What is an Airport Terminal? Full Guide 2024

An airport terminal is a building where passengers check in for flights and receive their tickets. They also go through security before boarding their planes. The terminals are usually large, with several gates where the planes depart and arrive.

What is an airport terminal:

Wikipedia definition

Wikipedia defines an Airport terminal as “an airport terminal is a building at an airport where passengers transfer between ground transportation and the facilities that allow them to board and disembark from an aircraft.”

In simple terms, an airport terminal is a building where people catch their flights. The word ‘terminal’ can refer to either the whole building or just one section of it.

Historically, airport terminals were where passengers would check in and receive their boarding passes and tickets. Nowadays, with the advent of online check-in, this process often takes place before passengers even arrive at the airport.

Terminals usually have a number of gates, each one leading to a different aircraft. Passengers board their assigned plane by going through the relevant gate.

The size of airport terminals can vary greatly, from small buildings servicing a handful of flights per day to huge complexes with multiple levels and hundreds of gates.

Some of the world’s largest airports have several terminals, each one dedicated to a different airline or group of airlines. Others use a single terminal for all flights.

In recent years, airport terminals have become more than just places to catch a flight. Many now offer a range of shops and restaurants, as well as other services such as currency exchange and luggage storage. Some even have hotels, spas, and gyms!

The design of airport terminals has also evolved over time. Early terminals were often little more than glorified sheds, but the modern ones are typically sleek and stylish buildings.

Below is a typical image of an airport terminal for Syracuse Hancock Airport in Upstate NY.

Map Showing Airport Terminals of Syracuse Hancock Airport
Map Showing Airport Terminals of Syracuse Hancock Airport

Quora definition

Quora defines an airport terminal as “a building at an airport where passengers can check-in, receive their boarding passes and tickets, and go through security before boarding their plane.”

In other words, an airport terminal is a building where people catch their flights. The word ‘terminal’ can refer to either the whole building or just one section of it.

Definitions.net Definition

The website, definition.net defines an airport terminal as;

“An airport terminal is a building at an airport where passengers transfer between ground transportation and the facilities that allow them to board and disembark from aircraft. Within the terminal, passengers purchase tickets, transfer their luggage, and go through security. The buildings that provide access to airplanes are typically called concourses. However, the terms “terminal” and “concourse” are sometimes used interchangeably, depending on the configuration of the airport.”

Airport Terminal Design:

How a terminal is designed can greatly affect the passenger experience. The goal of airport terminal design is to create a smooth and efficient process for passengers as they move through the airport.

Sketch showing Airport Terminal Design:
Sketch showing Airport Terminal Design

The first step in designing an airport terminal is to understand the needs of the passengers. What type of travelers will be using the terminal? How many flights will be departing and arriving each day? What type of amenities do passengers expect to find in the terminal?

Sketch showing the design of terminals in major US airports.
Sketch showing the design of terminals in major US airports.

Once the needs of the passengers are understood, the next step is to design the layout of the terminal. The layout must be designed to allow passengers to easily move from one area to another.

It should also be designed to accommodate the flow of traffic, both arriving and departing passengers.

The image below shows a typical configuration of an airport;

The final step in designing an airport terminal is to choose the materials and finishes that will be used. The goal is to create a clean, modern, and welcoming space for passengers. Materials such as glass, steel, and concrete are often used in airport terminal design.

Airport terminals are constantly evolving to meet the needs of passengers. The goal is to create a smooth and efficient travel experience for all.

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Airport Terminal Configurations:

Standard:

standard airport terminal configuration typically includes a check-in area, a security checkpoint, and one or more gates. The check-in area is where passengers go to check in for their flight and receive their boarding pass. The security checkpoint is where passengers go through security screening before boarding their plane. The gates are where passengers board the plane.

Satellite:

A satellite terminal is a building that is separate from the main terminal but is connected by a tunnel or bridge. Satellite terminals are typically used for smaller airports or for airlines that have a large number of flights.

Pier:

A pier terminal is a long, narrow building that is perpendicular to the runway. Pier terminals are typically used for large airports.

Staggered:

A staggered terminal is a terminal that has two or more levels. The upper level is typically used for departing flights and the lower level is used for arriving flights.

Types of Airport Terminals

The main types of airport terminals: single terminal, dual terminal, and satellite terminals.

Single/linear Terminal:

A single terminal is a single building that houses all of the functions of an airport terminal. This type of terminal is typically used for small airports.

Dual Terminal:

A dual terminal is two separate satellite terminal is a building that is separate from the main terminal, but is connected by a tunnel or bridge. Satellite terminals are typically used for smaller airports or for airlines that have a large number of flights.

Pier:

A pier terminal is a long, narrow building that is perpendicular to the runway. Pier terminals are typically used for staggered terminal is a terminal that has two or more levels. The upper level is typically used for departing flights and the lower level is used for arriving flights.

Staggered:

A staggered terminal is a terminal that has two or more levels. The upper level is typically used for departing flights and the lower level is used for arriving flights. pier is a long, narrow building that is perpendicular to the runway. Piers are typically used for large airports.

According to this research, automated people movers within airports were introduced in 1971. The design of the terminals and concourses were designed in to maximize efficiency and security. This has led to an increase in the use of technology to process passengers through the airport quickly and safely.

