Airport terminal

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Renovated airport entrance of Simón Bolívar International Airport
Terminal Five at Heathrow Airport
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Main Terminal Concourse
The Tom Bradley International Terminal of Los Angeles International Airport, which handles the most origin and destination (O&D) flights in the world

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.

Within the terminal, passengers purchase tickets, transfer their luggage, and go through security. The buildings that provide access to the airplanes (via gates) are typically called concourses. However, the terms "terminal" and "concourse" are sometimes used interchangeably, depending on the configuration of the airport.

Smaller airports have one terminal while larger airports have several terminals and/or concourses. At small airports, the single terminal building typically serves all of the functions of a terminal and a concourse.

Some larger airports have one terminal that is connected to multiple concourses via walkways, sky-bridges, or tunnels (such as Denver International Airport, modeled after Atlanta's, the world's busiest), or Orlando International Airport (modeled after Tampa's). Some larger airports have more than one terminal, each with one or more concourses (such as New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, which has six, and London's Heathrow Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which both have four). Still other larger airports have multiple terminals each of which incorporate the functions of a concourse (such as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport or Philadelphia International Airport).

According to Frommers, "most airport terminals are built in a plain style, with the concrete boxes of the 1960s and 1970s generally gave way to glass boxes in the 1990s and 2000s, with the best terminals making a vague stab at incorporating ideas of "light" and "air"'. However, some, such as Baghdad International Airport and Denver International Airport, are monumental in stature, while others are considered architectural masterpieces, such as Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle Airport, near Paris, the main terminal at Washington Dulles in Virginia, or the TWA Flight Center at New York's JFK Airport. A few are designed to reflect the culture of a particular area, some examples being the terminal at Albuquerque International Sunport in New Mexico, which is designed in the Pueblo Revival style popularized by architect John Gaw Meem, as well as the terminal at Bahías de Huatulco International Airport in Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico, which features some palapas that are interconnected to form the airport terminal."[1][2]

When London Stansted Airport's new terminal opened in 1991, it marked a shift in airport terminal design since Norman Foster placed the baggage handling system in the basement in order to create a vast open interior space.[3] Airport architects have followed this model since unobstructed sightlines aid with passenger orientation. In some cases, architects design the terminal's ceiling and flooring with cues that suggest the required directional flow.[4] For instance, at Toronto Pearson's Terminal 1 Moshe Safdie included skylights for wayfinding purposes.

Baggage conveyor belt at Chennai International Airport terminal


In the early history of air flight, airlines checked in their passengers at downtown terminals, and had their own transportation facilities to the airfield. For example, Air France checked in passengers at the Invalides Air Terminal (Aérogare des Invalides) from 1946 to 1961, when all passengers started checking in at the airport. The Air Terminal continued in service as the boarding point for airline buses until 2016.[5]

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport's innovative design pioneered concepts such as direct highway access to the airport, concourses, and jetbridges; these designs are now seen at most airports worldwide.[6]

The TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport was built in 1962 and was used as Trans World Airlines's terminal until 2001. It was connected to the JetBlue Terminal 5 in 2008, and converted into the TWA Hotel in 2019.


Typical Passengers-Terminal Configurations

Due to the rapid rise in popularity of passenger flight, many early terminals were built in the 1930s–1940s and reflected the popular art deco style architecture of the time. One such surviving example from 1940 is the Houston Municipal Airport Terminal. Early airport terminals opened directly onto the tarmac: passengers would walk or take a bus to their aircraft. This design is still common among smaller airports, and even many larger airports have "bus gates" to accommodate aircraft beyond the main terminal.

Typical design of a terminal, showing the Departures (upper half of page) and Arrivals levels. 1. Departures Lounge. 2. Gates and jet bridges. 3. Security Clearance Gates. 4 Baggage Check-in. 5. Baggage carousels


Mumbai Airport (Domestic Terminal), India

A pier design uses a small, narrow building with aircraft parked on both sides. One end connects to a ticketing and baggage claim area. Piers offer high aircraft capacity and simplicity of design, but often result in a long distance from the check-in counter to the gate (up to half a mile in the cases of Kansai International Airport or Lisbon Portela Airport's Terminal 1). Most large international airports have piers.

