan (for some unfathomable reason the airlines or their regulators appear to believe that people flying TO Japan are smaller than those flying FROM Japan) I sit with my legs folded up and my knees in my nostrils. I'd beg for a seat by the emergency doors, but they are already taken up by the really large passengers.

The food too is a cruel joke. It used to actually be something to look forward to. It is now more or less animal feed. You would think that an airline that treated passengers as human beings instead of cargo would be able to charge a little more and still fill their airplanes. Why doesn't anyone see this as a viable business model?

Antoin: You are right about security and in-town check-in. For HK, every flight can check-in in the city, apart from those bound for the USA.

Air Rage: May I add to your complaints about airlines. They often seem to encourage jet lag by feeding passengers heavy starchy food that makes them sleepy and less likely to need attention. My method of minimizing jetlag involves eating as little as possible and immediately adjusting to whatever timezone I am flying into. For an intercontinental flight that often means you can gain one day of recovery time simply by staying awake at the times you will be living at your destination. I usually find myself alone in staying awake on those flights.

You mentioned gaming : depending on the airline company the A380 will have PS2 hardware running on Linux on EVERY SEAT ;) Got this info from the Bourget airshow...

Downtown checkin -

HKIA - you can just check your bags in, catch a highspeed train to the terminal and board your plane.

SQ's downtown checkin center in Singapore is decent but they won't accept checked baggage, you can check in, get a boarding pass etc but have to then take your bags all the way to Changi and check them in there.

Then there's KCAT in downtown Seoul (right next to the COEX conference center). I was at a conference in the COEX a few days back, and went over to KCAT. From there, if I was flying Asiana or Korean Air, I could checkin (get my boarding pass + check bags in to my final destination) AND clear immigration as well, before I caught the airport bus to ICN.

The bus from KCAT drops you off at a special gate where you just go through, clear security and go straight to the lounge / your gate.

Amazing to clear Korean immigration when getting on the bus in Seoul.

When you fly from Shannon, Ireland to the US they often clear you through both Irish and US immigration while you are still in Ireland. Save time and hassles on arrival.

I am very punctual guy. That's why I am stress free.

I always wondered how they get the money spent on the design and building back. Is it possible?