This busy holiday season of travel is undoubtedly going to cause the typical madness - crushing crowds of people squeezing through security lines, lost luggage, horrendous delays, and then some. Do yourself a favor and get this one thing out of the way before you head to the airport so you aren't giving yourself any more headaches. This is an easy thing to ALWAYS be aware of before you fly, and it will keep your travel day much less crazy.
Domestically, you may find that knowing what terminal to fly out of is as easy as walking left or right within the same building. You'll make your way to the right gate eventually. But abroad, large international airports are known for having multiple terminals that have to be accessed by long walks or shuttle options. Don't be caught unaware. Save yourself time, foot work, and frustration in advance by knowing what terminal you are flying in and out of.
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Know What Terminal You Are Flying Out Of
To show up to the wrong terminal at a busy airport is a guaranteed way to put a damper on your already rushed day of scurrying to the airport in time for a flight. Here's several reasons I have come across the need to know what terminal I am flying out of in advance:
The taxi driver to the airport doesn't open with, what airline? They ask, what terminal?
Sigh. This one can be really frustrating, especially in a foreign country. The language barriers alone can be enough to make for a stressful cab ride, and this guy wants me to know what terminal I'm flying from?
You may think at this point, what difference does it make? Let me ask you this question, do you have a lot of luggage? Do you like walking in the rain or cold? You may be miserable if you get dumped off at the wrong terminal.
I've had to trek anywhere from blocks to what felt like miles to reach the right terminal before.
Consider This: You arrive at the wrong terminal but it's too far to walk. Now what?
Enter the airport shuttle. If you are in Madrid, for instance, you will literally be in the airport shuttle for 35 minutes or more depending on the loading time on the bus to get from T1 to T4. Did you factor in those 35 minutes of meandering around spread out airport terminals into your pre-flight buffer time? Probably not.
At that point, your unexpected journey between terminals just trimmed your already slim time for bag drop, check in, security, and that really nice sit down at the Priority Pass Lounge that you've been thinking about.
Last example: You're arriving at the airport by public transport or train. They have one drop off location. Now what?
Well, now you need to know what terminal to go to. There's typically no sign board explaining what terminal to go to so you'll have to use my tips below to figure it out.
Know What Terminal You Are Flying In To
Knowing what terminal you are flying into is just as important as knowing what terminal you are flying out of. Don't risk missing tight connecting trains, or floundering upon arrival at your destination.
Scenario 1: You've just landed at Gatwick and you have a two hour train ride ahead of you to catch a cruise in Southampton. You're jonesing for a coffee or a pastry before the ride.
Know what terminal you are flying into in advance by looking it up online. Simply ask Google where British Airways lands at Gatwick - North or South Terminal? (For instance).
Then, go ahead and use the handy online directory that every airport has on their website to determine in advance where you can get that cup of joe. Sometimes it really helps to know your options on the other side, especially if you are jet lagged.
Scenario 2: You have a tight connection to a train out of the central station, which is a good 30 minutes away.
Minutes and seconds count in this scenario. In Madrid I've had to forgo the longer connection by train from the airport and just go straight to hailing a taxi for a maddeningly quick ride through the city center, hoping to make my train. Imagine if I hadn't chosen the taxi option? What if I arrived in Madrid, looked dumbfounded and lost for 30 minutes trying to find my connecting train, and ultimately missed my commuter train? Ugh.
This just goes to show, you need to know what terminal you are flying into so that you can determine, in advance, what your exit options are. This goes for finding the bus station, the train station, etc.
Last scenario: it's late and you've just arrived somewhere abroad, totally exhausted, after a long day of travel. You thought ahead and booked an in-terminal hotel for your first night, but where the heck is it?
Don't assume you'll arrive conveniently where your in-terminal hotel is. When I stayed at the Hilton Gatwick hotel, we had to take the connecting shuttle to the right terminal to find our lodging for the night, adding about 20 minutes to our plan.
Typically you can find this information in advance on the hotel website, or you'll have to find some clever signage upon arrival for the airport hotels.
How To Identify What Terminal You Are Flying Into or Out Of
I mentioned some of these options already, but to review:
Don't depend on signage at the airport
Google your airline's arrival terminal in advance
Look on your flight confirmation email reminders
Look on your ticket
Android users - look at your phone. Typically Google tells me "Your flight X leaves from terminal Y. Leave at Z time to get there in time for your flight!" This works best in a pinch, like in a taxi cab scenario.
When in doubt - ask airport staff once you have arrived to see what journey awaits you