Satellite terminals[edit]

Aerial view of the Beijing Capital International Airport with Terminal 3 (orange roof) across the foreground; Terminals 2 (blue and white roof) and 1 (orange roof) in the upper right
Shanghai Pudong International Airport Satellite Concourse S1 one of the largest satellite terminals in the world.[7]
4th floor ticketing hall of the Kansai International Airport, Japan

A satellite terminal is a building detached from other airport buildings, so that aircraft can park around its entire circumference. The first airport to use a satellite terminal was London Gatwick Airport. It used an underground pedestrian tunnel to connect the satellite to the main terminal. This was also the first setup at Los Angeles International Airport, but it has since been converted to a pier layout. The first airport to use an automatic people mover to connect the main terminal with a satellite was Tampa International Airport, which is the standard today. The world's largest satellite terminal is Terminal S1 and S2 at Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The 622,000 square meter 90 gate terminal is connected to the main terminal by a high capacity people mover using conventional subway trains.[8] Other examples include the following:

  • Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport has terminal section called Aeroquai connected by walkways and it's used mostly for short haul regional domestic flights and some International departures when there's no gates available.
  • Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport (Terminal 1), Geneva International Airport and London Gatwick Airport (South Terminal) have circular satellite terminals, connected by walkways.
  • Lisbon Internacional Airport (Terminal 2) has a small rectangular satellite terminal, connect by a free shuttle service (accessible by Terminal 1, every 10 minutes).
  • Orlando International Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport have multi-pier satellite terminals.
  • Brussels Airport's Pier A is connected to the main building via tunnels and walkways.
  • Zurich Airport's Midfield Terminal (Concourse E) is connected to the main terminal via an underground Skymetro.
  • London Gatwick Airport's Pier 6 (North Terminal) connects to the main terminal via the world's longest over-taxiway bridge.
  • At Logan International Airport in Boston, Terminal A has two sections of gates, one of which is a satellite terminal connected by an underground walkway.
  • Denver International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have linear satellite terminals connected by central passages. This design originated with Atlanta and was selected for the Denver airport terminals when the new airport in Denver was built. The linear satellite terminals are connected by automatic people movers. Atlanta's is called the Plane Train. In the Atlanta and Cincinnati airports, underground moving walkways also connect the linear satellite terminals. At Denver there is an indoor bridge from the main terminal to the first satellite terminal, but there is no walkway to the remaining satellite terminals.
  • Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport has two concourses: Concourse B is directly adjacent to the airport access road, while Concourse C is a satellite building connected by an underground walkway lit with a neon light show, and an airy and very slow-tempo version of United Airlines' theme music "Rhapsody in Blue".
  • Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York has two concourses: one main concourse, and a satellite concourse connected to the main concourse by an underground walkway.
  • London Stansted Airport has one main terminal building with three linear satellite terminals all connected to the main terminal by an automated people mover. The airport is currently expanding by adding another satellite building.
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport has a cross-shaped satellite terminal which is used for international flights.
  • Cancun International Airport Terminal 2 is an irregular terminal with two concourses, Main building and Satellite building, the latter one being the satellite terminal.
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has two rectangular satellite terminals connected by automatic people movers.
  • Jinnah International Airport in Karachi has one main terminal, divided into two concourses: the Jinnah East Satellite Concourse, used for international flights, and the Jinnah West Satellite Concourse, used for domestic and some international flights. Both satellite concourses are connected to the main terminals by pedestrian walkways.
  • Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas has an X-shaped satellite terminal, named Concourse D, that is connected by two automatic people movers - one from Terminal 1 (which houses Concourses A, B, and C) and one from Terminal 3 (which houses Concourse E). In addition, despite being part of Terminal 1, Concourse C is connected to the rest of the terminal by an automatic people mover. Concourse D is connected to Terminal 3 by an underground walkway that is only used for international arrivals.
  • Mariano Escobedo International Airport is the first and only airport in Mexico which has a completely satellite terminal. Terminal A is connected from the main building to the satellite building via tunnels.
  • Terminal 5 at London Heathrow Airport has two satellite terminals, 5B, and 5C, connected via an underground people mover.
  • Rome Fiumicino Airport has one satellite terminal, called T3G, connected by a Bombardier Innovia APM 100.
  • Madrid–Barajas Airport has one linear satellite terminal, named T4S, which is connected to the Terminal 4 main building by an automated people mover.
  • Both midfield terminals at Washington Dulles International Airport use this design, with Concourses A, B, and C being connected to the main terminal by the AeroTrain, and Concourse D via a mobile lounge service. There is also an underground walkway from the main terminal to Concourse B.
  • Munich Airport has one satellite terminal, named Satellite Terminal 2 (commonly known as "der Satellit" in German), which is connected to the Terminal 2 by an underground automated people mover.
  • Terminal E at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has a small satellite concourse, accessed by an underground pedestrian walkway. The Terminal E Satellite currently has 9 gates, but in April 2018, it was announced by DFW Airport and American Airlines that the 9 mainline gates would be converted into 15 regional gates, along with updating interior fixtures such as carpet, elevators, escalators and moving walkways. American plans to have renovations completed and be fully moved into the terminal in Spring 2019. Terminal B also has a satellite concourse, albeit with ten mainline gates.
  • Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand has a satellite terminal in its Phase II extension which is currently under construction and it is due for completion by 2022.
  • Chennai International Airport started construction of satellite terminal which is slated for completion by 2022.

