Airports are one of those things that feel like they’re the same worldwide, but actually you can pick up a lot of insider knowledge when you’ve traveled through the same ones time and time again. For this reason, we wanted to put together this post in order to share not only some easy Spanish vocabulary and expressions you might want to brush up on before using an airport in Spain but also some of the valuable knowledge we’ve picked up over the years of using some of Spain’s most popular airports.
If you’re here specifically for the vocabulary list, be sure to scroll down to the bottom. First, we’ll answer the most frequent airport questions we get in order to help you plan your trip as efficiently as possible.
Which Spanish airport should I fly into?
Of course, this is the question we get the most, but the answer is highly dependent on where in Spain you plan to visit. As is the case most anywhere, you will likely find the best prices if you choose the main hubs and book round-trip tickets. For this reason, the most common answer will be Madrid-Barajas or Barcelona-El Prat if you are looking to visit either of those areas, which most first-time visitors to Spain do.
However, if the majority of your stay will be elsewhere—say Andalucía—it would probably make more sense for you to fly into a different airport, such as Malaga-Costa del Sol. When our friends come to visit us in Granada, we recommend this on a case-by-case basis. For someone who has never been to Madrid or Barcelona, it might make sense for them to get the cheaper flights into one of the main cities, stay there for a few days first, then take either a flight or train from Barcelona or a flight, train, bus, or Bla Bla car from Madrid (since it is significantly closer to Granada).
Alternatively, if our friend is not keen to visit either Madrid or Barcelona it probably makes more sense for them to come directly to the south. When flying internationally, Malaga-Costa del Sol has the most abundant and affordable options but smaller airports like Granada’s may have reasonable options if flying from within Spain or a (somewhat) near country like the United Kingdom.
Pro-tip: Please note that websites will list Girona-Costa Brava as an alternative Barcelona airport. While this is not a bad option if you are able to find cheaper flights (or simply want to add a visit to Girona) it is worth noting that this airport is located 92 km (57 miles) from the city of Barcelona, so plan accordingly if you choose this airport.
Why can’t I find any direct flights other than Madrid or Barcelona?
Especially if you’re flying from somewhere far away, like the US or Australia, in most cases the only direct flights you can get will be to Madrid or Barcelona. If you’re not interested in visiting either of those areas, you might find yourself wondering if it’s really worth it to book a flight to, let’s say Alicante, or if you should plan to get to your final destination by a different form of transportation. As with most things, this is a matter of preferences. When Dani studied abroad in Alicante, it was the first time she was ever traveling to Europe so she felt most comfortable getting a flight all the way to her final destination. However, she later realized that it might have made more sense in terms of time and money if she had looked into trains from Madrid instead.
In her case, all flights from the US arrived in the early morning (around 7:30 am) but there wasn’t a connecting flight to Alicante until 1:30 pm. Instead of trying to fight her jetlag while waiting at the airport, she could have gotten herself to the Atocha train station for the 10:45 AVE train. This would have saved her money AND gotten her to Alicante by the time the flight left Madrid. Today, that’s the option she would choose but you should consider how comfortable you are maneuvering public transport in a foreign language right after a long flight.
Pro-tip: Keep in mind that Madrid-Barajas and Barcelona-El Prat have train lines to some other destinations, but not all. In the example given above, taking the train would require getting to a train station in the city, not at the airport. You can read more about train travel in Spain here.
How long of a layover do I need before connecting flights?
If you DO opt for the connecting flight, be sure you don’t underestimate the amount of time you will need either! Although Dani’s experience of waiting was excessive, other times you may find a flight that leaves just thirty minutes after your first flight arrives. If you’re connecting at Barajas or El Prat, we would NOT recommend this option.
Barajas, especially, is notorious for being a difficult airport to maneuver. It’s huge and can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re in a hurry. It’s also important to keep in mind that your first flight will likely pull into an international terminal, whereas your connecting flight will leave from a domestic terminal. We have lived the experience of our first flight being delayed and making the mad dash through the airport, shuttle and all, so we know it CAN be done in 30 minutes—best-case-scenario. That being said, be sure your scheduled layover at Barajas or El Prat is at least one hour, ideally 1.5 hours to ensure even a delayed arrival doesn’t make you miss your flight.
Note: At the current moment, many airports are not using all of their terminals, so check the details of your flights—right now MAY be the time that you could swing a shorter layover.
How early should I arrive at a Spanish airport before my flight?
We don’t know about you, but we grew up being told that one should always arrive two hours before their flight—three if flying internationally. While this amount of time allowance will certainly keep you safe, we have to admit that it seems a bit excessive in Spain. Depending on the size of the airport you’re using and the time of day, you will generally be fine if you arrive 1-2 hours before any flight.
Use your best judgment. If you have a lot of suitcases to check, may even need to rearrange things because you’re uncertain about meeting the weight restrictions, etc, give yourself the two hours. On the other hand, if you’ve checked in online and don’t have any bags to check you will literally be proceeding to the security gate as soon as you arrive and may be through after only 15 minutes! Be sure to account for any hiccups on the way to the airport, such as if you were to miss a metro or couldn’t get a taxi right away. and take a look at your airport’s busy times on Google Maps to decide how close you want to cut.
What are the current procedures in place in regards to COVID-19 prevention?*
Spanish airports are definitely taking precautions to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus. Passengers need to fill out the “Passenger Location Card” before flying. While this is currently available in paper form, starting in August (2020) it will be required for passengers to fill this out electronically and have the QR code available on their phone at the time of arrival. Temperatures will be taken (likely) before boarding the flight and definitely when arriving in Spain. If a passenger’s temperature is too high and/or they are exhibiting other symptoms they will be required to take a Coronavirus test and (likely) to quarantine for 14 days.
Keep in mind that most airports are currently operating at limited capacity, such as using only two terminals, like Madrid-Barajas is doing. This may be beneficial to you in terms of ease and efficiency when it comes to layovers but remember that restaurant and store availability will be limited as well.
Finally, be aware that most airports are only allowing staff and passengers with a plane ticket to enter the airport at this time (with a few exceptions, such as parents accompanying minors flying alone). Do not plan to purchase your ticket at the airport and, if you are arranging for someone to pick you up or drop you off, be sure to plan to convene in the designated parking lots instead.
*Of course, these regulations are subject to change. Please confirm the information provided here is still accurate when you plan to travel by visiting this site.
Easy Spanish for Airports
Could you take us to the airport?
To the airport, please.
round trip ticket
hand luggage / carry-on
Did you check in online?
Do you need to check any luggage?
The flight has been delayed.
to take off
nothing to declare
items to declare
baggage claim and exit
Nos puede llevar al aeropuerto?
Al aeropuerto, por favor.
check in / mostrador para facturar
billete de ida y vuelta
(número) de vuelo
tarjeta de embarque
equipaje de mano
opjeto (mochila / backpack) personal
¿Ha hecho el check-in online?
¿Tiene que facturar equipaje?
Se ha retrasado el avión.
puerta (de embarque)
control de seguridad
nada que declarar
objetos a declarar / objetos que declarar
recogida de equipajes
equipajes y salida
*Be sure to check your flight information carefully! Major airlines like Iberia will generally allow one checked bag, one carry-on bag, and a “personal item” that can be as large as a laptop case or even backpack. On the other hand, budget airlines line RyanAir will consider a backpack to be your carry-on.
There you have it! We hope our answers to these frequently asked questions and the short-list of Spanish expressions to know will help you feel more prepared and confident to travel by air in Spain. Please let us know if you have other questions or concerns.
Wishing you happy and safe travels!