Navigating Airports

airport flying Apr 16, 2023

I love love love traveling but what I do not enjoy, in any way, is navigating the airport system. This is a list I'm starting to compile of the airports I have gone through and what you can expect in each airport. I have each airport in 3 sections, if possible; Departing from, Arriving to, and Connecting. I'd love to add on your airport experience!

Atlanta, Georgia

  • Departing: This is a big airport but one of my favorite ones to fly through domestically. It is well laid out and has a tram to take you to the different terminals. There are tons of places to eat and shop but almost all of the stores and restaurants close about 8pm.
  • Arriving Internationally: I don't have the best experience with this. I landed in Atlanta (after the Costa Rica fiasco) at 9pm at night and my next plane didn't leave until 6am the next day. There is a blue line shuttle that will pick up passengers and take them over to the domestic terminal where they can get a taxi. However, Uber will also pick up passengers at either terminal and that is what I did. (If you happen to find yourself in this situation, leave the tags on your bag. I was chastised the next day for removing the tags!)
  • Update 6/2023 - I am happy to say that Atlanta, arriving internationally, now has a TSA Pre-Check line! Hooray! It's set up much nicer than it has been in the past and getting through Global Entry and the TSA security line was a breeze.

Charles De Gaul, Paris

  • Connecting: This airport is enormous! If you fly in from the United States, you will land in Terminal E and you will need to get to Terminal F. (I made a video. Click here to view it.)Hope you brought your hiking boots because it’s a long way away and involves a tram! Once you get off the tram you will pass through 2 security checkpoints. One is a baggage check, and the same rules apply as in the US, no liquids over 100ml, no weapons (obvio), and you’ll need to take all your electronics out of your bag but you can leave your shoes on. When I was there, they pulled about 30% of the passengers to screen (hi! I was one of them!)
    • After the baggage checkpoint, there is a passport check. There are 2 sides: one is automated and one has humans. I ended up in the automated line and all 4 kiosks refused to validate my passport! I was ushered over to an actual human who stamped my passport and waved me through.
    • Don’t expect help from anyone if it’s not their job to help you. As an American, I would call it rude but it’s just the French culture. They will do their job to the absolute best of their ability, but, if it’s not their job, you can fuck right off.
    • We landed with 90 minutes to get to our next gate and we made it with 5 minutes to spare and, while we didn’t run, we were at a very brisk walk.

Costa Rica (San Jose)

  • Arriving: This airport is a hot mess. Pura Vida is real and one of the first places you’ll come face-to-face with it is in the airport. Nobody is in a hurry and nobody seems stressed about anything. The lines always seem to stretch clear out the door and it’s all nice and organized until you actually get up to the passport checkpoint and then it’s mass chaos. There aren’t any lines at all and you have to randomly choose between 8-10 open kiosks. The guards I’ve had have not spoken English so just be sure to have your passport out, and tell them what your job is, where you are going to visit (I usually just name my first hotel), and how long you are staying.
    • Once you get through the passport check, you have one more security check and that’s for your baggage. Your luggage will be waiting for you after the passport check and it’s likely to be grouped together in a bundle with other bags. Their luggage claim area is small and they have workers that will grab the bags coming off of one airline and group them together. Grab your bag and head off to the right to the last checkpoint before you are free!
  • Departing: The airport is nice with a variety of restaurants to choose from. The security line to get to the gate area always seems to be crazy long. If you are lucky enough to have a first class ticket, they will often have a First Class Skip Line you can use. That particular day, DHL had an accident on the runway (nobody was hurt) so my experience heading out was very different from the norm. Here's a video, starts about the 1:00 mark:


