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last updated January 8, 2013
Germany is such a
compact country that, unless you're going from Munich to Hamburg,
taking the train will probably be the more convenient, economical, and
(in my opinion) fun mode of transport. In general, domestic air
travel is geared mainly toward business travelers and therefore flying
is not generally a popular means of travel within Germany.
However, you will most likely arrive in and depart from Germany by air,
and you may need to make a short hop from your initial arrival point
(probably Frankfurt) to some other destination, or vice-versa, so
here's what you'll need to know.
On this page:
Overcoming jet lag
There are 35 or
so commercial passenger airports (Flughafen) in Germany, with
Frankfurt and Munich being the two biggest. Altogether, over 190
million passengers were facilitated by German airports in 2008, with 88
million of those in Frankfurt and Munich alone. Düsseldorf,
Berlin-Tegel, Hamburg, and Cologne/Bonn also had over 10 million
passengers each, with Stuttgart just under that threshold. After
much debate, a new airport to consolidate Berlin's two
remaining airports is being built adjacent to the existing
Schönefeld Airport. However, a number of issues have
repeatedly delayed the opening of the new airport and it is now not
scheduled to open until sometime 2014.
(Photo by FMG)
Germany are operated by government-franchised private companies.
The major airports feature the typical duty-free shops, restaurants,
bars, car rental agencies, conference centers, banks, and post
offices. Frankfurt's airport even boasts such services as a
supermarket, clinic, cinema, dentist, kennel, and casino.
Arriving in Germany is fairly simple and straightforward. If
you arrive on an international flight, you will be directed from the
arrival gate first to passport control (Passkontrolle). If
you are from the US or other non-European nation, use the "Non-EU
National" line. After having your passport stamped, you will then
proceed to baggage claim. Once you collect your bags, you proceed
through the customs area (Zoll). If you have something to
declare, use the lane with the red sign. Otherwise, proceed
through the lane with the green sign where you will alight in the
landside area of the terminal. If you are meeting someone, this
is likely where they will be waiting for you.
If you are the
one meeting someone who is flying in, remember that the airside section
of German airports is highly secure and only ticketed passengers and
airport workers are allowed in the gate areas and concourses, so you
will have to meet your party in the landside area of the airport.
To do so, check the arrivals board (marked Ankunft) when you
get to the airport to determine which arrivals exit your party will be
using, then wait near there for them. If the green lights next to
the flight on the arrival board are flashing, it means that the flight
has arrived. Alternatively, you can plan to have your party meet
you at an officially designated meeting point (Treffpunkt) found
in most airports.
(Photo by Stuttgart Flughafen GmbH)
While arriving is pretty easy, flying out of a German airport is
much more elaborate. First, you should plan on arriving at least
two hours before your flight.
When you arrive
at the airport for an outbound flight, you will first need to check the
flight information displays (marked Abflug) for two pieces of
information: the check-in counter (Schalter) numbers and the
gate number (Flugsteig) for your flight, as well as the current
status of the flight. If the green lights next to your flight are
flashing, it usually means that they have started boarding the flight.
ticketing and check-in counters are numbered. The numbers are
usually located above the counter. You must use one of the
counters noted on the flight information display for your flight.
Usually, several counters handle check-in for all flights for an
airline, but sometimes specific flights must check-in at a specific
Security is very
tight, especially for international flights, and you will have to go
through several layers of security checking. Be prepared to play
"20 questions" with several airline and airport security
personnel. You will be asked repeatedly about your luggage and
travel plans. Unfortunately, sometimes the questioning takes on
the rather rude tone of an interrogation, but just answer their
questions accurately and you'll be on your way. Don't worry if
you don't speak German-- you will be questioned in English.
Once you find
your counter, you will begin the security screening and check-in
process. Sometimes there will be someone at the head of the line
who asks you all the relevant security questions. You will then proceed
to the ticketing and baggage check-in. From there, proceed toward
the designated concourse or entry area for your gate. You will
then encounter the first hurdle: the main security checkpoint (Sicherheitskontrolle).
