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.
28 Comments and Questions
Hello, thank you for this! If you’ve already checked in online (and have an e-ticket/mobile QR code) can you just go straight to/through security without having to queue at the check in counters? I’ll be flying from terminal 4S if that makes a difference, thanks!
Yes! At Madrid Airport T4-T4S you can go with the QR / passbook mobile code (or with the home printed e-ticket) straight through security and to the gate. Some phones make the image too small or too big but you just adjust size and that’s enough.
There are also printing kiosks for Iberia flights and others, but I haven’t needed them since mobile & home-printed versions.
Hope that helps!
Best regards and safe flights
Hola! Do you know if I can drive up to the entrance (in any of the terminals) to pick up a friend? Or do I have to park in a parking lot and meet them there? Thanks!
On a regular basis you can drive to the departures area and stop there 5 minutes for drop off, but your friend would have to tell you when to go (police checks every now and then and there is not much space to stop there, plus they have designed a system that reads your car plate number and sets a fine when you stay there over 15 minutes or so per day). You could be waiting at your car outside the airport (Barajas town is a nice spot for this).
There are some “Express” parking spots at T2-T1 but they are free only 15 minutes and then they are the most expensive parking spots at the airport. If you are planning to go to T4, then you will pay about 6 cents per minute (it changes depending on how long you stay), theres is no express option there.
Hope you have a nice time in Madrid!
Hello, thank you for the useful info! I would like to know more about arriving to Madrid airport (T1) from Beirut (Lebanon).
The thing is I also need to get to Santiago De Compostela from Madrid airport. Any ideas on how that’s possible ?
There are regular flights from T2 and T4 that take you to Santiago de Compostela in about 1 hour (best connection from T1 is flights from T2: RyanAir, Air Europa or similar fly from there, but you can check all the options on Skyscanner by day)
You also have trains from Chamartín to Santiago de Compostela, they take about 5-6 hours to get there with high speed train AVE.
Plus, there are a few buses that go to Santiago, but your best option from the airport is Alsa, which departs from the airport and takes about 8-10 hours (depends on the time and route).
Or you can go there by walking through the Camino Way (you will need a few weeks for this).
Have a great flight!
Hi Leticia, thank you for your advices :) I have one question regarding my trip. I will land to Madrid to Terminal 4 at 18:50. I am coming from European country. I have to catch a train from Madrid-puerta de Atocha at 21.10. Do you think I have enough time to catch a train? I can take a taxi from the airport if necessary. Thank you!
Landing to T4, you shouldn’t have any trouble if you travel with hand luggage:
Both options leave you with about an hour to move around, go through security at Atocha and have some room for flight delays.
If you need to pick up luggage, you might have to wait for it about 30 minutes from the landing expected time. Is it enough? if there are no delays, it is, but you will be rushing around if your luggage is lost/arrives late, your plane is late or you need to stop for coffee.
As for the taxi, they usually take the same route as the bus, so it could help you save about 5 minutes (or 10) by changing the route at peak times because it doesn’t have to do the standard stops (the bus stops at the other terminal buildings and two more stops in Madrid before arriving to Atocha), so it might be handy if you need to wait for the bus/train and/or are in a hurry.
Hope this helps. Have a nice trip!
Hello – thanks for posting this, very helpful.
I’m returning to the US in a couple of weeks on a flight departing from Madrid Terminal 2 (Norwegian) – based on your point above, do you think I’ll be able to pass through security in T2 then walk over to T1 to use the Cibeles lounge without having to go through security a second time? (Sounds like it!) I have priority pass but it looks like the only lounge in T2 is for Schenghen flights.
You can go from T2 to T1 by foot without having to go through security again. Just keep walking through the boarding lounge (from left to right – planes in front of you) and you’ll find the border/passport control. Technically they are different terminals, but the same building, so just follow the signs to your boarding gate/letter and ignore the luggage pickup signs (they take you to another floor and out of the boarding area.)
Having said that, if you are boarding an international flight that goes right outside the EU Schenghen area, you will be boarding at T1, not T2. So following the signs to your boarding gate after checking in will get to the T1 lounge.
Note: check in for Norwegian is usually at T2, just check what your booking says. After you check in at T2, you can usually enter the terminal building at T2 and go to T1 through the boarding area, but you can also go to T1 on the outside and enter at T1. I’d chose entering T2 if I’m checking in at T2 but ask at the counter #justsaying.
Hope this helps. Have a great trip back home!
Hope you know the answer to my query. I am soon flying from London to MAD (overnight at the airport hotel) and connecting the following day from MAD to Tokyo. It is not under the same air ticket. If i remember well in the past it was possible to drop bag and check in at the airport 24 hours before flight… is this still the case? Thank you Goran
I’m guessing you are taking Iberia’s direct flight MAD – NRT. If you are, it should be available for you, but haven’t used it lately so can’t give you more info about it.
For other airlines, it is not available but there are lockers in every terminal building that allow you to keep your luggage there for about 10€ per piece (there are cheaper options down town, but you could take them to your hotel too.)
Enjoy Japan!! And please let me know how it goes with the bag drop so I can add it above.
We are 4 adults arriving from Canada on Air Transat on Jan 5. One adult is 82 years & is a slow walker. We need to get from arrivals to customs to baggage claim. Is there an indoor transport to help get to these areas? We would all have to take it in order to stay together.