Semicircular terminals[edit]

Aerial view of Terminal 1 and 2 of Jakarta-Soekarno-Hatta Airport

Some airports use a semicircular terminal, with aircraft parked on one side and cars on the other. This design results in long walks for connecting passengers, but greatly reduces travel times between check-in and the aircraft. Airports designed around this model include Charles de Gaulle Airport (terminal 2), Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai (old terminal 2), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Seoul's Incheon International Airport, Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (terminal 1 & 2), Toronto Pearson Airport, Kansas City Airport, Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport and Sapporo's New Chitose Airport.


A particularly unusual design was employed at Berlin Tegel Airport's Terminal A. Consisting of an hexagonal-shaped ring around a courtyard, five of the outer walls were airside and fitted with jet bridges, while the sixth (forming the entrance), along with the inner courtyard, was landside. Although superficially resembling a satellite design insofar as aircraft could park around most of the structure, it was in fact a self-contained terminal which unlike a satellite did not depend on remote buildings for facilities such as check-in, security controls, arrivals etc.

Especially unique were its exceptionally short walking distances and lack of any central area for security, passport control, arrivals or transfer. Instead, individual check-in counters are located immediately in front of the gate of the flight they serve. Checked-in passengers then entered airside via a short passage situated immediately to the side of the check-in desk, passed (for non-Schengen flights) a single passport control booth (with officers sat in the same area as check-in staff), followed by a single security lane which terminated at the gate's waiting area behind. Pairs of gates shared the same seating area, with small kiosks for duty-free and refreshments making up the only airside commercial offerings. Thus, other than the adjacent gate, passengers could not move around the terminal airside and there was no central waiting lounge and retail area for departures. Individual rooms for arrivals, likewise serving a pair of gates, each contained a single baggage carousel and were alternately situated in between each pair of departure gates on the same level, such that the entrance/exit of each jet bridge lied at the boundary of the two areas. Two or three passport control booths were located close to the end of the jet bridge for arriving passengers (causing passengers to queue into the bridge and plane itself) and passengers left the arrivals area unsegregated from departing passengers into the same landside ring-concourse, emerging next to the check-in desks. This allowed both arriving and departing passengers immediate access to the courtyard on the same level, where short-stay parking and taxi-pickup were located. Vehicles could enter and exit via a road underpass underneath the terminal building entrance.

