Why Airports Have Multiple Terminals: The Key To Smooth Travel

You can get on a bus from a stop and board a train from the station. And if you want to catch a flight, you’ll have to go through the airport terminal before you can get to the airfield and board your flight. But why do airports have terminals?

Airports have terminals to enable the smooth flow of passengers and goods when boarding and disembarking the aircraft. It’s also a place where passengers wait to board their flights, check and pick up their luggage, and get checked by security.

In the rest of this article, I’ll explain the structure of the airport and why it’s made the way it is. I will also give you a few tips and tricks to make your boarding experience hassle-free.

Why Do Airports Have Terminals?

Airports have terminals as a transportation interchange, whether from one plane to another or from the shuttle to the plane. They are also used for checking-in and, checking your luggage, and passing all the security checks needed to board the plane.

The airport terminal also has duty-free shops, restaurants, and lounges. It also contains restrooms and all the facilities needed to pass the time for those long waits and layovers.

What Is the Difference Between Airport and Terminal?

The difference between a terminal and an airport is that the airport is a complex of buildings with terminals, airfields, and parking lots, while the terminal is just a part of that complex. Smaller airports usually have one terminal, while larger ones may have several.

What Is the Difference Between Terminal and Gate in Airport?

The difference between a terminal and a gate is that the terminal is the building intended for passengers to check in, check their luggage and wait for boarding. In contrast, a gate is the area of the terminal where people board the plane and disembark after the landing.

Do Airlines Pay for Terminals?

Airlines pay for terminals. Since terminals are publicly owned and operated, the airports pay through their lease. For non-lease airports, a fee is calculated per enplaned passenger.

Throughout the United States, all the airports are publicly owned by the state or local government. The only exception is the Branson airport in Missouri, making it the only private airport that has scheduled commercial flights.

Orlando International Airport 2022

Why Are Airports So Difficult to Navigate?

Airports are difficult to navigate because they are loud, busy, and complex. Most of them were not made for the number of people who circulate through them every day. The complexity has increased with redesigns for security purposes and the addition of shops and restaurants.

According to University of Dayton aviation historian Janet Bednarek, airports were much less complicated before 9/11 and all the security measures that came in the wake of it. 

Pre-9/11 security checks were much simpler, and the lines were shorter. Today, the complex process at security adds to passengers’ confusion because they need to do the following:

  • Take their shoes, belts, and coats off
  • Remove their cell phones, laptops, and electronic devices and place them in a separate bin
  • Walk through a body scanner
  • Place any toiletries, gels, or liquids in a plastic bag (and ensure that they are not carrying more than the permitted amount)

After passing through security, passengers must repack their hand luggage and make sure that they haven’t left anything behind. All of these processes can be stressful and add to the confusing nature of airports. 

The added factor is also the fact people don’t know what they should be searching for or what to do next, especially if they are not accustomed to flying and don’t do it often. It’s hard to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know what to look for in the first place. 

Add to that some confusing signage and an overwhelming amount of people circulating around the airport, and you’ve got yourself a virtual maze.

Tips and Tricks for Navigating an Airport

If you have a long layover or just aren’t used to frequent air travel, navigating an airport can seem like a daunting task. Here is a little guidance to help you along:

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Come to the airport early. This will give you some leeway in case you need a little more time to familiarize yourself with the check-in procedure and get through the long lines with sufficient time to catch your flight. Being early also helps you have some buffer time for unexpected delays. 

Plan Ahead

Look up the airport layout online – this will help you determine if the area you will spend most of your time in has shops and restaurants. If not, bring your own snacks, so you don’t go hungry while waiting for your flight. Also, look up the working hours of shops so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Some airports even have walk-through videos online that will make your job that much easier. Here is the Denver Airport check-in and walk-through video you can find on YouTube:

Make Sure You Have All the Documents You Need at Hand

To make life easier for the TSA agents, airport staff, other passengers, and yourself, ensure you have all the papers you need on hand. Also, study the airline’s rules and regulations regarding luggage and items you can bring onboard. This will spare you from being plucked out of the line and losing precious time you need to get to your gate on time.

Use the Internet to Your Advantage

Book and pay for your tickets online. You can also check-in online and print your boarding passes at home—this will make everything go smoother and move along much faster. 

Online check-ins allow you to skip the long lines at the airline counters, especially if you don’t have any baggage that needs to be checked in. If you do, then you may have to make a quick run to a baggage drop


The large number of people makes airports seem complicated and confusing, but they don’t have to be. Airports are typically laid out to have parking lots, airfields, and terminals. 

The terminals are where you’ll spend most of your time, checking in and exploring the multitude of shops and high-quality restaurants while you wait for your flight. Each terminal also has gates—areas where you board and disembark from planes.