An expert on airport design says development in the sector will quicken in the next decade, making for better passenger experiences.
Even United States airports, long the scourge of travellers, are in for a shake-up, says Kerr Lammie from international consultants Airbiz Aviation Strategies.
"The last five years have been very active in the pace of airport development and the next 10 years will be even faster," he said after the New Zealand Airports Association conference in Auckland.
New airport development such as in Vancouver incorporated nature and moving parking buildings that obscured expensive main terminal buildings.
"Airports are looking at developing the entire campus and developing the front door forward," Lammie said.
Heathrow's new terminal development, which he said was a very successful rebuild, showed how to handle parking issues.
"You could have a very nice terminal building but it is spoilt by an ugly parking building out the front. There's more customer service in the parking areas, and at Heathrow pods transport passengers to the terminal," he said.
Australasian and some Asian airports were at the forefront of good design.
"In this part of the world you're at the front of the pack, you're innovative."
In the United States, airports were going through a process of catching up to the rest of the world.
The passenger-decided Skytrax award last had a US airport in its top 10 in 2001, Chicago's O'Hare.
Municipal-owned airports in the US had been financially squeezed and the federal government had paused its spending on infrastructure and airports had become an unpleasant experience for many passengers since extra security was imposed following the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. But the Transport Security Administration was now implementing changes aimed at making passengers feel more comfortable and streamlining screening for those who had gone through a pre-check process. Airports were changing the prison-look environment of stainless steel benches in security areas. At Dallas-Forth Worth the airport authority had worked with a hotel company to make a lounge for passengers who had to re-pack their hand luggage after screening, Lammie said.
"In the US because everybody's broke everybody's looking at better ways of doing things and technology is able to provide some of those solutions."
At Amsterdam's Schiphol, security screening equipment had been designed to look "softer" and less intimidating.
Self service by passengers was growing. New Zealand was one of the leaders with self check-in and this was spreading throughout the world. There was growing use of biometrics, typically fingerprint or retina scans, helping authorities track targets but also helping passengers move through the airport more efficiently.
Lammie said Helsinki in Finland has launched a pilot scheme using beacons that are spread through the airport interacting with an app and passengers could be tracked and contacted.
"IT is going to bring to a head very quickly the conversation about who owns the passenger."
The airport, airlines and public agencies would know where the passenger was and would be able to stream data to them advertising deals for anything from parking to coffee.
Retail and other non-aeronautical revenue is growing. In big airports there are more diverse shopping malls "with cool sophistication" and smaller airports are getting local and national vendors in to provide services.
Big customers - the airlines - say they don't want to be an afterthought in the design process. Star Alliance has 27 airlines and its chief executive Mark Schwab said every time it heard about a new airport being built with more than three or four alliance carriers it met the airport companies as soon as possible to ensure lounges and shared terminals work.
"Let's not do these things as an afterthought, let's start building them into the infrastructure because the better the experience for the customer ... the more passengers are going to use that airport."
Auckland plans expansion for busy future
Auckland Airport is embarking on several infrastructure projects as it moves ahead with its 30-year plan of developing the "airport of the future".
The airport is installing a seventh baggage belt in its international hall to handle baggage for A380 flights, boosted since October by the arrival of Singapore Airlines' super-jumbo.
Work is also being done to create more space in security screening for outbound international passengers.
Airport company chief executive Adrian Littlewood said work would continue on developing the concept design for a combined domestic and international terminal.
The development is being done to meet an expected trebling of the number of passengers using the airport over the next 30 years to 40 million a year.
Littlewood said it would significantly increase emigration capacity, accommodate new passenger growth and new border processes and give an 80 per cent increase in the international departure retail net lettable area.
The airport, with Airways New Zealand and airlines, concluded the first part of a "smart" approach trial for aircraft last year.
There will be three flight paths into Auckland, two from the north and one from the south, starting around the middle of this year.
They enable aircraft to come in to land more directly but have upset some residents who are worried about noise. A further approach from the north is being developed for trial and public consultation this year.
Passenger figures show steady growth at the airport. The number of international passengers in the year to November was up 4.5 per cent to 7.4 million and domestic passengers were up 1.4 per cent to 7 million.
Wellington Airport will further investigate extending its runway to enable bigger long-haul planes to land there.
Late last year, airport shareholder the Wellington City Council voted to fund the consenting process for the project. But its funding has not been finalised, and questions remain about the number of airlines that would start new routes into the capital.
Queenstown Airport has had sharp growth, and is expecting this to continue. It will continue to gear up for after-dark flights which are planned to start around the middle of next year.