For flights using jet-bridges and passengers arriving or leaving by private transport, this resulted in extremely short walking distances of just a few tens of metres between vehicles and the plane, with only a slightly longer walk for public transport connections. A downside of this design is a lack of any provision for transfer flights, with passengers only able to transit landside.

Another rarer terminal design is the mobile lounge, where passengers are transported from the gate to their aircraft in a large vehicle which docks directly to the terminal and the aircraft. Washington Dulles International Airport, Mexico City International Airport, and Mirabel International Airport have used this design.

Hybrid layouts also exist. San Francisco International Airport and Melbourne Airport use a hybrid pier-semicircular layout and a pier layout for the rest.

Common-use facility[edit]

A common-use facility or terminal design disallows airlines to have its own proprietary check-in counters, gates and IT systems. Rather, check-in counters and gates can be flexibly reassigned as needed. This is used at Boston Logan International Airport's Terminal E.[9][10]


This table below lists the top airport terminals throughout the world with the largest amount of floor area, with usable floor space across multiple stories of at least 400,000 m2 (4,300,000 sq ft).

Name Country and territory Place/City Floor area Notes
Dubai International Airport Terminal 3  United Arab Emirates Dubai 1,713,000 m2 (18,440,000 sq ft) Three buildings connected by tunnels
Istanbul Airport Main Terminal  Turkey Istanbul 1,440,000 m2 (15,500,000 sq ft) World's largest airport terminal under one single roof[11]
Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3  China Beijing 986,000 m2 (10,610,000 sq ft) Three buildings connected by train[12]
King Abdulaziz International Airport Terminal 1  Saudi Arabia Jeddah 810,000 m2 (8,700,000 sq ft) [13]
Abu Dhabi International Airport Midfield Terminal Complex  United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi 735,000 m2 (7,910,000 sq ft) Due to open in 2022[14]
Beijing Daxing International Airport Terminal  China Beijing 700,000 m2 (7,500,000 sq ft) [15]
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal 2  China Guangzhou 658,700 m2 (7,090,000 sq ft) [16]
Shanghai Pudong International Airport Satellite Concourse  China Shanghai 622,000 m2 (6,700,000 sq ft) World's largest stand-alone satellite terminal[17]
Hamad International Airport  Qatar Doha 600,000 m2 (6,500,000 sq ft) [18]
Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1  Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok 570,000 m2 (6,100,000 sq ft) [19]
Suvarnabhumi Airport  Thailand Bangkok 563,000 m2 (6,060,000 sq ft) [20]
Kunming Changshui International Airport  China Kunming 548,300 m2 (5,902,000 sq ft) [21]
Barcelona Airport Terminal 1  Spain Barcelona 544,000 m2 (5,860,000 sq ft) [22]
Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport Terminal 3A  China Chongqing 530,000 m2 (5,700,000 sq ft) [23]
Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3  India Delhi 502,000 m2 (5,400,000 sq ft) [24]
Incheon International Airport Terminal 1  South Korea Seoul 496,000 m2 (5,340,000 sq ft) [25]
Qingdao Jiaodong International Airport  China Qingdao 478,000 m2 (5,150,000 sq ft) [26]
Barajas Airport Terminal 4 main building  Spain Madrid 470,000 m2 (5,100,000 sq ft) [27]
Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport Terminal 3  China Shenzhen 459,000 m2 (4,940,000 sq ft) [28]
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2  India Mumbai 450,000 m2 (4,800,000 sq ft) [29]
Narita International Airport Terminal 1  Japan Narita 440,000 m2 (4,700,000 sq ft) [30]
Soekarno–Hatta International Airport Terminal 3  Indonesia Jakarta 422,804 m2 (4,551,020 sq ft) [31]

Ground transportation[edit]

Many small and mid-size airports have a single, two, or three-lane one-way loop road which is used by local private vehicles and buses to drop off and pick up passengers.

