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Waiting Areas at International Airports

Most people don’t love to wait, but waiting is an essential part of life. This is true at airports, too. 

In fact, sometimes people end up waiting longer than they expect to at airports, especially if a flight is delayed or canceled.

Here’s what travelers need to know to make the best of their time waiting at an international airport.

What is a Waiting Area?

A waiting area is any space that is designed for people to use to pass time while they wait for something else to happen.

In an airport, most of the waiting is on flights. People might wait for flights to come in so they can leave or wait to meet someone who has recently flown in.

Waiting areas are specially designed to make people comfortable. This includes basic items like chairs and other places to sit and rest.

Most waiting areas also include power outlets, so people can use and/or charge electronic devices while they are waiting. Some are standing-only, like pickup and dropoff areas.

Waiting areas also have features in place to help break up crowds. That way, the areas rarely feel overcrowded and people are more comfortable being there.

Many airports put special care into the overall ambiance of their waiting areas. They want people to feel comfortable with the lighting, color choices, patterns, and more.

A lot of airport waiting areas are as bright and spacious as possible, because these factors help people feel comfortable there. Not every waiting area can achieve this, but it is usually the goal.

A few waiting areas are designed to move people through quickly. For instance, people aren’t intended to linger in pickup areas.

Instead, these areas are designed to make movement easy so people can get where they need to go quickly and efficiently.

They may feature motorized walkways, easy access to other transportation, few seating options, and few good options when it comes to places to linger.

How are Waiting Areas Used?

People use waiting areas in a number of different ways. Some of these options vary by the waiting area and its intended purpose, while others vary based on each individual.

In general, people use waiting areas to pass time or use time well while they are waiting for something else to happen.

What Can You Do in a Waiting Area?

Many waiting areas have options. Note that all of these possibilities may not be available in every waiting area.

Most waiting areas allow you to get comfortable in a variety of ways. If travers want to sit down to work or relax, there are usually a variety of seating options available.

Some of these may be more comfortable and plush, designed for longer waits. Others may be more like benches, situated for pausing rather than lingering.

Waiting areas may even have sofas or layback chairs where travelers can lie down to rest for a while.

These are not usually designed for sleeping, though people will sleep there when they have to. If a canceled flight requires an overnight airport stay, people will often spend the night here.

Most waiting areas also have spaces where travelers can stretch their legs. They can walk or stand, which can feel wonderful after a long flight cooped up in an airplane seat.

Waiting areas often offer spaces where travelers can eat and drink, too. These usually include everything from quick snacks they can grab to multi-course sit-down dinners.

All sorts of beverages are offered, from water to soft drinks to juice to alcohol. People can get the drink of their choice, though they usually cannot take alcohol out of a designated area.

Most waiting areas offer at least basic access to electricity. This allows people to charge devices before they board planes, where they sometimes cannot do that for several hours.

Other waiting areas offer other amenities, like business services (a printer, fax machine, etc.), art shows and installations, high-end product demonstrations, and more.

Still others offer simple services, like basic food, a place to sit, and people who can help solve a number of problems (like safety officials, immigration staff, etc.)

Can You Leave a Waiting Area?

Travelers can leave almost any waiting area in an international airport.

The exception is a customs and immigration area. If a traveler wants to leave, they need permission from the requisite individuals first. 

Another exception is a waiting area between international flights. If travelers haven’t gone through customs, they will need to remain in a certain area.

Most of the time, though, travelers can transition from one waiting area to another or leave their waiting area as they choose.

Note that travelers may need to go through security again in order to get back to where they were. They will need to plan time for this if they need to leave their waiting area for any reason.

What Types of Waiting Areas Exist?

So many types of waiting areas exist at international airports. Here’s what travelers need to know so they know what to expect when they fly.

Standard Waiting Areas

Standard waiting areas are situated in concourses. Travelers may choose to wait at the gate where their flight leaves, or spend time walking the concourse, dining, and more.

When people think about waiting areas at international airports, this is usually what they think of. That’s because this is where most travelers spend much of their airport time. 

People may use these areas in a number of circumstances.

These are the standard areas for pre-boarding. People who are pre-boarding have their paperwork ready and are waiting to get on their plan to fly away.

People with layovers also spend time in this space. These are people who are changing planes between their point of origin and their destination.

Those with canceled flights also occupy this space. If an airline cannot make a flight happen, people may stay in the waiting area until they can make other travel arrangements. 

People flying standby also use this space. These people are waiting to see if they can get on a flight, based on how full the flight is and how many ticketed passengers actually show up.

These waiting areas usually contain seating, places to charge electronics, restaurants, convenience stores, coffee shops, bars, conveyor belts for transport, and more.

They are usually spacious but can get very crowded when a lot of flights are leaving at once.

Airport Lounges

Airport lounges are usually higher-end options where people can await their flights.

