Out of interest, how do you know where you are to go once at the airport to check in and what is it called?

Is it departure gate on the board you go to with the flight number and airline which tells you what gate? And is that where you would check in and get the boarding pass from to go through security etc?

  • 1
    This is very dependent on where you are.
    – AAM111
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 19:57
  • 2
    Do you need to check baggage? Do you already have your ticket and boarding pass? Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 23:45
  • Worst case you can just ask the security officers or just check-in folks who aren't busy. I'm sure you won't find a lack of either.
    – user541686
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 2:03
  • How to board a plane
    – J...
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 11:13
  • You really need to specify a country, procedures in different countries are very different.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 12:46

6 Answers 6


Easiest way is to read the signs.

In small airport there is only a small set of check in counters, just read the sign behind each to determine which airline is checking in there.

In larger airports there is either a electronic signboard telling you what row or area each airline is located or signs outside the various entrance doors to indicate which airline inside.

The departure gates are in a secure area and you can't go there until after you have checked in. About the only time you would check in at the departure gate would be if you are flying in from another airport on another ticket.

  • Also most airports have information desks, so you can stop by and ask.
    – George Y.
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 1:34
  • I think a few pictures of typical counters and signs would make this a better answer.
    – ugoren
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 8:42
  • Some airports (eg. YYZ) you could check in online then go to an automated kiosk which scans your documents, and print out your baggage tags (if required) then go to a dedicated bag drop line (considerably faster than the regular check in line) and then proceed to the gate. Queues vary from nonexistent to horrific depending on the airport, airline and time. There are often different check in desks for different flights of a single airline in big airports, and the flight number will usually be shown on a video screen above the desk. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 15:54

The first thing to do is go to the departure screens, which list not the departure gates, but the check-in rows, or aisles, for all airlines. You go there, look for the airline (sometimes the same aisle can serve two airlines), and wait in line.

The departure gate is where you will board the plane. You'll see screens with the flight numbers and gates, after security and immigration checks.

  • 1
    This is more common at international terminals where an airline may only have one or a few flights per day at that airport and, thus, doesn't need its check-in counters all day. For airlines/airports where the airline serves many flights per day, they usually have dedicated check-in counters for that airline, though, as others have mentioned, this varies from one airport to another.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:26

Check-in is before the serious security check (you won't get through security without a boarding pass). There will be signs showing you where to check-in for a particular airline.

Departure gate is after security. It's where you go to actually get on the plane. There will be more signs showing you were the various gates are.


  • If you don't have hold luggage, you often don't go anywhere to check-in. You do that online, before you get to the airport and either print off the boarding pass, or get a code on the airline's app on your phone. If you haven't checked in online, at least Ryanair will let you check in at the airport - but they will charge you extra for it (so remember to do it online).

  • Some airports have a lightweight security check for everyone on entry to the building. This is the not the main security check before entry to the secured "airside". Do not be confused by it.

  • 2
    I've been to at least one airport where there was security (kind of a joke) before check-in... before the actual security (the serious one). It might be extremely rare but don't get completely thrown off with slight variations like this.
    – user541686
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 2:05
  • 1
    @Mehrdad Seems like that's becoming more common. It's rare in the U.S., but I've encountered it at Shanghai, in the Philippines, at Tel Aviv, and possibly other places I'm forgetting about. After the incident in Brussels, it doesn't seem like such a joke.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:28
  • For what it's worth, the online check-in that you describe is ubiquitous for all airlines in the U.S. You can still go check-in at the counters if you want, but that just means waiting in an extra line that you otherwise could have skipped entirely.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:32
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    My city's airport has security through to domestic departure gates without checking for boarding passes, so those who want to see loved ones off at the departure gates or be at the gate when they arrive can do so. For international flights, there is a second stage of security where you do need to show a boarding pass. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:42
  • 1
    @reirab: Ah, wasn't aware :) might be more common than I thought then!
    – user541686
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 5:01

Your ticket, boarding pass or confirmation mail will tell you which terminal to go to (if there's more than one). Once you're there, you read the signs and information screens.


once you are in the terminal you can:

approach a information point, they will provide you the info about which counter is the airline and which gate you have to proceed.

or by huge cities or capitals you can see the issue that the airport has more than one Terminal, in such cases the Airline is always giving you that info as soon as you do the check in...

they will have a huge departure time table... there you can spot your flight


In Germany, large airports whose terminals are somewhat distant (FRA, MUC) even show on the roadsigns near the airport which airline is located at which terminal. Good luck reading those at 80 km/h, though :)

  • 1
    How does this answer the question?
    – Neusser
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 9:20
  • 1
    @Neusser There are two steps to finding the correct check-in desk. This answer is about step 1, finding the correct terminal. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:28
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    @PatriciaShanahan Based on this answer how do I find the correct terminal if I arrive to Frankfurt airport by train? How do I find the correct terminal in London-Heathrow? See, this answer covers only two airports in Germany and even them not fully. And there's not even a try to say how to find the check-in desk!
    – Neusser
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:36
  • @Neusser "See, this answer covers only two airports in Germany and even them not fully. And there's not even a try to say how to find the check-in desk!" There are about 70 medium to large sized airports in the UK alone, and one list on the internet gives nearly 700 UK airports and airfields, not 70. Do you really expect somebody is going to give you detailed instructions how to find the checkout desks at every single one of them? If you have a question about one particular airport, then tell us which one - otherwise we can only give you general advice on what to do.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 20:56
  • @alephzero This question is not mine. But i do expect that an answer would be applicable to the most airports. Please read the accepted answer to get a general idea how to answer questions about not particular things.
    – Neusser
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 21:05

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