An international airport may have two grade-separated one-way loop roads, one for departures and one for arrivals. It may have a direct rail connection by regional rail, light rail, or subway to the downtown or central business district of the closest major city. The largest airports may have direct connections to the closest freeway. The Hong Kong International Airport has ferry piers on the airside for ferry connections to and from mainland China and Macau without passing through Hong Kong immigration controls.


Pre-Security (landside)

Airside inside Helsinki-Vantaa Airport Terminal 1 early in the morning

Post Security (airside)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 10 Worst Airport Terminals Slideshow". Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  2. ^ "World's 10 Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Slideshow". Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  3. ^ Menno Hubregtse, Wayfinding, Consumption, and Air Terminal Design Archived 2022-08-21 at the Wayback Machine (London: Routledge, 2020), 36-38.
  4. ^ Menno Hubregtse, Wayfinding, Consumption, and Air Terminal Design Archived 2020-10-11 at the Wayback Machine (London: Routledge, 2020), 58-61.
  5. ^ "Service on the ground | Air France - Corporate". Archived from the original on 2021-09-13. Retrieved 2021-09-13.
  6. ^ "Ralph H. Burke – O'Hare@50". Archived from the original on 2022-08-21. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  7. ^ "World's largest satellite terminal to start operation in Shanghai - Xinhua |". Archived from the original on December 1, 2019. Retrieved 2020-11-28.
  8. ^ "Shanghai Pudong Airport to open 'world's largest satellite terminal' on September 16". Business Traveller. Archived from the original on 2020-08-08. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  9. ^ "Boston Logan". Airport Wayfinder. 2010. Archived from the original on October 7, 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2010.
  10. ^ McGraw-Hill Construction | ENR – Next Phase of Baggage Screening Goes In-line, Out ofView Archived 2012-02-01 at the Wayback Machine. (2003-12-15). Retrieved on 2013-04-09.
  11. ^ "Istanbul Airport: From mere concept to international mega-hub". Archived from the original on 10 April 2019. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  12. ^ "Terminal 3 Beijing Capital International Airport". Archived from the original on 4 August 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  13. ^ "First look of Jeddah's new airport terminal". 14 December 2019. Archived from the original on 4 September 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Abu Dhabi International Airport Midfield Terminal Complex". Archived from the original on 14 August 2020. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Beijing Daxing International Airport". Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  16. ^ "Terminal 2, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China". Archived from the original on 20 September 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  17. ^ "Shanghai Pudong Airport to open 'World's largest Satellite terminal' on September 16". Archived from the original on 8 August 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  18. ^ "A Dazzling New Hub in the Middle East". HOK. Archived from the original on 6 January 2019. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Hong Kong International Airport". Archived from the original on 8 June 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  20. ^ "Suvarnabhumi Airport fact sheet". Archived from the original on 18 March 2008. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
  21. ^ "Fourth largest airport in China". Archived from the original on 24 April 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  22. ^ "Barcelona Airport: The Terminal 1 Building". Archived from the original on 22 September 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Chongqing Jiangbei Airport T3A Terminal's construction completion has been inspected and accepted". Archived from the original on 12 August 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  24. ^ "IGIA Master Plan". Archived from the original on 19 August 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  25. ^ "Incheon International Airport". Archived from the original on 25 May 2019. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  26. ^ "Qingdao Jiaodong International Airport". Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  27. ^ "Madrid Barajas International Airport". Archived from the original on 20 September 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  28. ^ "An iconic gateway to China with a capacity of 45 million passengers a year". Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  29. ^ "Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport". Archived from the original on 20 May 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  30. ^ "Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Civil Aviation Bureau". Archived from the original on 30 December 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
  31. ^ "Soekarno-Hatta Terminal 3 Ultimate to Operate in May 2016". Archived from the original on 2022-08-21. Retrieved 2020-05-21.

External links[edit]

Media related to Airport terminals at Wikimedia Commons