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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 airplanes.

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 underground tunnels (such as Denver International Airportmarker). Some larger airports have more than one terminal, each with one or more concourses (such as New York's La Guardia Airportmarker). Still other larger airports have multiple terminals each of which incorporate the functions of a concourse (such as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airportmarker).

Most airport terminals are built in a plain style. However, some, such as Baghdad International Airportmarker, are monumental in stature, while others are considered architectural masterpieces, such as Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle airport near Parismarker or Terminal 5 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 Sunportmarker in New Mexicomarker, which is designed in the Pueblo Revival style popularized by architect John Gaw Meem, as well as the terminal at Bahías de Huatulco International Airportmarker in Huatulcomarker, Oaxacamarker, Mexicomarker, which features some palapas that are interconnected to form the airport terminal.

Airport terminal designs

Typical design of a terminal, showing the Departures (upper half of page) and Arrivals levels.
Departures Lounge.
Gates and jet bridges.
Security Clearance Gates.
4 Baggage Check-in.
Baggage Carousels
Due to the rapid rise in popularity of passenger flight, many early terminals were built in the 1930's-1940's and reflected the popular art deco style architecture of the time. One such surviving example from 1940 is the Houston Municipal Airport Terminalmarker. 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.


A pier design uses a long, 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 case of Kansai International Airportmarker). Most large international airports have piers, including Chicago's O'Hare International Airportmarker, Frankfurt International Airportmarker, London Heathrow Airportmarker, Amsterdam Schiphol Airportmarker, Kuala Lumpur International Airportmarker, Bangkok International Airportmarker, Beirut International Airportmarker and Miami International Airportmarker.

Satellite Terminal

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 Airportmarker. It used an underground pedestrian tunnel to connect the satellite to the main terminal. This was also the first setup at Los Angeles International Airportmarker, 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 Airportmarker, which is the standard today. Paris's Charles de Gaulle International Airportmarker (Terminal 1) and London Gatwick Airportmarker (South Terminal) both have circular satellite terminals. Orlando International Airportmarker and Pittsburgh International Airportmarker have multipier satellite terminals. Brussels Airportmarker's Pier A is connected to the main building via underground tunnels and walkways. Zurich Airportmarker's Gates E are connected with a subway.Denver International Airportmarker, General Mariano Escobedo International Airportmarker, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airportmarker, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airportmarker have linear satellite terminals connected by central passages. Kuala Lumpur International Airportmarker has a cross-shaped satellite terminal which is being used for international flights. Sea-Tac International Airportmarker has two rectangular satellite terminals connected by an automatic people mover.

Semicircular Terminal

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 International Airportmarker (terminal 2), Mumbai Airportmarker (terminal 2), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airportmarker, Seoul's Incheon International Airportmarker, and Sapporo's New Chitose Airportmarker.


One 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 Airportmarker, Mexico City International Airportmarker, and Mirabel International Airportmarker have used this design.

Hybrid layouts also exist. San Francisco International Airportmarker uses a hybrid pier-semicircular layout (Terminal 3) and a pier layout for the rest.


Dubai International Airportmarker, Dubaimarker, United Arab Emiratesmarker, Terminal 3, became the largest single Terminal building in the world with an area of over (1,500,000 m²) when it opened on October 14, 2008. It can handle an excess of 43 million passengers.

Beijing, Hong Kongmarker, Bangkokmarker and Mexico Citymarker have the world's second, third fourth, and fifth largest single terminals (986,000 m2, 570,000 m2, 563,000 m2 and 542,000 m2) in Beijing Capital International Airportmarker, Hong Kong International Airportmarker, Suvarnabhumi Airportmarker and Mexico City International Airportmarker respectively.

Ground transportation

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. There will be car rental agencies and taxi companies operating around the terminals. The Hong Kong International Airport has ferry piers on the airside to connect with ferry piers across the border.


  • Check-in counters
  • retail stores and restaurants

Post Security

See also


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