Only ticketed passengers are allowed past the security checkpoint, so
you will be asked to show your boarding pass. Then, go through
the metal detector and baggage x-ray area. If you are on an
international flight, you will then be required to show your passport
to an immigration officer. From here, you can now proceed to your
gate. In Germany, only passengers on the next flight leaving from
a gate are typically allowed into the gate waiting area (Warteraum).
In some circumstances, once you are in the gate waiting area, you
cannot leave; be sure to take care of any last-minute shopping or "bio"
needs (you know what I mean) before you enter the waiting area.
Upon entering the waiting area, you will be asked for your boarding
pass and might have to go through one more security screening.
From the waiting area, you will either board the plane directly or
board a bus that will transport you to the plane located further out on
the tarmac (German airports use bus gates much more than most other
Besides rental cars, there are usually a plethora of public
transportation options to get from the airport to the central city or
beyond. Listed below are the major German commercial passenger
airports with connection information to the central railway station (Hauptbahnhof,
"Hbf"), city center, or other important destinations as
indicated. The major international airports are
highlighted. Because you will most likely encounter Frankfurt's
airport in your travels to Germany, I have included a special write-up
on it below the other listings. Be sure to see my pages about renting a car, urban
public transport, taxis, and rail transport for further details of using
those transportation options.
information was correct as of January 2010 and is subject to change
without notice. Check the websites of the individual airports
(links at the bottom of this page) for up-to-date information.
Approx Travel Time
|8 km NW
Bus 109 and X9 every 5-10 min. to Bahnhof Zoo, or transfer to U7 at
Jakob-Kaiser-Platz for other city locations
Bus 128 to Kurt-Schumacher-Platz every 10 min., then U6 to central
TXL to various city locations every 10-20 min.
service, approx. €20
Covered walkway or Bus 162 or 171 to airport station, then S-Bahn S9 or
AirportExpress (RE7/RB14) to Hbf and other central Berlin stations
every 20-30 min.
Mainline services from airport station
service to Berlin, approx. €40
Tram 6 to Hbf every 10 min.
service, approx. €10
S2 to Hbf every 30 min
Bus 77 to Infineon Nord station every 20 min., then Tram 7 to Hbf
service, approx. €18
|8 km N
S11 to Hbf every 20-30 min. from station under terminal
Mainline services from airport station (reached via SkyTrain)
service to Düsseldorf (approx. €20), Essen (approx.
€48), Duisburg (approx. €43), and other area towns
special section below
|9 km N
S-Bahn S1 to Hbf every 10 min.
service, approx. €20 (agree on price in advance)
S5 to Hannover Hbf every 30 min.
Bus 470 to Langenhagen every hour
service, approx. €20
km SE of Cologne
S13 to Köln Hbf every 15 min.
Mainline services from airport station
Bus SB 60 "Airport Express" to Bonn Hbf every 30 min.
service to Köln (approx. €25), Bonn (approx. €40) and
other area towns
km NW of Leipzig
to Leipzig Hbf and Halle Hbf every 30 min.
Mainline services from airport station
service to Leipzig and Halle, approx. €35
Franz Joseph Strauss
|28 km NE
S1 or S8 to Hbf every 20 min.
Lufthansa AirportBus to Hbf every 20 min.
service, approx. €50
U2 to Nürnberg Hbf every 15 min.
Bus 32 to Thon every 40 min., then Bus 30 to Erlangen
service, approx. €20
Bus R10 to Hbf every hour
service, approx. €20
|14 km S
S2 or S3 to Hbf every 15 min.
service, approx. €30
International (Rhein-Main) Airport
Frankfurt airport terminals
(Photo by Fraport AG)
Serving over 53
million passengers in 2010, Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport (FRA), also
known as Frankfurt International Airport, is not only Germany's busiest
airport, but also the third busiest airport in Europe (behind London's
Heathrow and Paris' CDG) and one of the ten busiest airports in the
world. In addition to being the world hub for Lufthansa,
Rhein-Main is served by 113 other airlines with about 700 daily
departures to about 300 destinations in 110 countries-- the most
international destinations of any airport. Transfers account for
over half of the passenger count, making FRA one of the world's most
important international air hubs.
