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Tips for the Directionally Challenged: What You Can Learn About Airport Layouts from Airline Magazine Maps

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in airports, Directional Sense, Directionally challenged, maps, Wayfinding | 0 comments

Tips for the Directionally Challenged: What You Can Learn About Airport Layouts from Airline Magazine Maps

Wayfinding Information in the Seat Pocket in Front of You

Say you’re on a flight and about to land at an airport you’ve never visited. If you’re directionally challenged, you may feel nervous about being able to find your way around the airport once you land. But while you’re munching peanuts and contemplating all this from thousands of feet above, you might take a look at some useful information right in the seat pocket in front of you. Some airline magazines include maps of the terminals where they land. (Some planes have touchscreen monitors where you can find useful airport information too.) While these maps can be pretty tiny and look a bit like ink blots, why not take a look and see what useful facts you can discover? Pull out your specs, if you need them. . .

It’s important to note that these maps focus only on the areas of the airport that relate to the airline. So if you’re arriving and departing on a Delta flight, the Delta magazine terminal maps will show you what you need. But if you’re arriving on Delta and departing on another airline, you may need to use an app, an online website, or rely on signs or maps inside the airport to find other terminals, concourses, and gates.

Most major airports have unique configurations, so if you know your way around your home airport, that doesn’t mean you’ll know your way around the airport of your business or vacation destination. This is why it’s important to understand a bit about the layout of the airports where you’ll be traveling.


What You Need to Know About Airport Layouts

What do you need to know? This will depend on whether you’re transferring to another flight or you’ve reached your final destination.

If you’re transferring to another flight, you’ll want to know where your next gate is in relation to the gate where you’ll land. This sounds easy, but in fact, there can be more to it. Large airports may have multiple terminals and multiple concourses, each with multiple gates. So you’ll want to know which terminal, which concourse, and which gate you need. If you’ll have to get to a different terminal or concourse, you’ll probably want to know how to get there fast, since many connections are tight. Large airports usually provide shuttle buses, trams, etc. that will get you to your gate much faster than walking. Moving walkways help too.

On the other hand, if this is your final destination, you’ll want to know how to pick up your bags, find rental car counters, find transportation, or meet your ride.

When you “deplane” (airline jargon for exiting a plane), the first destination you seek may be a restroom. While the maps in airline magazines usually don’t show these, there should be signs pointing you in the direction of the nearest restroom, or identifying the restroom itself.


What Terminal Maps Can Show You

Here’s the kind of useful wayfinding information shown in the terminal maps of one major airline magazine (Delta’s Sky Magazine, Feb. 2013):

Basic Airport Layout
If you haven’t visited a particular airport before, you don’t know if there are multiple terminals, multiple concourses, or the level where you can find baggage claim. Sky Magazine’s terminal maps show:

∙    Names of terminals
For SFO – San Francisco International Airport, the map shows Terminal 1 and International Terminal.

∙    The number and names of concourses
For HNL – Honolulu International Airport, the map shows the Ewa Concourse, the Central Concourse, and the Diamond Head Concourse; for SEA – Seattle Tacoma International Airport, the map shows Concourses A-D, as well as North Satellite and South Satellite.

∙    How concourses are connected
You’ll be able to see if you can walk from one concourse to another or if you’ll need to take a tunnel, shuttle, tram, or bus. For instance, at DTW – Detroit Metro Airport – a tunnel connects Concourse A to Concourses B & C.

∙    Locations of gates
SLC – Salt Lake City International Airport identifies gates with a letter indicating the concourse: Concourse B contains gates B1-B22, Concourse C contains gates C1-C13, etc.

    Locations of Baggage Claim areas
For PDX – Portland International Airport, the map shows that baggage claim is on the Lower Level, between Concourses A, B, C and Concourses D and E.

Locations of Services
With the help of little icons (symbols), the Sky Magazine maps show a number of services you might want to find, including Ticketing, Passport Control, Information Desks, Airline Clubs, and even Recharge Stations. A map “key” will help you figure out which icons stand for which services.

QR Codes
Some of these maps include black-and-white, square QR (Quick Response) codes that you can scan with your smart phone or tablet to get to a website where you can learn more about a particular airport.

Getting From the Airport into the City
In addition to information about the airport itself, Sky Magazine shows the distance from the airport into the city and the time it will take you to get there by train, bus, and taxi.

Just so you remember that maps don’t have to be intimidating, these maps also include some little-known facts.  For instance, on the south end of SLC – Salt Lake City International Airport, there is an 18-hole golf course called “Wingpointe,” and at AMS – Amsterdam/Schipol International Airport, passengers can get married right before they depart for their honeymoons.


Navigating Inside the airport

Once you’re inside the airport, there will be other navigation tools you can use. Most airports have good directional signs to point the way to key destinations as well as “You-Are-Here” maps that show your location within the airport and give you a sense for what’s around you. Some airports also have smart-phone and tablet apps to help you navigate once inside.



It’s useful to have some idea of an airport’s layout before you’re scrambling to find your bags or your gate. There is much airport online information, including maps, if you have time to bone up before you leave the house, but if not, the maps in airline magazines may provide just enough help to give you a heads up and sooth your frittered nerves as you emerge from your plane and start the next leg of your journey.

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If you’re directionally challenged you need Directional Sense: How to Find Your Way Around, by Janet R. Carpman and Myron A. Grant.



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