9 Things to Know About Your Arrival Airport

Dara Continenza, October 10, 2013
Fares from Washington DC:

    Does your arrival airport have easy access to public transportation? Are there entry or exit fees? Where's the rental-car counter? Getting there is only half the battle. Here are nine things you need to know about your arrival airport before you even take off.


    Public Transportation

    Not all airports are conveniently or cheaply connected to a destination city by public transportation. When booking a flight, pull up a map of local transportation options (such as subways, buses, trams, and shuttles) that serve the airport. Know the route you'll need, how much it will cost, and how and where to buy your fare (including whether ticket kiosks accept credit cards, cash, or coins). Don't forget to look up a timetable, too, lest you get caught at the airport long after the subway has stopped running. If you're heading straight to a nearby hotel from the airport, find out if a shuttle van is included in your room rate.


    Distance

    If you've ever flown a cheapo (ahem, I mean "discount") airline like Ryanair, you know they often fly into airports labeled "London" or "Paris" that turn out to be an hour or more outside of London or Paris. It's a good idea to double-check your arrival airport's actual location when booking.

    Before leaving, print or bookmark directions from the airport to your hotel. Even if public transit isn’t an option, knowing the general location of your hotel can help you avoid a price gouge from your cab driver. Tip: To feel more like a local (and to be less likely to be fleeced), I always give the driver specific directions based off my iPhone's map app and check for local traffic. I haven't been taken on a detour around imaginary construction since.


    Luggage Services

    Airport signage isn't always clear, especially if you're in a country that uses a non-English alphabet. It's important to know the location of luggage services before you land. Most major airports have maps available online, so pull one up before you depart and note the location of the luggage carousels (and, should you end up needing it, the lost-luggage office). That way, you won't be left dawdling cluelessly outside your arrival gate, wondering where your bag might be.

    If you're connecting to another airport, you will also want to find out if you have to retrieve and recheck your luggage or if your bag is already en route. Check with your airline to confirm.


    Customs Requirements

    When traveling internationally, always confirm customs requirements for your destination country, including necessary identification, visas, and documents such as the declaration cards distributed on your plane. Also know duty-free limits and bans, if applicable, and be prepared to declare anything of value if you're returning to your home country from abroad.

    It may be helpful to note where customs is located before you arrive so that you can beat the rush, even when returning to the U.S. Many domestic airports post wait times on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for a given date range. Wait times may not be 100 percent up-to-date, but they will give you a sense of how much time to allot and which airports are the busiest. (Hint: One of them is JFK.)


    Arrival and Departure Taxes

    Some countries levy a so-called entry tax for guests arriving via certain airports. The amount, currency, and method of payment differs from country to country, so search the U.S. Department of State website for up-to-date information regarding such taxes. If necessary, get cash ahead of your flight.

    Some countries require an exit fee, which will be levied upon your departure. If you are departing from your arrival airport, note the required exit fee and whether or not the airport has an ATM or currency-exchange kiosk so you won't get caught cashless.


    Meeting Points

    Need to meet someone upon landing? You'd be wise to find out where your airport's meeting points are, since non-flyers haven't been allowed at arrival gates since Cheers was on the air. Some airports have designated pre-security points where recently debarked flyers can locate family, friends, or drivers indoors. Others have short-term parking directly outside of the airport, but cars likely can't sit for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Since the traffic situation around any given airport is usually congested at best and apocalyptic at worst, plan ahead and determine exactly where you'll rendezvous, down to the closest available potted plant.


    Car-Rental Services

    Some rental lots are literally miles from the airport and getting to them requires a shuttle. If you've reserved a vehicle from an off-site rental company, be sure to factor shuttle time into your plans. Also know that if it's a weekend, peak season, or even a particularly busy time of day, car-rental lines may be long and the shuttle may be packed. Do as much advance research as you can by mapping the airport or checking with your rental company for details. Double-check that you haven't booked a rental at a shop that may not be reachable at all.


    Terminal Layout

    Making a connection? It's good to know exactly where your connecting terminal is located and if your airport has a tramway to get you there, especially if you have a short layover. If you know you have to dash madly from Gate A-1 to Gate ZZ-390, which is invariably somewhere between Siberia and Mordor, you'll likely want to sit near the front of the plane so you can disembark early. Once again, consult an online airport map before you arrive. Some airports include time estimates for intra-terminal travel; Heathrow's website, for instance, includes time estimates for roving between terminals by foot, by tram, or by the tube.


    Wi-Fi

    You'll likely check to see if your departure airport has Wi-Fi access, but consider researching if your arrival airport does as well. That way, you can get online to confirm any travel details, check the weather, or make a Skype call if necessary (especially helpful in international destinations where you may not have a functioning phone). Plus, you'll likely be departing from this same airport at the end of your trip, so you may as well know in advance whether you'll have Wi-Fi before your flight home.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Nine Things to Know About Your Arrival Airport.

    Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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