After so many years flying to / from the 4 terminals of Madrid-Barajas airport (now Adolfo Suárez Airport), I’ve spent so much time at the airport that I’ve even considered like a holidays home. It is a terrible home, I must admit, but it isn’t as difficult to navigate as some say, so here are some tips to move around Madrid airport easily:
1.There are no announcements through the PA System
Except for when they are telling you that there are no announcements through the “public announcements” System… It’s been like this for ages, so look for the screens with information about flight statuses, gate changes and delays. They are everywhere!
What does this mean in real life?
- That if your flight gate has been announced, you should go there to learn about changes and other flying issues (they use local PA Systems at the door). They can even change it without warning (check the door matches the destination and if it doesn’t recheck at the screens.)
- If your gate hasn’t been announced (for some flights they only show it 40 minutes in advance), you can go shopping or have something to eat but keeping an eye on the screens
- Even when a delay has been announced, don’t go far away from the gate, sometimes they cancel the delay and board the plane in minutes. If you didn’t get in on time, it’s your fault!
A few years ago, they announced a delay of almost 2 hours on a flight to Vigo, ten minutes afterwards they cancelled the delay and we got on board. The flight was overbooked and we ended up fliying with tons of empty seats, just imagine how many people lost the flight (and didn’t get relocated, I must add).
2. Do you have to walk a lot at the airport?
Every Madrid terminal has fingers (the corridors that connect the plain with the terminal) so most flights will use them. But at certain times, you might have to go down the plane’s staircase and board a bus (or viceversa). There is no way to tell when that might happen (used to be for low-cost airlines and certain small planes, but I’ve seen it happen at other carriers too.)
The distance between checking-in and flight gates or baggage claim can be long (specially when connecting with foreign countries) so I’d recommend to wear something comfortable.
If you need help to move around, whether you broke a leg or have hearing problems, you can request the free accessibility service or PMR. You can request this at Aena website (it has a link for the hearing impaired so they can chat with the service online, but it’s in Spanish so I don’t know how this would help here, but might be worth trying).
*Note: they won’t carry your luggage around and you will have to be at the airport 2,5 hours before your first flight (or when they tell you to be), otherwise they might refuse to help.
*Note 2: I get many questions about this on the Spanish site, so here we are:
- Can you walk from T1 to T2 or T3 in Madrid? Yes, T1, T2 and T3 are connected and you can walk from one terminal to the other without having to go outside of the boarding area (if you have a boarding ticket.)
- Can you walk from T4 to T4S? Yes, but you have to take an underground train that connects them (signage is good, follow the directions to your next boarding gate.)
- Can you walk from T4 to T1? No. They are independent buildings and a transfer from one to the other can be a nightmare (thank you Iberia!) You will have to take a bus, if you are transiting from a non-european country to another non-european country, the bus goes from the boarding area to the other boarding area, without having to enter the Spanish border. If you are making a different connection, you will have to go outside, take a free bus and go through security and passport controls (again). Here a guide to calc how long it takes to make a transfer with luggage and keep reading for more information at point 7.
3.There are no smoking spaces
Smoking (including electric cigars) is forbidden. You need to go out of the terminal building in order to smoke. Irony is that you can still buy lighters and tobacco, and buy (and drink) alcohol.
There is one café at T1 with a terrace where people smoke, but it doesn’t open 24/7 and it is not close to many boarding gates.
4. Religion at Madrid Airport
There are prayer spots at every terminal of Madrid Airport, all of them at the public areas so anyone can enter. A few years ago, there were only catholic chapels, but today they have been refurbished into a multi-confessional areas ready for muslim, catholic, jewish and other religions for when it is necessary.
There is only one chapel left at T2, but there is also a multi-confessional spot there.
They are open from 6AM to 22:30PM and access is free (except on exceptional cases), but they don’t have a regular schedule of masses. If there is any cult planned for the day it will be announced at the door.