superlatives, it should be no surprise that the gargantuan facility is
currently operating at capacity. A new runway that opened in 2011
and an expansion of concourse A scheduled to be completed in mid 2012
should help alleviate the current congestion and provide room for the
airport's continued growth. Planning is also underway for a
future third terminal to be located on the southern side of the airport
on the former US Air Force base. These expansion projects should
increase capacity 50%. Additionally, FRA was the first commercial
airport in the world to be certified for the monster Airbus A380
superjumbo jet and the aforementioned concourse A expansion as well as
the recently-upgraded concourse C/D both have gates designed to
facilitate the A380.
Beware that there
is a second "Frankfurt" airport, the much smaller Frankfurt-Hahn, which
is used exclusively by discount airlines. Calling it Frankfurt-Hahn
is a cruel trick, however, as it is laughably located 70 miles west of
Frankfurt and is actually closer to Luxembourg than to downtown
Located 9 kilometers southwest of downtown Frankfurt (about 15
minutes by rail, a little longer by car), the airport is a monolith
comprised of two terminals and a small city of support
facilities. Terminal 1, which opened in 1972 and got a
much-needed expansion in the late '90s, is the larger of the two with
over 100 gates crammed into three multi-level concourses (piers)
labeled A/Z, B, and C. There are five levels: Level 0 is the
underground regional rail station and shopping arcade; Level 1 is the
arrivals/baggage claim level; Level 2 is the check-in and main
departures level; Level 3 is an additional international departures
gate level in concourse A (as of late 2011, gates there are now
designated as "Z" instead of "A") and the arrivals immigration area in
concourse B; and Level 4 is the level for the inter-terminal Sky Line
train stations. The shiny new Terminal 2, which opened in 1994,
has 40 or so gates in two concourses labeled D and E on three levels:
Level 2 is the arrivals, check-in, and European departures level; Level
3 is the international departures gate level, and Level 4 is the Sky
Line train station.
There are a
number of options to get between the terminals. The fastest
method is the Sky Line train, which whisks you between the terminals in
about 2 minutes. There is also a shuttle bus which takes about 5
minutes; catch it in front of the terminals. Of course, you can
also walk. There are a number of seemingly secret passages that
will get you between the concourses, including a tunnel between
concourses A/Z and B. However, the former walkway between
concourses C and D has been closed. Therefore, if you arrive at
the end of concourse C and need to get to Terminal 2 (or vice-versa),
you now have a long trek.
waiting area at Frankfurt Airport
areas and check-in counters carry the concourse letter followed by the
number (i.e. Gate C5, Counter A202, etc.) The letter is usually
dropped from the numbers on signs at the check-in counters, but not at
the gates. When looking for your gate, follow the signs for the
lettered concourse first, then look for signs for the gate number once
you reach that concourse. On some signs (but not all), the
concourse letters for Terminal 1 are in orange while those in Terminal
2 are in light blue.
mentioned, the non-European international gates on the upper level of
concourse A were relabeled as "Z" in late 2011. This was done
ostensibly to create logical numbering capacity for the concourse A
addition that opens in mid 2012.
The terminals are
divided into the public landside area and the secure airside
area. To enter the secure area, you must have a valid boarding
card and pass through the security screening. The airside area of
the airport is further divided into two control zones: the "Schengen
zone" for domestic German and most European flights, and the "transit
zone" for international flights. (The Schengen Agreement allows
for travel between most European countries without passport
controls.) To move between these zones, you must go through
passport and customs checkpoints. Unfortunately, having these
different zones does confuse things a bit. Most of level 2 of
concourse A, the front half of concourse B, the far end of concourse C,
and level 2 of Terminal 2 are in the Schengen zone; the remainder of
the airport is in the international transit zone. For the most
part, the airport is arranged so that you only have to pass through the
passport or customs controls if you are crossing between zones; if you
are connecting from one international flight to another, you should not
have to pass through any checkpoints. However, be aware that
there are periodic ad-hoc security checkpoints within the secure zone,
and flights to some countries (including the US) may require an
additional security screening even if you are just connecting.