Detroit, Michigan

  • Departing: Delta is in the McNamara Building. It has its own parking lot but if you park in the Big Blue Lot there is a shuttle bus that will take you over to the other terminal. You will need to go across the walkway and then take the first elevator down to the shuttle area.
  • Arriving: I landed in Detroit from Malaga with a connecting flight in Paris. It was easy to get my luggage from the carousel although it took about 20 minutes in total. Passing through customs was easy as I have the Trusted Traveler Pass. I checked in at a kiosk, a guard asked if I had anything to declare, I said 'no' and that was it! There was no additional security to go through although they do have the xray machines setup in the carousel area.
  • It’s not easy to leave Detroit once you have your bags! If you want a hotel shuttle you need to go up to level 4 and then down to level 3. Trust me. There is also a dedicated ride share level (like for Uber) and I think that’s on level 3. I will double check the next time I'm there.
  • The Westin Hotel that is attached to the McNamara building is amazing! It's pricey but I recommend staying there for ease of mind and just straight convenience. They have their own security line straight into the terminal; and, while the lines aren't separated - you will get a TSA card from the agent who checks your ticket. As of 12/30/23, nobody was asked to take out their electronics so the only difference I saw, as TSA pre-check, was that I got to keep my shoes on! The valet attendant parked my car, and had it ready and warmed up for me by the time I got from my exit gate back to the hotel. Since I was parking for 5 days I got the 5-day deal which gave me one day for free. It's still expensive at $30 a night vs the $12-ish at a Park-n-Fly lot but I loved the ease, convenience, and simplicity of it all. And I LOVED not having to wait for the usual hotel shuttle to show up (finally) and take me back to the hotel, and then calling the Park-n-Fly people so that I could get my car. 


 Malaga, Spain

  • Arriving: I wanted to like this airport! I really did. I think I’ll like it better next time because now I know the rules.
    • Odd rule #1: My flight was 8310 but they randomly assigned it a new number, 7915. After staring at the screen for about 15 minutes, and not seeing my plane number anywhere, I happened to turn my boarding ticket over and there was a sticker that said 7915. Not sure how an 8310 got changed into a 7915 but make sure to check the back of your boarding ticket if you can’t find what carousel you are supposed to be at.
    • After waiting at the carousel for a loooong time, I saw a sign that read, “If you are coming from a non-EU country, you need to go to Carousels 31-34.” Those carousels are on the same floor as the others but grouped together in their own side room. Wow, it was a mess in there! One carousel had bags on it that just kept going around and around. Another carousel had stopped but had bags scattered here and there and the last was just sitting empty. I heard a fellow American ask the security guard where her bag might be and he shrugged and said, “Here. Out there. Could be anywhere.” They did eventually show up in the Non-EU room.
    • The nice part, and I’m not sure if this is normal, but they let all of us bypass the additional security screening and head off into the wilds.
    • Oh, people in Spain don’t seem to care about lines. They are massive line cutters and very unapologetic but they are also very laid back and friendly.
  • Departing: My flight left at 6am so I was there at 3:30am. The window didn’t open until 4a so I just hung out, first in line for 30 minutes. Check-in was easy. Next was going through security and that was easy as well. Same setup as every airport essentially. Malaga made the next part difficult as I had to choose between 2 hallways but, while the information screen showed my flight, it didn’t show the gate number. It didn’t show any gate numbers. Turns out that the gate numbers aren’t displayed until closer to the time the plane leaves. I think ours finally showed at 5am. Boarding was easy.

Saint Lucia

  • Arriving: This is a very small airport and you will deplane down steps and then walk to the airport building. There are 2 lines to get through, and they were very long, but we were out of the airport in just under 30 minutes. The first line is your passport line. I filled out the online form and printed out the QR code so after showing them both documents I was told to have a great visit. The next line was security and there was an xray for the luggage. That went smoothly for me but several people around me were being intensely interrogated by the security police. Not sure why because the line was moving too fast to eavesdrop. Warning - From the point past luggage security to the door to leave the airport is about 30 feet but you will be inundated with people trying to "help" you carry your bags and then wanting a tip. Unless you are disabled, firmly tell these guys 'no' or they WILL grab your stuff, walk it to the door, and then want a tip.
  • Departing: This was very smooth! There is a restaurant in the main part where you check in with your airline. I didn't visit that but it's a good idea if you have to use the restroom because once you get in line for security it's a stretch to the next restroom. First line was passport check, second line was what seemed to be another passport check, and then there was the baggage xray line. In all it took about 20 minutes and there had been a pretty big line at the start. Inside the security area, there are a ton of souvenir and liquor shops. If you go upstairs there are restaurants. It is very crowded with limited seating. And again, to get on the plane, you will need to exit the airport and walk up steps to the plane.

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