Moving Walkways Were Around Long Before Airports Started Using Them To Move People

Image courtesy of kevin dean

While moving walkways have become ubiquitous at airports around the country — along with the rage that comes from getting stuck behind the person who chooses to stand still and block everyone else from walking on them — conveyor belts that shuttled people around were invented long before air travel became the norm.

USA Today takes a look back at moving sidewalks, flat escalators, or Trav-O-Lator machines, which is what the Otis Elevator company called their patented version in 1955.

“No matter what you choose to call it, a moving walkway is a simple variation of the conveyor belt,” Steve Showers, corporate archivist for the Otis Elevator Company, told USA Today.

Moving walkways first showed up at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, followed by a “Moving Pavement” experience at the Paris Expo in 1900, but weren’t commonly used until air travel and airports expanded in the 1950s, Showers notes.

Dallas Love Field Terminal — which opened in 1958 — was the first to install a moving sidewalk: passengers could travel from the main terminal to the first gates in each of the airport’s three concourses on the walkways.

The new technology had its share of hiccups though, including mechanical shutdowns due to clothing and shoes getting stuck in it, or minor injuries from the moving handrail, according to Bruce Bleakley, director of the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, author of a book on the history of Love Field.

Unfortunately, Love Field was also where the first death from a moving walkway was reported, when a two-year-old girl was killed on Jan. 1, 1960 after her clothing got tangled in the metal step plate at the end.

That didn’t keep other airports from installing moving walkways, however, as evidenced by their ubiquity all around the world now.

“The reasons have not changed,” Jonathan Massey, aviation sector leader at the Corgan, architecture and design firm told USA Today, “We put in moving walkways to let people get to their gates with fewer steps and less effort.”

A short history of airport moving walkways [USA Today]