And if you take a wrong turn, you may end-up going through an
unexpected and unnecessary passport or security screening.
Frankfurt airport overview map
(Full-size map available from Frankfurt Airport's website; see links
If Tom Hanks' character in the movie The Terminal could
choose an airport to be stuck at, this would be a good choice.
This self-contained city has large shopping and eating areas and plenty
of additional services. Indeed, FRA is arguably one of the best
airports anywhere in this regards-- it's practically a shopping mall
that happens to have an airport attached. There are a multitude
of stores (over 100 of them) carrying books, perfume, jewelry, clothes,
leather goods, electronics, toys, souvenirs, liquor, candy, convenience
items-- even erotica. In December, you'll also find a
traditional-style German Christmas market on the mezzanine in Terminal
1. Even more good news for shoppers-- the law requires businesses
to maintain typical street prices in their airport outlets.
If you're hungry
or thirsty before or after that long flight, you'll find over 50
restaurants and bars catering to every taste: fast-food (including the
ubiquitous McDonald's), traditional German food (including a beer
garden), pizza and pasta, ice cream, sandwiches, sushi and even
hoity-toity French fare. There are also several bakeries and even
two supermarkets for the do-it-yourself types.
If you have
medical needs, there are several pharmacies, a medical clinic, optician
and even a dentist. Other services to be found are hair dressers
and barbers, tailors and dry cleaners, conference and business centers
with Internet access, and a kennel. To pass the time, you'll find
a visitor's terrace overlooking the airfield in each terminal, the
Airport Forum with displays on the history of FRA, several children's
play areas, chapels and prayer rooms, art galleries, and even a
casino. And, of course, you'll find banks and currency exchanges,
post offices, insurance agents, and car rental and travel
agencies. Elsewhere on the airport grounds are a couple of
hotels, gas stations, and train stations. One service that may be
particularly useful to passengers after a long flight are the shower
facilities located in each terminal. For €6 or $6, you get a
clean, private shower stall with soap and towels. There are three
of these facilities: two in Terminal 1, concourse B (one inside the
transit area on level 2 adjacent to the WCs behind the waiting area
next to the casino, and one in the landside shopping area, departures
level, in the WCs nearest the information desk), and one in Terminal 2,
concourse D (level 3 near the security checkpoint.)
Public showers at Frankfurt Airport
Tired of lugging
all that luggage around? There are lots of free baggage carts
and, fortunately, however in most cases they can no longer be taken on
the escalators or moving walkways nor on the Sky Line. For long
layovers, there are lockers and a baggage storage office in each
airport, you'll now find electronic kiosks with airport
information. If they're on the fritz, or you'd just rather talk
to a human, there are several staffed information centers in each
Looking for a
place to relax or snooze between flights? There are several
lounges scattered around. One of the best is in concourse B,
level 3 in the connecting hallway to concourse C. Of course, if
you have a bag with you, be sure you secure it to your person in some
way before you doze-off.
Lounge at Frankfurt Airport
All that said,
the airport does have some pitfalls. One of the more common
complaints I've heard are about small and sometimes not-so-clean WCs,
although in my experiences I've never actually witnessed this.
Also, many of the shops and services are located in the big shopping
arcade in the landside area of the Terminal 1, so transit passengers
have to clear passport control to use them, then go back through
security and passport control to catch their connecting flight.
While most of the
terminal areas have now been designated as non-smoking, the smoke from
the areas where smoking is allowed (and there are a lot of them) does
tend to waft considerably further afield.
Being such a
large and complex airport, distances can be long-- really long in some cases--
especially if you have to change terminals or concourses. If your
gate is at the end of the A or C concourse, or if you use the
long-distance rail station (or heaven forbid any combination of the
above), get ready for a long hike, even with the moving walkways.