5.Madrid VIP rooms
There are VIP rooms at every terminal building, but quality varies. Check with your airline which one they work with (not all of them are open to every passenger). And no, not all of them open 24/7 or offer free food and drinks.
If you are looking for a hairdresser or an SPA, every couple of years they open a space that offers this service. There is one massage, manicure, etc service at T4 and T4S. You can walk there or book the service by phone (not usually crowded).
6.Eating at the airport
Food in Madrid airport is usually bad and expensive. Almost every café offers the same sandwiches and sweets, but they are starting to offer better choices like delicatessen and major brands like McDonalds and Starbucks :(
Also, now you can find better restaurants with a proper menu from known chefs, but haven’t tried them. Just have your wallet ready, a toast & coffee breakfast can cost 6€ (price in Madrid city is about 2 or 3 euros.)
7.Going from one terminal to the others
If you are at the public area, you will have to take a free transfer bus that connects T1, T2, T3 and T4. You could technically walk from T1 to T3 too, and take your bags with the free trolleys available (they charged for them a few years ago, but they are free again.)
If you are at the boarding area, you can also walk or take a bus from T1 to T3 without leaving the boarding area. There are some smaller trolleys you can use to carry your hand luggage and coats with you.
But, if you are going from T4/T4S to T1, T2 or T3, you will have to go out to the public zone and take the free transfer bus. There is an exception to this: if you are connecting flights from outside the Schenghen area to flights outside the Schenghen area, you also have a free bus at the boarding area, but you will need to request the service and have your boarding pass for the next flight.)
Picking up luggage at Madrid Barajas airport is slow and boring, specially if you come from a “hot” place (places where drugs and other illegal items come from) and/or you are coming through T4S. So bring a lot of patience and take this into account if you need to pick up your luggage and check in for another flight.
I told you before, both for those departing and arriving to Madrid (or connecting), there is a PMR service that can help you move around. It is free, you need to request it (through the airline and at their website).
The service is marked PMR and with some yellow boards.
10.Pharmacy and medical help
You will find pharmacies at the public areas of T1, T2 and T4. T4 also has one at the boarding area. Their opening times are flexible but they don’t open 24/7.
But, if you need medical assistance, the airport has medical spots at every terminal and they will help you there (for free) or send you to the nearest hospital. They are a bit hidden, so better ask at the information desks.
11.How much does it take to…
Take into account that at major bank holidays, going through security can take you up to 30 minutes. Priority lanes are only available for business travelers, PMR and families at the T4 terminal. It used to have faster lanes for mobile check-ins and pregnant women, but now they go through the same controls.
Going from security control to your boarding gate can take up to 20 minutes, depending on which one it is and whether you need to go through passport control or not.
12.Sleeping at the airport
There are no hotels at the airport, with the exception of the AirRooms, which are not really a hotel but rooms for a couple of hours. The hotels that are closest to the airport (within 5 kilometres or less) offer free transfers to and from the airport and are usually cheaper than the average Madrid hotel.
Only one of them offers transfers before 6:30AM (for free) and you can be at Madrid city in 30 minutes (24/7 with the airport bus) so if your flight departs very early one good option could be to sleep near Cibeles. Here a post with all the ways to go to Madrid airport (also at night).
13. When is the airport open
Every once in a while someone asks me if it is possible to sleep on the floor of the airport or just stay there all night. Well, I wouldn’t recommend this, there are no “sleeping areas” and the chair design is not specially comfortable. On the other had, the terminal buildings are open 24 hours a day, so you will see many backpackers sleeping near Ryanair check – in desks.
14. Flying with kids
There are a several kid playground areas at the boarding areas of the terminals (yes, each terminal building has its own). There are also places for breastfeeding with microwaves for kid’s food at T2 and T4, where they also have some childcare options.
In theory, you have priority when going through security control and they have extra chairs for toddlers so you don’t have to bring your own. That, in theory, I’ve never seen them and I keep seeing many families go through the standard security controls.
At least it’s better than when I traveled as a kid, we didn’t have playgrounds or anything like that.