Concourses and Terminals
At a busy airport like Atlanta's Hartsfield International, 2,400 flights take off and land every day. That means that, every day, perhaps as many as 300,000 people move through the airport and need certain services. Airports provide those services in their concourses and terminals, the heart of any airport. There you'll find the space for airlines to handle ticket sales, passenger check-in, baggage handling and claims.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, we'll define concourses as the long halls and large, open areas where you'll find shops, restaurants and lounges, and terminals as long halls lined by the gates where you board and disembark airplanes. Atlanta's Hartsfield airport has 5.7-million square feet (529,547 square meters) of concourses and terminals -- that's 130 acres!
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Most of the time, and in most airports, concourse areas are accessible to the general public (passengers and non-passengers). The gate areas may be restricted by airport security to ticket-holding passengers only, especially during alerts (for instance, during the Gulf War, non-passengers could not pass security points). Generally, airport security and/or customs lie between the concourse and the gates.
Photo courtesy Denver International Airport
At Hartsfield's concourses, there are:
- 75 food and beverage vendors (most of these are owned and staffed by private companies)
- 82 retail and convenience stores (also owned and staffed privately)
- 21 staffed service outlets (places where you can get your shoes shined or connect to the Internet)
The food that passengers eat while onboard the airplane is usually provided by private companies contracted by one or more airlines at an airport. The food is prepared in a building that is off the airport grounds, shipped to the airport by truck and loaded onto the plane by the catering company's personnel. For example, SkyChefs is one of the catering contractors at Denver International Airport. They prepare and load thousands of meals per day for various airlines.
Airline freight and private air-freight services such as Fed Ex and DHL may have their own terminals at the airport.
The gates are where the airplanes park for passenger boarding and deplaning. Passengers wait in the immediate area of each gate to board the plane. Gates are rented by each airline from the airport authority, and some airlines may rent a whole terminal building in their "hub" airport, in which case the rental fee alone can run into the millions of dollars.
Routine airplane maintenance, such as washing, de-icing and refueling, is done by airline personnel while the plane is parked at the gate. In some cases, other maintenance tasks might be performed at the gate, possibly with passengers onboard the plane -- it is not uncommon to sit on a plane at the gate while maintenance personnel replace something like a hydraulic brake line on an aircraft.
Airline baggage handlers load and unload baggage at the gates using baggage trucks and conveyors (see How Baggage Handling Works to learn all about this system).
The funny and interesting problem that most airports face is that airplanes and their gates are very large compared to people. At an airport like Hartsfield, there are literally miles of gates. This can mean a whole lot of walking at any big airport.