Signage is fairly
good and is in both German and English along with spiffy international
pictograms. But because there are so many possible places to go
and ways to get there, you have to keep a sharp eye out and know what
you're looking for or you may miss that sign.
Signage at Frankfurt Airport
As in most
places, the competence and disposition of the staff can vary widely,
but most of the time you'll find helpful and informative workers (if
not overly friendly) who speak English. If you encounter someone
unusually surly or obviously lacking the information you need, just go
find someone else. Keep in mind that German service workers
inherently dispense with pleasantries-- Germans typically regard overt
cheerfulness as fake or feigned. The biggest complaints about
rudeness seem to be about the security personnel, so just be
cooperative and impassive and you'll be on your way.
terminal capacity issues, most short and medium haul flights use remote
parking spots away from the terminal and passengers are bused between
the plane and terminal. In fact, about half of the airport's
gates are so called "stand" gates.
Given the age and
extent of the facilities, there are always renovations going on
somewhere in the terminals. It seems like they just keep rotating
the construction work through each of the concourses every few
years. Even with the constant work, a few areas of the airport
are still rather dated and depressingly dingy, although that's gotten
better in recent years. And more than once I've been in areas
where the heating system has been working too well.
One of the quirks
about this airport is that there seem to be passageways, gates, and
facilities tucked into nooks and crannies everywhere, so much so that
the airport really can start feeling like a labyrinth. Many gates
require you to go up or down a dedicated escalator or staircase, the
entrances to the tunnel between concourses A and B are surprisingly
inconspicuous, and some restrooms entrances look more like
closets. All the more reason to carefully watch for and follow
Finally, if for
some reason you have an aversion to shiny stainless steel, stay out of
this airport-- it's everywhere.
Unusually quiet concourse A at Frankfurt Airport
When you arrive, you will be discharged into appropriate control
zone (transit or Schengen). For transit passengers, see the
"Connecting flights" section below. For those arriving in the
Schengen zone, you simply claim your bags (if any) and leave the
airport. Passengers arriving in the transit zone will first have
to pass through the passport control area where you simply present your
passport for inspection and the obligatory stamp (which the Germans of
course take to a whole other level.) Note that there are
different lanes for EU and non-EU nationals, so be sure you get in the
right line. Depending on when you arrive, there might be a
considerable wait to get through passport control. If you don't
have any bags to claim, you might be better served in those cases using
one of the passport checkpoints located in another concourse.
concourses, after clearing passport control, you then must pass through
a customs checkpoint for your carry-on bags. If you have nothing to
declare or are coming from another EU country, this is generally a
non-event-- just proceed through the "green" line and you won't even
have to say anything to the inspector. (Don't ask me why the sign
for green line is actually shaped like a stop-sign.) From here,
you can either head for the ground transportation or proceed to baggage
claim. From the baggage claim area, you must proceed through a
customs checkpoint with the same procedures described above.
After clearing customs, you will unceremoniously emerge in the main
landside zone of the terminal. If you are meeting someone, they
should be waiting here. Otherwise, follow the signs to head to
public transport (see below), taxis, or the car rental desks.
Ground transportation options
There are numerous local, regional, domestic and international rail
connections to and from the airport's two (yes, two) railway
stations. From the regional station (Regionalbahnhof)
beneath Terminal 1, S-Bahn S8 or S9 goes to downtown Frankfurt in less
than 15 minutes, as well as to Mainz and Wiesbaden. The sparkling
long-distance rail station (Fernbahnhof), connected to Terminal
1 by an agonizingly long skybridge over the adjacent Autobahn, serves
mainline GermanRail trains to many domestic and international
destinations. If you arrive at Terminal 1, follow the signs to
the appropriate station. If you arrive at Terminal 2, take the
direct shuttle bus to the stations or take the Sky Line train to
Terminal 1 and follow the signs from there. GermanRail has two
ticketing and information centers (Reisezentrum), one at the
long-distance station and the other just above the regional station in
the underground shopping area (Level 0) near the center of concourse B.
In additional to
rail service, there is also regional bus service to several area towns
including Darmstadt and Rüsselsheim. There is also direct
bus service to Strasbourg, Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Talheim.
