Why Some Airports Are Called International and Others Domestic

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The main function of airports is to move passengers and cargo from one destination to another. However, every airport is not built the same in terms of size, capabilities, procedures, and services. Some airports are called international and others domestic, regional, or national. In this article, we will go over the main differences between different kinds of airports.

What Is an International Airport?

International airports are airports with customs and border control facilities that international airlines use to travel from one country to another. International airports handle flights to and from other countries, so they tend to be way busier than other airports. If your flight is passing through an international airport, especially a larger one, you can expect longer queues, and more time needed to walk through the airport just because of its sheer size.

International airports usually have several services and amenities available to accommodate their passengers during the long wait for their flights, such as airport lounges, restaurants, stores, etc. Because international airports have an “international zone”, which you enter after passing through security and which legally isn’t considered a part of any country, you’ll also find duty-free stores, where some items are cheaper because the stores don’t need to pay taxes.

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Why Are Some Airports Called Domestic?

One of the main differences between an international and domestic airport is that domestic airports only handle flights within the same country. Besides the regular screening process, domestic airports don’t have customs inspections, immigration, or other related international procedures before getting on the plane, so usually, they’re easier and quicker to navigate.

Usually, large airports are a mix of both international and domestic airports. They’re divided into two or more terminals (large buildings), from which one is an international one and has all the customs and immigration facilities, and the other one is a domestic one. That’s because domestic airports (and terminals) are essentially a win-win for everyone – they’re quicker to navigate and cheaper to build.

Read Next: What’s the Difference Between an Airport Concourse, Terminal, and Gate?

What Are Some of the Key Differences Between International and Domestic Airports?

  • International airports have longer queues: International airports tend to handle international and domestic flights, while domestic airlines only handle domestic ones. This naturally causes international airports to be busier, have a higher passenger volume, and be more overwhelming with the wide variety of people with different set destinations.
  • International airports have duty-free shops: Duty-free shops are a great advantage of international airports that domestic airports don’t have. These shops are located at international terminals and exempted from local and national taxes. This makes it the perfect spot for tourists and other passengers to grab souvenirs, liquor, fragrances, and other luxurious items at a relatively lower price, although the savings usually aren’t too significant.
  • In general, security checks aren’t as strict in domestic airports: Among security screening, luggage drop-off, and customs inspections, you will typically see higher security levels of security at international airports compared to domestic ones. Unlike domestic airports, most international airports will require you to recheck your luggage in customs. And while your photo ID and boarding pass may be enough when traveling domestically, international airports will require you to present your passport and sometimes a visa when traveling.
  • International airports have more restaurants and stores: If you hadn’t had a chance to grab a meal before your flight or forgot to pack any essential items, international airports have a vast selection of restaurants and stores to fulfill all your needs before your flight.
  • International airports usually have airport lounges: Another feature of international airports includes airport lounges which offer a serene environment with comfortable seating, stocked bars, food and snacks, fast Wi-Fi, and better access to customer service representatives. Some flight tickets include lounging services in their packages, whereas other passengers access them by paying an entrance fee.

What Are Regional and National Airports?

Regional and national airports are both types of general aviation airports. These terms are often confused with domestic and international airports, but they are different types of airports, which usually don’t have any scheduled passenger flights. General aviation airports are for public use and have less than 2500 commercial passengers boarding annually. Instead of transporting cargo or commercial passengers, general aviation airports are in charge of rescue services, agriculture support, maintenance, surveillance, and pilot training.

National airports are, generally, large general aviation airports, which support interstate and international flights. Such services are especially beneficial in areas that other commercial airports can’t service.

Regional airports tend to be smaller than national airports because they usually only support interstate and domestic flights. While these airports are mainly used for interstate travel, they also help move passengers and other goods to larger airports that support international transport and travel.

How Many International Airports Are There in the World?

The ICAO defines international airports as territories of entry and departure for international traffic with various procedures, including customs inspections, border control facilities, immigration, etc.

Over 1200 international airports are operating worldwide. One of the busiest airports among them is the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, located in China, serving over 43 million passengers annually.

How Many International Airports Are There in the Us?

As the country with the most airports worldwide, the United States has over 5000 airports available for public use. Among those 5000 public airports, roughly 150 are considered international airports.

The busiest amongst these 150 airports is the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with over 75 million passengers boarding in 2021. Other busy airports in the country include the Dallas International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

What Are Some of the Largest International Airports?

Five of the world’s top ten largest airports are all in the US. However, the largest airport in the world, taking up nearly 300 square miles (776 km²), is the King Fahd International Airport located in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Denver International Airport takes second place with an area of 52.2 square miles (135.7 km²). Other large airports worldwide include the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Beijing Daxing International Airport, and the Cairo International Airport.

Final Words

International and domestic airports have many differences, from how they operate to the procedures implemented in each port. It’s always advised that you get to the airport early on the day of your flights, especially international ones, so you can go through the security checkpoints and other required inspections without worrying about missing your flight. Generally, you should arrive at the airport 3-4 hours before an international flight and 2 hours before (or even less) a domestic flight.

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