International airport

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An aerial photograph of San Francisco International Airport at night, showing departure gates radiating out from the terminal building, road access, aerobridges, apron and parked planes (2005)

An international airport is an airport that offers customs and immigration facilities for passengers arriving from other countries.[1] International airports are usually larger that domestic airports,[2] and often feature longer runways and facilities to accommodate the heavier aircraft commonly used for international and intercontinental travel. International airports often also host domestic flights, where the departure and the arrival take place in the same country.[2]


Qantas Empire Airways International flying boat services arriving at Rose Bay, Sydney (c.1939)

The first airport to operate scheduled international commercial services was in August 1919 at Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, in London, England. It was closed and supplanted by Croydon Airport in March 1920.[3]

In the early days of international flights, airports, there was limited infrastructure, "although if engine problems arose there were plenty of places where aircraft could land".[4] Four-engined land planes being unavailable for over-water operations to international destinations, flying boats became part of the solution. At the far end of the longest international route (which became the Kangaroo Route), on-water landing areas were found in places such as Surabaya and in the open sea off Koepang. In Sydney, the chosen landing area was Rose Bay, New South Wales. In 1938, the journey from Sydney to Southamption, took 8-9 days and the flying boat service operated for 13 months until the outbreak of World War II.[4]

In the United States, Bisbee-Douglas International Airport in Arizona was declared "the first international airport of the Americas" by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943.[citation needed]

In certain countries, there is a sub-category of limited international airports which handle international flights, but are limited to short-haul destinations (often due to geographical factors) or are mixed civilian/military airports.[citation needed]

Design and construction[edit]

Airports have to be designed to fit into the landscape (Nouméa Magenta Airport)

The construction and operation of an international airport depends on a complicated set of decisions that are affected by technology, politics, economics and geography as well as both local and international law.[5][6][7]

Airports can be towered or non-towered, depending on air traffic density and available funds. Due to their high capacity and busy airspace, many international airports have air traffic control located on site.

Airports provide services for both arrivals and departures. In terms of building design, arrival terminals are constructed at ground level and departures at an upper level.[citation needed] Aerobridges deliver passengers from waiting areas to where the appropriate aeroplane is parked.

Operations and management[edit]

Typical airport noticeboard showing flight arrivals/ departures

International airports have commercial relationships with and provide services to airlines and passengers from around the world. Many also serve as hubs, or places where non-direct flights may land and passengers switch planes, while others serve primarily direct point-to-point flights. This affects airport design factors including the number and placement of terminals as well as the flow of passengers and baggage between different areas of the airport. An airport specializing in point-to-point transit can have international and domestic terminals each in their separate building equipped with separate baggage handling facilities. In a hub airport, however, spaces and services are shared.[8]

Airport management needs to take into account a wide range of factors, among which are the performance of airlines, the technical requirements of aircraft, airport-airline relationships, services for travelling customers, security and environmental impacts.[9]

Customs and immigration[edit]

Airports with international flights have customs and immigration facilities. However, as some countries have agreements that allow travel between them without customs and immigrations, such facilities are not a definitive need for an international airport.


The trend of enhancing security at the cost of passenger and baggage handling efficiency at international airports is expected to continue in the future.[10][11] This places financial burden on airports, risks the flow of servicing processes, and has implications for the privacy of passengers.[8] International flights often require a higher level of physical security than do domestic airports, although in recent years, many countries have adopted the same level of security for both.

To ensure the viability of airport operations new, innovative security systems are being developed. For instance, the old security checkpoints could be replaced by a "total security area" encompassing the entire airport coupled with automatic surveillance of passengers from the moment they enter the airport until they embark on a plane.[8]

Passengers connecting to domestic flights from an international flight generally must take their checked luggage through customs and re-check their luggage at the domestic airline counter, requiring extra time in the process. In some cases in Europe luggage can be transferred to the final destination even if it is a domestic connection.

In some cases, travelers and the aircraft can clear customs and immigration at the departure airport. As one example of this, are airports in Canada with United States border preclearance facilities. This allows flights from those airports to fly into US airports that do not have customs and immigration facilities. Luggage from such flights can also be transferred to a final destination in the U.S. through the airport of entry.

Services and amenities[edit]

Duty-free shops at International Airports can sell goods free from national taxes and duties (pictured is the Ben Gurion Airport Duty Free shops area).

Standard amenities include public restrooms, passenger waiting areas and retail stores for dining and shopping,[2] including duty-free shops. Wi-Fi service and access, offices for bureau de change and tourism advice are common, although availability of various services can vary.