Most buses leave from the bus station at Terminal 1. From
Terminal 2, take the Sky Line train to Terminal 1 and go down to the
arrivals level. From Terminal 1, the bus station is located
directly outside of the terminal.
All of the major
rental car agencies have counters in both terminals. Taxis can
also be hired from either terminal. There is 24-hour taxi service
to Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Mainz. A taxi ride to downtown
Frankfurt will take 20-40 minutes depending on traffic and should cost
Frankfurt airport Terminal 1 Departure Hall
(Photo by Fraport AG)
You should plan on arriving at least two hours before your
scheduled departure. If you arrive by car or train, follow the
signs for departing flights. If you must return your rental car,
follow the signs for rental car returns. If you arrive by rail at
the long-distance station, check to see if your airline has a counter
there. If so, you can check-in there and then proceed directly to
security and on to your departure gate. Otherwise, once in the
terminal, check the large flight display boards for information on the
check-in counter and gate for your flight. Then proceed to the
appropriate counter to get a boarding pass and check any bags.
From there, you will be directed to the security checkpoint for your
departure hall. Proceed through the security and passport
checkpoints and then follow the signs to your gate. Be aware that
passengers headed for the US, UK, and Middle East face more intense
screening nowadays, so be prepared to put-up with a bit more hassle
than you may otherwise be expecting.
If you are passing through Frankfurt to and from non-Schengen
countries, your transfer will take place entirely within the transit
zone and you should not have to go through customs or passport
control. If your connecting flight leaves from a different
concourse than the one you arrive in, the Sky Line train will allow you
to make the transfer while remaining in the transit zone.
non-Schengen and Schengen countries (including Germany) will require
you to go through passport control. If you are connecting to
another flight in Terminal 1 with a short connection time (less than 45
minutes), you should be able to use the new "Fast Lane" service located
at the passport checkpoint in concourse B. Eligible flights are
shown on a display above the "Fast Lane" counter.
passport control, you can then
proceed to the gate for your connecting flight-- check the flight
information displays for the gate number and follow the signs. If
your connecting flight is in the other terminal, use the Sky Line
train. A tunnel allows you to transfer within the Schengen zones
of concourses A and B so that you do not need to leave the secure
area. There is also a passageway inside the secure zone from
concourse B to concourse C.
If you need a
boarding pass or additional assistance, check-in at your airline's
transfer counter first thing after arriving.
advertises a guaranteed connection time of 45 minutes at FRA; an hour
is probably more realistic if you're staying within the transit or
Schengen zones, and 75 minutes if you have to cross between them.
Flights from North America to FRA often arrive early, but don't count
on it as any time savings gained from that strong tailwind are
frequently lost due to congestion in Frankfurt's approach and landing
If you have a
long layover (more than a couple of hours), you might consider visiting
the spectator's terrace on top of each terminal where for €3 you
can watch the airfield activity, or the free art galleries in each
terminal. Note that these may require leaving the airside of the
airport. Long layovers are also conducive to taking a quick
sightseeing trip into Frankfurt-- the S-Bahn will get you downtown in
less than 15 minutes. (See information under "Arriving" above.)
information about Frankfurt Airport, see their official website:
domestic airline in Germany is Lufthansa. It connects all of the
major airports with at least four flights daily. Most domestic
trips are an hour or less in duration. Lufthansa also has a
high-speed rail line, the Lufthansa Airport Express, which provides
links from Frankfurt and Düsseldorf airports to Stuttgart, Bonn,
Cologne, and Dortmund. Germany, and Europe in general, have been
invaded by a number of discount carriers in recent years, including
Condor, LTU, Hapag-Lloyd, Aero-Lloyd, Eurowings, and Deutsche BA, a
subsidiary of British Air. German airlines transport 50 million
passengers a year. About 90 other international airlines have
regularly scheduled flights to Germany, including all of the major US
carriers. From Germany, connections are available to over 300
destinations in 90 countries worldwide.
(Photo by Lufthansa)
sites of interest