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). Some larger airports have more than one terminal, each with one or more concourses (such as New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport). Still other larger airports have multiple terminals each of which incorporate the functions of a concourse (such as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport).
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. 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. For instance, at Toronto Pearson's Terminal 1 Moshe Safdie included skylights for wayfinding purposes.
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.
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.
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.
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. Other examples include the following:
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.
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 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 |
|Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3||China||Beijing||986,000 m2 (10,610,000 sq ft)||Three buildings connected by train.|
|King Abdulaziz International Airport Terminal 1||Saudi Arabia||Jeddah||810,000 m2 (8,700,000 sq ft)|||
|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 |
|Beijing Daxing International Airport Terminal||China||Beijing||700,000 m2 (7,500,000 sq ft)|||
|Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal 2||China||Guangzhou||658,700 m2 (7,090,000 sq ft)|||
|Shanghai Pudong International Airport Satellite Concourse||China||Shanghai||622,000 m2 (6,700,000 sq ft)||World's largest stand-alone satellite terminal |
|Hamad International Airport||Qatar||Doha||600,000 m2 (6,500,000 sq ft)|||
|Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1||Hong Kong||Chek Lap Kok||570,000 m2 (6,100,000 sq ft)|||
|Suvarnabhumi Airport||Thailand||Bangkok||563,000 m2 (6,060,000 sq ft)|||
|Kunming Changshui International Airport||China||Kunming||548,300 m2 (5,902,000 sq ft)|||
|Barcelona Airport Terminal 1||Spain||Barcelona||544,000 m2 (5,860,000 sq ft)|||
|Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport Terminal 3A||China||Chongqing||530,000 m2 (5,700,000 sq ft)|||
|Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3||India||Delhi||502,000 m2 (5,400,000 sq ft)|||
|Incheon International Airport Terminal 1||South Korea||Seoul||496,000 m2 (5,340,000 sq ft)|||
|Qingdao Jiaodong International Airport||China||Qingdao||478,000 m2 (5,150,000 sq ft)|||
|Barajas Airport Terminal 4 main building||Spain||Madrid||470,000 m2 (5,100,000 sq ft)|||
|Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport Terminal 3||China||Shenzhen||459,000 m2 (4,940,000 sq ft)|||
|Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2||India||Mumbai||450,000 m2 (4,800,000 sq ft)|||
|Narita International Airport Terminal 1||Japan||Narita||440,000 m2 (4,700,000 sq ft)|||
|Soekarno–Hatta International Airport Terminal 3||Indonesia||Jakarta||422,804 m2 (4,551,020 sq ft)|||
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.
Media related to Airport terminals at Wikimedia Commons