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Airports in Europe operate a little differently than those in the U.S.  In our article, we reveal the mysteries of European airports and provide some tips that should help you to navigate the process in good form.


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Travel Advice/Travel Tips -  Airports in Europe – Wait for the gate

Check-in and boarding do not work the same in most European Airports as they do in the U.S. (even if the airline is a carrier based in the U.S.).

In Europe and the UK, the check-in gates are reconfigurable.

  • When you arrive at the departure hall (or departure  terminal), look for a set of television monitors which will be centrally located and will tell you whether the check-in counters for your flight are open and, if so, the identification numbers of the appropriate check-in counters.
  • It is important to note that in many European airports the check-in gates are shared among many airlines, so look for the information posted on the monitors rather than for an airline logo.

You cannot check in early, as you can in the U.S.: each gate is restricted to the flyers on the flight being checked in.

  • When the gates do open, flyers are segregated by class of service.
  • If you are in the wrong line, you will, be directed to the end of the correct line.
  • If you arrive at the airport before the check in gates are open; you will have to wait around until the check in gates for your flight are assigned.

If the flight is your return to the United States, you will pass through a mini-security gauntlet. You will need to provide your ticket, passport, and answer several security questions before you will be admitted to the check-in area.

Once you have cleared check-in, you will proceed to Passport Control where you will be required to show your boarding pass, passport, and possibly other travel documents. After this, you will be directed to Security. At security, your carry-on luggage will be scanned, and you will be asked to pass through a metal detector. If either you or your luggage fails the first inspection, you will be subjected to another inspection.

Next, you will be directed to a large “departures hall” with seating, shopping, restaurants, and toilets.

  • The shops in this area are usually duty-free. (See our article on taking advantage of Duty free.)
  • The “departures hall” is a temporary holding area that separates you and the gates for boarding your plane.
  • Once you enter the departure hall, you are not permitted to exit back to the ticketing area.
  • In addition, you cannot leave the departure hall for your flight, until it is available for boarding.

The gates at most European airports are tightly controlled and you must wait in the departure hall until the central board or bank of monitors indicates the availability for boarding and the gate assigned to your flight.

  • As soon as the flight is available for boarding, you may head for the gate.
  •  In many European airports this means standing in line to board a bus that will take you to the plane, so don’t dally.
  • In other cases, you will be led to a secure gate area that has only one entrance.
    • At this entrance, personnel may require re-examination of your passport and boarding cards.

Once allowed entry to the boarding area, leaving (there are no toilets in the gate areas), if possible at all, will require that you leave your passport with the gate personnel, to be picked up on your return to the gate area.

  • Once you leave the departure lounge, it is unlikely that you will see a toilet until you are on the plane, so use this information to your advantage.

A final word – many of the airport transporters that take you from the terminal to the plane, do not have seats, and require standing during the journey. On crowded vehicles, this is both uncomfortable and difficult, as the crowd lurches during  bus turns. Be especially vigilant about the security of your valuables during this portion of the journey. (See our article on Money Belts.)

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