Most lounges require someone to qualify in order to access them. People may need a first class ticket, a certain status on an airline, to have a particular credit card, or to be willing to pay.

Different lounges have different requirements and different amenities. 

Most of them have more comfortable seating than the chairs available in the concourse. Some have high-end food and drinks, and many do not charge for access to these.

Most lounges are quieter and, overall, more comfortable than waiting areas in the concourse.

Some high-end lounges offer showers and places to sleep, spa services, personal workspaces, and more.

People who want to use these lounges will want to make sure they qualify to do so before they get to the airport.

They can usually access this information online or call the airline or lounge directly. If they have lounge access through a credit card or membership, they may need to contact the company.

Some lounges allow people to pay on the spot to gain access. This can be useful when a flight is canceled or delayed and an extended airport stay becomes necessary.

Note that many of these lounges are a good distance from the gates. People need to plan transit time accordingly so they don’t miss a flight.

Waiting Areas Between International Flights

People who are flying into an international destination only to fly out again quickly will need to remain in an international waiting area.

Usually, access to these areas does not require going through customs and immigration. The traveler does not need to formally enter a country when they are only passing through it.

These areas can vary widely. They may be a lot like concourse waiting areas.

In other airports, they can be quite a bit nice. After all, many travelers spend more time here than they do in a regular concourse.

Travelers should not try to leave their international waiting areas. Since they don’t have formal permission to enter the country, this can cause major problems and delays.

Customs & Immigration Waiting Areas

When travelers enter a new country, they have to pass through customs and immigration there. This involves getting their baggage for review even if they plan to check it again when finished.

Customs and immigration can involve a long wait, especially at times of high airport traffic. Thus, the entire customs and immigration area can also be a waiting area.

These areas are usually sparse on amenities. Since they aren’t designed as places to linger, there is often minimal (or no) seating available.

Similarly, these spaces are often less well-lit and don’t offer a lot of access to food or charging stations. Even when crowded, the idea is to move through them and not stay.

However, there are times when travelers have to wait in customs, either because a bag is lost or because officials need to check paperwork or other details.

Thus, there are usually places to sit and spaces designed for waiting in these situations. In extreme circumstances, they will even bring food in for travelers stranded here.

Cell Phone Waiting Areas

These waiting areas are different from the ones talked about above. They are designed for people who are waiting to pick someone up from a flight.

They are usually large parking lots, though sometimes there is a gas station there and, occasionally, places where people waiting can buy food or sit down.

The idea is that the traveler will call their contact when they arrive. The area is close enough to the airport that the pickup person can get their traveler fast.

While most people don’t spend much time in these areas, delayed or canceled flights may mean someone waits here for a longer time.

Pickup Waiting Areas

Travelers who are waiting to be picked up usually have their own waiting area. This is often outside, along a road where the pickup vehicle can stop long enough to get the person.

However, in areas where it gets quite cold, these areas may be inside or may have easy access to the indoors.

There is usually rudimentary seating in these areas, though nothing where a person would want to stay for a while. After all, the space is not designed for that! 

For the most part, these are short-term waiting spaces designed more for ease of pickup than overall traveler comfort.

Travelers who need to wait a longer time for pickup can usually do so inside the airport, where there is better seating and more amenities.

Waiting Areas When You’re Meeting Someone

Many airports have standing-room-only spaces designed for meeting another traveler.

If a person is picking up someone and wants to meet them inside the airport for sentimental reasons or because the person requires assistance, this is where they will wait.

These areas may not have any seating, or may have very basic seating designed for those who cannot stand.

Sometimes, these areas have access to restaurants and shops, in case the traveler is delayed or cannot find their pickup person. 

These areas are usually arrayed around a doorway that travelers pass through on their way out of the airport, or between the concourse and baggage claim.

That way, their person can meet them, greet them, then help them get their bags off the carousel and into the car.

Note that people here cannot pass through security. They can leave the airport, but they cannot make their way to the concourses.

Baggage Claim

Baggage claim is a waiting area all its own. Here, people wait for their bags to be unloaded off the plane and to make their way into the airport.

Baggage claim is arranged around baggage carousels, so people can access their bags once they are taken off the plane.

It is usually mostly standing room, though there are often benches for travelers who cannot stand.

The idea in baggage claim is that people wait for their bags, get them, and then leave quickly so others can get their luggage, too.

Pre-Security Waiting Areas

These are a lot like the concourse waiting areas, but they come before security, not after. They usually have more shopping and food options than travelers will find in concourses.

These are designed for all kinds of waiting, from pre-boarding to people waiting because of canceled flights to those waiting to pick someone up.

There’s often not a lot of seating in these areas outside of restaurants, because people who want to sit go through security and sit near their gate.

However, there are usually more things to see and do in these areas than anywhere else in the airport. They are also great for people watching.

There are so many options when it comes to waiting at an international airport. Travelers can choose the one that works best for them, then wait comfortably whenever required to do so.

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