The following are some of the most common features of airport terminals:

-check-in counters

-baggage claim areas

-security checkpoints

-boarding gates

-restaurants and shops

-check-in counters

-baggage claim areas

-security checkpoints

-boarding gates

-restaurants and shops

Airport terminals vs Concourse: What’s the difference?

The terms ‘airport terminal’ and ‘concourse’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two.

An airport terminal is the whole building, including the check-in area, security, gates, and other facilities. A concourse is just one section of the terminal, typically the area where the gates are located.

So, for example, if an airport has multiple terminals, each one will have its own concourse.

Not all airports use the term ‘concourse’, however. Some prefer to just call it the ‘gate area’ or the ‘boarding area’.

Having multiple concourses is especially useful when traveling through European airports, as it reduces the number of passport checks/control. Non-Schengen passengers using their own concourse saves the time and workforce needed to check passports for those who don’t need them when traveling between Schengen member states. Read more about this here.

There are three main areas in most airport terminals:

– The check-in area where passengers get their boarding passes and check in their luggage

– The security area where passengers go through security screening

– The departure lounge where passengers wait for their flights to be called for boarding

Check-in area:

The check-in area is where passengers go to get their boarding passes and check in their luggage.

Airport staff will be on hand to help with any queries and the whole process is usually very quick and straightforward.

Self-service check-in kiosks are becoming increasingly common, especially at busy airports, as they allow passengers to check in without having to queue for a member of staff.

Security area:

After checking in, passengers must go through security screening before they can enter the departure lounge.

This usually involves walking through a metal detector and having your carry-on luggage scanned by an X-ray machine.

You may also be asked to remove your shoes and jacket, and to put laptops and liquids into separate bins.

Departure lounge:

The departure lounge is where passengers wait for their flights to be called for boarding.

This area usually has a range of shops and restaurants, as well as plenty of seating. There may also be TV screens showing flight information.

Most airports have different lounges for different classes of passengers (e.g. first class, business class, economy class).

The design of airport terminals has come a long way since the early days of aviation. Today’s terminals are sleek, stylish buildings that offer a range of facilities to make the journey through them as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

How do I know which terminal my flight departs from?

The easiest way to find out which terminal your flight is departing from is to check your ticket or the airline’s website.

If you’re already at the airport, you can also look for signs directing you to the correct terminal. These are usually located near the entrance to the airport.

Your flight itinerary will also list the terminal information. Boarding pass ticket or apps also list the terminal.

If you’re unsure, you can always ask a member of staff. Most airports have staff located at key points throughout the terminal who will be happy to help.

The simplest method to determine your terminal is to verify which one your airline uses. Some airports give airlines specific terminals. You may check this by going to the airport’s website, but keep in mind that some airlines operate from several terminals.

Check the airport monitors/screens for your airline and terminal.

When you arrive at the airport, look for digital monitors or screens that list all arriving and departing flights. The departure information will include the terminal next to the flight’s gate number.

If you can’t find any screens, ask a member of staff. Airport staff are usually happy to help passengers with directions or any other queries.

If you have your boarding pass, it will also list the terminal next to the gate number.

If I need to change terminals, do I have to go through security again?

If you need to change terminals, you will usually have to go through security screening again.

However, some airports have ‘airside’ shuttle buses that run between the different terminals. These buses allow passengers to move between terminals without having to go through security again.

When using an airside shuttle bus, you will still need to show your boarding pass to the staff member at the gate.

Airport with the highest number of terminals

LAX stands out as the airport with the highest number of terminals with 9 terminals followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) with 5 terminals. All the airports below tie with 4 terminals each;

  • O’Hare International Airport (ORD),
  • London Heathrow Airport (LHR),
  • Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (FCO), and
  • Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD).

This website has more details about terminals

The chart below has more details on the surfaces of the world’s largest airport terminals.

FAQs

Q: What is an airport?

A: An airport terminal is a building at an airport where passengers can check in, drop off their luggage, and board their flights. Most airports have multiple terminals, each serving different airlines or regions. Terminals are usually connected by a system of walkways, shuttle buses, or people movers.

Q: How do I know which terminal my flight departs from?

A: The easiest way to find out which terminal your flight is departing from is to check your ticket or the airline’s website. If you’re already at the airport, you can also look for signs directing you to the correct terminal. These are usually located near the entrance to the airport.

Q: If I need to change terminals, do I have to go through security again?

A: If you need to change terminals, you will usually have to go through security screening again. However, some airports have ‘airside’ shuttle buses that run between the different terminals.

Q: What is an airport terminal?

A: An airport terminal is a building at an airport where passengers can check in, board their flights, and claim their baggage.

Q: How many terminals does an airport usually have?

A: Most airports have multiple terminals, each serving different airlines or regions. The largest airport in the world, LAX, has 9 terminals.

Q: What services are available at an airport terminal?

A: Services available at an airport terminal may include check-in, baggage claim, security screening, duty-free shopping, restaurants, and bars.

Q: What is the difference between an international terminal and a domestic terminal?

A: An international terminal is a terminal where passengers can board flights to destinations outside of their home country. A domestic terminal is a terminal where passengers can board flights to destinations within their home country.

Q: Do all airports have an international terminal?

A: No, not all airports have an international terminal. Smaller airports typically only have domestic terminals.