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Airport Guide

How to Navigate the Airport

How to Navigate the Airport: If you don’t fly often or you’re a first-time flyer, going to the airport can already feel like you’re entering a new universe of moving walkways, long hallways and gates to other cities. Some airports even have their own mini train or tram system to help customers get between terminals, so you might have to figure out which line to take and which direction.

It may look and sound overwhelming, but learning what to do at the airport can be easy.

The good news is that most airports in Tanzania, example Msalato International airport and others, have a similar basic design, and the steps that you need to follow are essentially the same, no matter which airport is closest to your home. You won’t even need a map to master the airport process. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you learn how to navigate the airport as we move headlong into busy travel seasons.

How to find your way around an airport

1. Arrive in the right spot — and at the right time

Follow the signs at your respective airport to make sure you find the correct terminal building for your flight. For instance, at Denver International Airport, Terminal East hosts airlines like Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Spirit, whereas Terminal West hosts American, JetBlue, United, WestJet and others. Enter the airport at your terminal to simplify the next steps of the process.

Most airlines recommend that you arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours for international flights. You’ll hear all sorts of advice about whether you need to be there that early, but it’s a good general rule.

There are several reasons why you might need extra time:

  • Are you checking a bag? If so, you might have to spend more time checking in and getting someone to weigh your bag, instead of going straight to the security checkpoint with your boarding pass. Check-in line wait times can vary greatly, so you’ll want to build in some time for this if checking a bag.

  • Are you parking at the airport? If so, give yourself an extra 20 minutes on top of what time you already planned to be there. Sometimes, airport parking lot shuttles can take a long time to make their rounds or get filled to capacity with families and their luggage. If you budget extra time, waiting for the next shuttle won’t derail your travel plans.

  • Do you have TSA Precheck or Global Entry? These security pre-clearances can make it faster to get through security at the airport. If you don’t have one of these, keep in mind that you might have to wait in line longer, and budget ahead of time to accommodate the potentially long queues.


2. Check in

Once you enter the airport, the first thing you should do is check in (if you haven’t done so already online).

Many airlines allow you to check in online 24 hours before your flight. If you’re not checking a bag, this is a great option because it allows you to download a mobile boarding pass to your phone to bypass check-in and head for security (Step 3).

If you’d like a paper boarding pass or if you’re checking a bag, you’ll have to officially check in. Some airlines will offer self check-in kiosks, where you’ll enter some information about your flight reservation to print boarding passes, check bags and select seats. From there, you’ll need to find your way to the luggage drop line to get your checked bag weighed.

For airports without self check-in machines, the airline’s customer service agents at the check-in counter will handle the entire process.

3. Go through the security checkpoint

Once you’ve checked your luggage and gotten your boarding pass, you should go to the TSA checkpoint leading to the proper concourse for your flight. Concourses are usually marked by letter (e.g., Concourse A, B, C) and align with your gate designation (so Gate B12 would be in Concourse B).

Sometimes, the signage will say things like “To All Gates” to help lead you away from the check-in area. There may also be separate security checkpoints for different gates, so if there are directions based on your gate number, default to those instructions.


4. Find your gate

Once you’ve been cleared through security, follow the signs to your gate. It should be listed on your boarding pass, but the most up-to-date information can be found on departure monitors throughout the airport.

Once you confirm the gate for your flight, look for signs that direct travelers toward different parts of the airport. You might have to take a quick tram to another terminal, but this should be clearly marked for travelers. In general, you will want to follow signs with numbers and arrows — somewhat like when you head to a hotel room.

If you have any questions, try to find an information kiosk or a fellow traveler to help point you in the right direction.

5. Wait at the gate

Now, depending on how much time you have before the boarding time listed on your boarding pass (usually 30 minutes to an hour before your departure time), you may have some time to kill.

This is the time you can use to grab food or shop at the establishments inside the concourse. It’s notoriously expensive to eat at the airport, but it’s even more expensive to purchase food onboard. Plus, your options will be much more limited, so it’s a good idea to grab a bite before you get on the plane if you’ll need a snack later on.

Some travelers also use this time to go to the bathroom or refill their water bottle. Unless you decide to buy Wi-Fi onboard, your time at your gate might be your last chance to charge your electronics and download movies, music or podcasts before the flight. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with whatever your airline is offering for in-flight entertainment.

An airline lounge might be a good place to stop if you have a lot of time before your flight. If you’re flying first or business class or your credit card comes with lounge access, you might be able to wait for boarding time from the comfort of a lounge, which usually offers more spacious seating and unlimited food while you’re there

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6. Board the airplane

The last step is to get on board. Wait for your boarding group to be called, which should be listed on your ticket. Most airlines board by a numbered boarding group, and people with elite status and those flying first class usually board in the earlier groups.

You won’t be able to board with an earlier group than the one listed on your ticket unless you need special accommodations, like if you’re flying with small children. In those cases, they’ll usually announce when they’ll allow people who need extra help or time to board. If you miss your boarding group, you will still be able to board with later groups.

7. Retrieve your luggage

Once your plane arrives at your destination, you’ll want to follow the signs to baggage claim to pick up your checked bags. Each flight is assigned a luggage carousel, so check the monitors near baggage claim to find out which one your bag will arrive on. The time you spend waiting for your luggage to arrive can vary, sometimes up to 30 minutes or more. This is usually a good time to go to the bathroom or grab a snack.

If you don’t see your bags after all the luggage from the flight has been unloaded, find the airline’s baggage office at the airport to report your missing items. They should be able to help you find them. If your luggage is missing, document your loss and collect the necessary paperwork such that you can file a claim with your travel insurance provider or credit card issuer (assuming it includes insurance coverage).

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