I would recommend requesting the service for people with reduced mobility. It’s free and they will take you from arrivals to customs and baggage claims and out to the parking or taxi service (tecnhically to the meeting point but they are next to these). They have wheelchairs, but also some indoor cars (something similar to golf cars at some points) for longer distances. The service can be requested online at http://www.aena.es/en/madrid-barajas-airport/people-reduced-mobility.html and you can go with that person together (if you are using the car, then as long as there is room for all), sometimes you will go through one queue line and they will go through a different one, but you can ask them to wait for you and they usually do.
Have a great trip!
It is nice to find some tips and information that are actually meaningful to travellers using Madrid Airport.
I am likely to be transitting through Madrid soon.
I will arrive at T1 from Mexico and then depart T4 for London. Do you know if it is possible to transit while remaining airside or will I need to exit and then re-enter? I hope to avoid the need to pass through security a second time.
Thank you in advance for any advice you can provide.
Thank you! Happy to read that it helps.
If you are traveling from Mexico (out of the Schenghen area) and then to UK (out of the Schenghen area too), you can technically use the airside transfer at Madrid airport to T4S. Once you arrive to T1, talk to the airline crew and/or connections desk to request the bus that connects T1 to T4S (it only works upon request). You might not be flying to T4S but since you are connecting two non-Schenghen destinations they should take you to either T4S or T4.
If they take you to T4, it will be to the small non-Schenghen corner of T4, so you’re set (not many shops but a pub and a small press kiosk). If they take you to T4S, follow the signs to your next gate –> if they take you to T4S but it’s at T4, you will have to go through two passport controls and the underground train, but it should be easy too, as there is only one stop for the train and the signage will take you to the HJFK gates. No additional security (liquids) control.
Just one note: if you need to pick up your luggage (different bookings for each flight), you cannot take the transfer. It is only for passengers with checked-in luggage to final destination (and boarding passes). People with luggage to be checked-in need to exit, take the free bus to T4, check it in and re-enter.
Have an awesome flight!
Thank you so much.
You’re welcome! Let me know how it went.
Hello, I am landing at T4S from London at 10.50 and booked to leave for Panama T4S at 11.50. Is this possible? Thank yuo for your help
Same booking? Sure it is T4S to T4S? If it’s so, it is possible. Since you will be moving inside the non-Schenghen area of T4S (no passport control or extra liquids control needed in most cases) and within a small area, so you have a 15-minute margin to move from one gate to the other, which is doable without major delays on your first flight and, most important, with no running needed on your side.
If it’s T4 to T4S (some UK flights arrive to T4 instead of T4S) they should move you from there to T4S, without having to go through border control (again, non-Schenghen area to non-Schenghen area) often by minivan. In this case, your connection is tighter but doable (it’s the airline having to take you from one point to the other, which they will want to, as relocating you is much more expensive for them).
BUT if these are separate bookings AND your luggage is not taken forward to Panama by the airline (meaning you have to pick it up in Madrid, sometimes they want to, sometimes they won’t) it’s impossible.
Also, remember that if it’s under the same booking and you cannot make it to your connecting flight due to delays, they will have to relocate you to another flight (and might also pay a compensation for the extended delay).
Have a great flight!
Thank you so much. I will have only cabin luggage so no collection, and I have checked my bookings and definitely states T4S arrive and depart. You have been brilliant. Thank you
Hi! Thanks for the tips…very helpful. I am getting ready to book a flight from Chicago to Barcelona with a plane change in Madrid. (Iberia airlines) If the plane is on time, it says 1 hr. 45 min. layover. I have to change from terminal T4S to terminal T4. Do you think it is doable…or too risky? It’s by far the cheapest flight. Thanks for you help!
If this is under the same booking, go for it! It’s a bit tight, but doable and Iberia has about 14 daily flights from Madrid to Barcelona, so even if you are late to your first flight, they do have options to send you in the next one or through a different airline.
If it’s under different bookings, Iberia might not want to check the luggage to Barcelona and in that case you won’t have enough time.
Have an awesome trip!
I am flying in to Madrid on Ryanair, getting my luggage at baggage claim and then have to catch a connecting UNITED flight to New York. How much time will it take for all of that?
Average time for picking up luggage from an European flight at Madrid right now is 30 minutes (not including delays). Then add about 5-10 minutes to get out and up to your next check-in desk. Also, an extra 15-20 minutes at the check-in desk for a flight to the US (check with united what the check-in time limits are for your flight).
The good side of it is that you won’t have to take a bus to take your next flight, just pick your luggage and go to the departures desk of United upstairs (should be both at T1 but depending on the orginin you might get out at T2 and then you should have go to T1, about a 7 minutes walk).
The bad side is that at peak season you might need 20-30 minutes to go through security control (sometimes a bit more). Add about 15 minutes to get to your departing gate (shouldn’t be that much, but just in case) and there you go!
Enjoy your flight!
Thank you for your nice guide of Madrid Airport, I am flying from T4s, are there any decent tax free shopping outlets in T4S?
Glad you liked it! At T4S you have the main streamers: Carolina Herrera, Bvlgari, Ferragamo etc. + the main Duty Free (and a few small ones near the boarding gates) and some food shops with wine, jamón or traditional sweets (not at a discount but with more traditional Spanish products). Most of them are at gates S, but if you are at gates R you will also find a Real Madrid Shop, which is not exactly a duty free, but might be interesting to check.
Have a nice flight!