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My wife is a little concerned since she will have to fly by herself soon, and she just wanted to know what are the differences between the two?

  • If you include the airport(s) she's flying out of, people may be able to give more specific information. For example, when flying out of SFO, some carriers fly some domestic flights out of the international terminal. – Johnny Jun 24 '17 at 4:01
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  1. Gates are the location in an airport that allow you to both: Wait for your flight, and enter/exit the aircraft.
  2. Terminals are a collection of gates.

When arriving at the airport, your wife will need to locate her Terminal first, and then the gate; this is very important.

The terminals in some airports are connected - i.e., passengers can access any terminal (walk/train/shuttle) after they've been screened at any of the airport's checkpoints.

Some airport terminals are completely disconnected; this means if you need to go to Terminal B to after you've gone through security in Terminal A you will need to go tough security again in Terminal B. This is important as it could have a significant effect on her timing. So it's important to know the departure and layover airports (if any), as well as her Terminal information.

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Terminals are the buildings which may have several gates. Gates are the exits from/entrances to the aircrafts.

E.g. for JFK list of all terminals: http://www.airport-jfk.com/terminals.php. Say, here are the gates for terminal 4: http://www.jfkiat.com/maps/retail.pdf

Gates may have a direct entrance to the aircraft, or indirect (via e.g. a shuttle bus)

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    It's also worth noting that some airports only have one terminal, so your booking information may not make reference to any specific terminal number/letter for every leg of a journey. You should always get a gate assignment (might not happen until after you're checked in though, so keep an eye on the departure information screens). – CactusCake Jun 23 '17 at 20:25
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    @JoshSmith for the sake of completeness, it's worth noting that there's not always a one-to-one relationship between physical terminals that you would see on a map and "logical" terminal letters. All a traveler really needs to do, though, is to keep in mind that a terminal is a distinct set of gates. First locate your terminal, then find your gate. This is true when you drive into the airport for your departure, and also when you arrive by plane at an airport where you'll transfer to another flight. Just follow the signs. There are typically lots of them. If not, ask the staff. – phoog Jun 23 '17 at 20:42
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    To add on to phoog's comment, a terminal may be synonymous with, subdivided into, or itself a subdivision of a pier, module, concourse, wing, airside and various other terms— but these are all just different ways of referring to a particular group of gates. Of possible related interest: Is there a standardised way to refer to a specific terminal within an airport? – choster Jun 23 '17 at 21:05
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    Keep in mind that some airports have only one gate, so you wont get one specified on your boarding pass. Just line up when they call your flight. – Itai Jun 23 '17 at 22:04
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    @sgroves it depends how big the airport is. For example London Heathrow has terminals 1,2 and 3 clustered together, but terminals 4 and 5 are several minutes drive away. Not knowing your terminal before arriving at the airport could result in a pointless additional journey by bus or other internal transport. – Level River St Jun 24 '17 at 1:01
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From a traveller's point of view, I think you can make this distinction:

  1. When arriving to an airport by land, you need to arrive at the right terminal (in case there's more than one). You'll enter the terminal and check in for your flight.
  2. Once you're in the terminal and passed check in and possibly passport control, you need to find the right gate, where you'll board your plane.

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