Getting Around the Airport

Tips for Finding Your Way, Moving Between Terminals and Reaching Your Gate

Man Running with Baggage at Airport
Rainer Holz / Getty Images

In the past, travelers could arrive at the airport a few minutes before their departure time, dash to the gate and board their flight. Today, air travel is quite different. Airport security screenings, traffic delays and parking problems mean that passengers must plan to arrive at the airport well before their departure time.

As you plan your next trip, remember to factor in the time it takes to get from the check-in counter to your gate and, if you are taking a connecting flight, from one terminal to another. Here are some tips to help you determine how much time you will need to get around the airport.

Before You Book: Research Your Options

Check your airport's website for information about connecting flights, security screenings and customs inspections if you are making international connections. You will need this information before you book your flights.

Your airport's website will also show you the best ways to move between terminals and find the services you need. It will include an airport map, contact information for all airlines that operate from your airport and a list of available passenger services.

If your airport has more than one terminal, look for transfer information. Large airports typically offer shuttle buses, people movers or airport trains to help passengers move quickly between terminals. Find out which services your airport offers and print an airport map to use on your travel day.

Wheelchair users should note elevator locations. Again, printing a map of the airport and noting elevator locations will help you find your way around more easily.

Ask your airline how much time you should allow for transfers between terminals. You may also want to ask travelers who have traveled from your airport for advice. Plan plenty of time, particularly during busy holiday periods, to get from one gate or terminal to another.

At the Airport: Airport Security

Travelers must undergo an airport security screening before proceeding to their departure gate. At some airports, such as London's Heathrow Airport, international travelers connecting to another international flight must undergo a second security screening as part of the flight connection process. Security screening lines can be long, particularly during peak travel times. Allow at least thirty minutes for each security screening.

Heading Home: International Flights, Passport Control and Customs

If your travels take you to another country, you will need to go through passport control and customs when you arrive and when you return home. Allow plenty of time for this process, especially during vacation season and the holidays.

A few airports, including Canada's Toronto Pearson International Airport, require travelers bound for the United States to clear US customs in Toronto, not at their destination airport. Some travel agents and airline reservation specialists might not know about this requirement and may not allow enough time for you to get from one terminal to another and clear customs along the way.

Special Situations: Pets and Service Animals

Passengers' pets and service animals are welcome at airports, but you will need to plan some extra time to tend to their needs before you board your flight. Your airport will have a pet relief area somewhere on the property, but it might be located far from your departure terminal.

Special Situations: Wheelchair and Golf Cart Services

Contact your airline or travel agent if you need special services such as wheelchair or golf cart assistance. Your airline must arrange these services for you. It is best to contact your airline at least 48 hours in advance, but if you are flying at the last minute, ask for the services you need when you make your reservation.

Tell your airline or travel agent whether you can climb stairs or walk long distances. Based on your needs, the airline reservation specialist or travel agent will place a special code into your reservation record.

Plan extra time, in addition to the time you have allocated for airport security, passport control, customs, pet / service animal needs and moving between terminals, if you are using airport wheelchair or golf cart services. These services require extra time. Your airport has employees or contractors who drive golf carts and assist wheelchair passengers, but they can only help a certain number of passengers at a time.

Always reconfirm any special arrangements you have made. Call your airline 48 hours prior to your departure to make sure your requests have been properly recorded.

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