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What Is An Airport Terminal?

  • avatar
    Jonathan Chum

An airport terminal is an area (or building) where passengers alight and depart. An airport is only made of two major parts; the airfield and terminals. The airfield has runways and parking space, while the terminal has all the facilities that allow you to board and alight from your airplane. It's your first stop when you alight and the last stop when you board your plane.

Terminal is an adjective that describes the end of something; it can describe a disease that will likely lead to death. Terminal as a noun is the last station in a bus station or train station. Similarly, an airport terminal is where the passengers end and begin their journey.

In this article, we’re going to answer questions such as:

  • What is an airport terminal?
  • How do I know my terminal information?
  • What to expect in an airport terminal?
  • What to expect when changing terminals

What Is an Airport Terminal?

An airport terminal is the airplane station. All the inspections and ticket handling occur in the airport terminal, which is also where you leave your luggage as you await your flight. An airport terminal is sometimes called a concourse which refers to a building with gates that allow access to your airplane.

Small airports typically have one main terminal that also serves as a concourse. Some busy airports have several terminals for different airlines, like the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which has nine terminals. Some large airports have one massive terminal with several concourses like the Beijing Daxing International Airport (a sight to behold).

Beijing Daxing International Airport is the world's largest airport, and it also boasts of the world's largest single-building terminal.

How Do I Know My Terminal Information?

You will find details on your assigned terminal either in the confirmation email or in your boarding pass, or both.

Confirmation Email

Within a few hours of making your reservation, you receive a confirmation email with your receipt, reservation number, and flight itinerary (travel plans). After your reservation is confirmed, you also receive your ticket and terminal information.

Boarding Pass

You get your boarding pass after check-in, whether you check-in online or at the airport. If you checked in online, you easily print out the boarding pass from the website. Though it is safer to print out your boarding pass, you can use a mobile boarding pass with a QR code that a TSA agent can scan like they do with the printed version. Your boarding pass has your details like your name and flight information (airline, flight number, terminal information, boarding time, departure time, etc.).

Terminal Map

Airports with several terminals mostly have designated terminals for different airlines. The information on terminals and their designated airlines makes up a terminal map which is posted on the airport website. You can find the terminal map through a Google search of the airport's terminals.

Flight Information Display System (FIDS) 

Inside an airport terminal, you will find LED screens showing flight information in real-time. They are essentially a Flight Information Display System. Some large airports have virtual FIDS on their official website. The FIDS shows lots of flight information for passengers including, departure and arrival times, boarding gates, destinations, delay notifications, terminal information, etc.

What To Expect In An Airport Terminal?

All the airport boarding procedures happen in the airport terminal. However, what you find in an airport terminal depends on the terminal design


A gate in an airport terminal has seats where passengers can wait for their flights. You will find your assigned gate number on your boarding pass after check-in. In the seating area, you might spot refreshments' kiosks and even restrooms. There is also the check-in counter in front of a gate and the jet bridge (the connector from the airplane to the gate). You will need your gate number to go through a gate.

Check-in Counter

If you didn't get your ticket online, you could buy it at the check-in counter, which is also the place you verify your documents and check-in. After document verification and check-in, you get a boarding pass then head to the security checks.

If you checked in online and have no luggage, you can start your boarding process at security checks with your printed boarding pass. If you have luggage that is not allowed in the cabin, you have to check in the luggage. You can pick up your tagged luggage at the baggage reclaimarea at your destination or on the jetway after landing.

Security Check

At the airport security check, you present yourself and your baggage for thorough screening. It is best to check the forbidden items on your airline's website to avoid delays and embarrassments.

Body Screening. You might have to go through a Full Body Scanner that sees items hidden under clothes or go through a metal detector or both. Some American airlines allow you to skip the body scanner and get the thorough pat-down, while some airlines won't let you choose; you get the scan or skip your flight.

There might never be a more thorough check-up than airport security checks. Your carry-on bag will be emptied to the last item.

Document Inspection. The security officer will also scan and approve your boarding pass and identification documents. It is always a good idea to have someone looking after your belongings as you go through inspection.

Customs And Immigration

All international flight passengers need to go through customs and immigration. The customs and immigration are concerned with your documents' legality, whether the law has allowed you into the country or carrying any forbidden items.

Customs is responsible for inspecting your luggage, and it might not be compulsory depending on the airline. Immigration (also called border control or passport control) is responsible for inspecting you. They look up your name in their database for any inconveniences like a previous blacklisting. After you pass the inspection, the immigration officer stamps your passport, and you are ready to go to the airfield.

What To Expect When Changing Terminals

If your departure and arrival gates are in the same terminal, you might not have to go through security. But every time you switch terminals (common with international flights), you will go through rigorous security checks again.

The Take Away

When you are going to board a plane, you begin your journey at the airport terminal. All boarding processes take place in the terminal, right before you board your plane. You buy tickets, check-in, go through security checks and the customs and immigrations at the airport terminal. When you land in your destination, you go through the airport terminal where you pick your luggage before meeting the rest of the world.