Navigating airports can be an intimidating feat, but once you know the drill for getting from the entrance to your gate, it should be smooth sailing (with the exception of potential delays). If you’re worried about getting to your flight on time, here’s a breakdown of the basics of navigating any airport with ease.
Before you travel to the airport to catch your flight, you’ll want to check your flight information. Typically, the airline you fly with will allow you to check-in to your flight starting 24 hours before departure. We recommend you check-in before you go to the airport if you have the option to do so. It will only make the time you spend in the airport easier.
The most important part of checking your flight details before going to the airport is finding out which terminal you will be departing from. Big international airports can have multiple terminals that house flights from specific airlines. For example, at JFK International Airport in New York, there are five active terminals from which you can catch flights. Delta Airlines is in Terminal 4 while American Airlines is in Terminal 8. Some smaller airports do not have terminals, and all flights leave from a single building, and other airports have different terminals accessible from the same building.
Arriving At The Airport
The first thing you should do when you arrive at your terminal is find the check-in desk that corresponds to your flight. Some airports have screens displaying flight destinations, departure times, and flight numbers, as well as check-in desk numbers. For example, a flight from London to Brussels may indicate check-in desks 56-59.
If you are only bringing carry-on luggage on your flight, you can bypass the check-in process IF you have already checked-in online. Otherwise you’ll have to wait in line to check your bag and receive your boarding passes. If you have a flight transfer, be sure to ask the desk attendant for the ticket for the second leg of your flight and confirm where your luggage is being sent.
Going Through Security
If you’re feeling overwhelmed navigating a big airport, remember there are always signs to help you find your way. Once you’ve checked in, look for signs that point you to security or ask an airline representative.
While in the security line look out for signs instructing you on how to proceed through security. Some airports require you to remove liquids and electronics from your bags before they go through x-ray scanners.
To avoid the long lines at the security check point, smart travelers are signing up for TSA Pre and Clear Plus. International travelers should absolutely join Global Entry. We joined this program over five years ago after waiting in line for two hours to be cleared by customs and immigration at JFK when returning from London. Ever since then, we walk right up to the Global Entry kiosk, have a face scanned and are ready to pick up our luggage in less then five minutes.
Finding Your Gate
Once you’re through security, the hard part is over. Now you’ll want to find your gate. There are two main places you can find your gate number: on your boarding pass or on a flight departure screen. Your gate will usually be a number, or a number followed by a letter. It is important to ensure you pay attention to both of these details.
Because some airports are bigger than others you might have to walk for quite some time to find your gate. Signs grouping gate numbers together should point you in the right direction. Once you find your gate, check on the screen by the attendant desk to ensure the destination of your flight is displayed on the screen. Then all there’s left to do is wait to board your flight.
When in doubt, ask for help. Airport employees are used to being asked questions from confused travelers all day long, so don’t hesitate to ask for guidance if you’re feeling lost. In many airports, staff are placed throughout check-in, security, and at gates to answer your questions. There are also information booths where you can inquire about anything related to your flight.
Airport Lounge Access
One of the best ways to ensure you are relaxed and stress-free before boarding your flight is to make use of an airport lounge. Frequesnt flyers usually buy a membership to their preferred ailine’s lounge access program. Another option is to sign up for a credit card that provides airport lounge access, or to become member of Priority Pass, a network of more than 1,400 lounges available around the world, entitling members to a relaxing space and food and drink before their flight.