The National Academies

ACRP 07-06 [Final]

Wayfinding and Signing Guidelines for Airport Terminals and Landside

  Project Data
Funds: $250,000
Research Agency: Gresham, Smith and Partners
Principal Investigator: James R. Harding
Effective Date: 8/21/2008
Completion Date: 3/2/2011

The hub and spoke system instituted by the airlines often requires travelers to transit through intermediate airports in addition to their origin and destination airports. The result is that there are many people in the airport terminal that may not be familiar with the terminal layout or the location of gates and other facilities.  It would helpful to passengers, as well as meeters and greeters, if airports had wayfinding and signing systems that were based on uniform guidelines. 

Currently, there is no single document or guidebook available to airport operators illustrating best practices for wayfinding and signing the airport terminal and landside. Specific guidelines for wayfinding for the airport terminal and landside, other than some related to signs, are not readily available. These guidelines, where they do exist, are in the private domain of consultants or individual airport operators.

The most recently published guidelines for airport signs, Guidelines for Airport Signing and Graphics, Terminals and Landside, was prepared in conjunction with representatives from the Air Transport Association (ATA), Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), Airports Council International–North America (ACI-NA), and Airports Consultants Council (ACC), and is now outdated.  The most recent edition of the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) prescribes the design or color of airport roadway signs.  Previous editions of the MUTCD did not address airport roadways, and it is not clear to what extent the input of airport operators or their representatives was sought during the preparation of the latest MUTCD.

Existing guidelines have not been updated to reflect increased use of common-use facilities in airport terminals, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the needs of senior citizens who represent an increasing proportion of the traveling public using airport terminals, or the needs of the increasing number of travelers that arrive at the terminal via transit or people mover systems.

While several large airport operators have established graphic standards and maintain and update these standards on a regular basis, not all airport operators have the staff resources to do so.  Airport operators could use updated guidelines on wayfinding and signing for airport terminals and landside with the goal that all airports would adopt these guidelines.  The major benefit would be to the travelling public who would experience transparent systems of wayfinding and signs as they use the airport terminals and their landsides.


The objective of this research is to develop a handbook for airport operators containing up-to-date wayfinding and signing guidelines for the airport terminal and landside.  The purpose of the handbook would be to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of passengers within each airport and from one airport to another through the uniform application of the guidelines. The guidelines should address the following areas: (a) terminal including concourses/gates, ticketing/check-in, security checkpoints, federal inspection services, baggage claim; (b) curbside/ground transportation; (c) parking; and (d) on-airport roadways/off-airport access roads.


Status: The report has been published as Report 52:  Wayfinding and Signing Guidelines for Airport Terminals and Landside.

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