Among the most important airport services are further transportation connections, including to rail networks or bus, taxi and shuttle services at curbside pick-up areas.[12] Also typical are large areas for automobile parking, often in co-located multi-storey car parks. Some airports provide shuttle services to parking garages for passengers and airport employees.[12] Due to the very large scale of international airports, many have constructed shuttle services to transport passengers between terminals.[2] Such systems operate for example, in Singapore Changi Airport and Zurich Airport.

At some U.S. international airports, such as Chicago-O'Hare, some of the seating and waiting areas are located away from the terminal building, with passengers being shuttled to terminals.[12] These areas may be referred to as ground transportation centers or intermodal centers.[12] Amenities at ground transportation centers typically include restrooms and seating, and may also provide ticket counters, food and beverage sales and retail goods such as magazines.[12] Some ground transportation centers have heating and air conditioning and covered boarding areas[12] (to protect passengers from the elements).

World Airport Awards[edit]

The World Airport Awards are voted by customers in an independent global customer satisfaction survey. Singapore Changi Airport has been the first place winner in 2006, 2010, 2013 and 2014. Other winners include Incheon International Airport (South Korea) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (The Netherlands).[13]


At Shannon Airport, travelers to the United States can "pre-clear" U.S. immigration

Many airports with regularly scheduled international service have the word "International" in their official names, but others, including such major airports as London Heathrow Airport, Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, Changi Airport (Singapore), Frankfurt Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and George Bush Intercontinental Airport do not. Conversely, some airports which call themselves international airports, especially in smaller United States cities, in fact have no scheduled international airline passenger service but do have customs and immigration facilities serving charter, cargo and general aviation flights. At many of these airports customs and immigration services are only available with advance notice. One example of such an airport is Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few, such as Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana, are in fact not international airports at all; they are not designated as airports of entry but aspire to become such in the future and added "international airport" to their names as a marketing tool.[citation needed]

International in name only[edit]

Other airports which (usually) previously served international flights now serve primarily or exclusively domestic flights (international traffic having been redirected to a newer, larger airport in the area), but retain the "international" designation in their name. Examples of these are:

International airports in the United States with only domestic flights include:

International airports in the United States with no scheduled flights include:

Six US Essential Air Service airfields (federally-subsidised for scheduled flights to one domestic hub only) bill themselves as international airports:

All are on the Canadian border; some are able to accept Canadian general aviation flights with one to two hours advance notice.

List of international airports[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Katherine Barber, ed. (2004). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-541816-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d Johnson, Josie J. International Air Flights. Clinton Gilkie. 
  3. ^ Bluffield, Robert (2009). Imperial Airways: the birth of the British airline industry 1914-1940. Hersham [England]: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-906537-07-4. 
  4. ^ a b Stackhouse, John (1995). ...from the dawn of aviation: The QANTAS Story. Double Bay, NSW: Focus Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 57, 66-71. ISBN 1-875-359-23-0. 
  5. ^ Feldman, Elliot J. and Jerome Milch (1982). Technology versus democracy: the comparative politics of international airports. Boston, Massachusetts: Auburn House Pub. Co. ISBN 0-86569-063-4. 
  6. ^ Regulatory implications of the allocation of flight departure and arrival slots at international airports. Montreal, Canada: International Civil Aviation Organization. 2001. 
  7. ^ Salter, Mark B. (2008). Politics at the airport ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816650144. 
  8. ^ a b c Janić, Milan (February 2010). Transportation Infrastructure - Roads, Highways, Bridges, Airports and Mass Transit : Airport Analysis, Planning and Design : Demand, Capacity, and Congestion. New York: Nova Science Publishers. p. 51-52, 248. ISBN 9781617615603. OCLC 837527702. Retrieved 2014-09-29. (registration required (help)). 
  9. ^ Graham, Anne (2003). Managing airports – an international perspective (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK and Burlington, US: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0-7506-5917-3. 
  10. ^ St. John, Peter (1991). Air piracy, airport security, and international terrorism: winning the war against hijackers. New York: Quorum Books. ISBN 0899304133. 
  11. ^ Moore, Kenneth C. (1991). Airport, aircraft, and airline security (2nd ed. ed.). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0750690194. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Strategies for Improving Public Transportation Access to Large Airports. Transportation Research Board. 2002. pp. 81–84. ISBN 0-309-06764-2. 
  13. ^ "World Airport Awards". Retrieved 29 September 2014. 

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