During the time that I was planning a trip to Venice, there were several options for flights from the west coast of California to Venice. The route that I ultimately chose was to travel through Frankfurt Airport. When you do a search for comments about Frankfurt Airport, the majority of posts have really bad things to say about the airport. So many of the posts describe travelers as being confused and the airport staff as being rude. I traveled through Frankfurt Airport a few days ago. I didn’t find the airport to be confusing and I didn’t find the staff was rude. On the contrary, the signage in the airport is pretty clear and the staff I had contact with were all pleasant and helpful.
When you arrive on a flight from the United States, you will likely find that your plane will be parked at a remote location on the airport. After you exit the plane, you load onto a bus, which takes you to the terminal. They really pack everyone into the buses and it’s likely you will have to stand. But it’s not any different than taking mass transit in a big city. Once you arrive at the terminal, you have the option of heading toward baggage claim or you can transit to your next flight.
I like to check-in online before my flights, so that is what I did for this trip. I didn’t consider one important item. When your whole flight itinerary spans about 20 hours, using online check-in when first available for the first flight of your itinerary is not a good idea. Most airlines will not allow online check-in until 24 hours or less before departure. I didn’t consider the timing of the entire flight itinerary when I checked in online. My first 2 flights were on United Airlines; the first to San Francisco and the second from San Francisco to Frankfurt. My third flight was from Frankfurt to Venice aboard Lufthansa. The online check-in worked fine for the United flights, but the system would not allow me to check-in to the Lufthansa flight. The reason being was it was more that 23 hours before the departure of the Lufthansa flight. My advice when using online check-in for flights to another continent is to make sure you do not check in before the earliest check-in time for your last flight.
I had boarding passes for the flight to San Francisco and the flight to Frankfurt, but no boarding pass for the flight to Venice. Once inside the terminal at Frankfurt Airport, an airport staff person directed me to the Transit Check-in, which was clearly marked. Make sure you have your receipts for the bags you checked at the beginning of your flights and your passport. The boarding pass for the Venice flight was quickly issued and my next stop was passport control.
As Frankfurt was my first stop in the European Union, my passport was stamped and the officer asked me about my final destination. Make sure you look for the kiosks that say “All Passports” and not the ones for EU citizens. Once I was through passport control, I followed the signs for the A section of terminal 1, since my departing flight was at gate A26. The next checkpoint is a security screening. There were no long lines (this was 10 AM on a Thursday morning). No need to remove shoes like we do in the U.S. I got selected for a random explosives detection because of all the electronic equipment I travel with. The security officers were very polite. I was taken to an area to one side of the screening area where they checked my netbook computer for explosives. It took less than a minute and I was sent on my way.
Once I was through the security screening, I headed into the A wing of the airport and toward gate A26. Frankfurt Airport is a huge airport. There was a lot of walking to get to my gate. There are bicycle powered taxis that you can flag down, which are complimentary, if you don’t want to walk. My connection time between flights was 2 hours 30 minutes. I still would have made it to the departure gate with time to spare if I’d had 1 less hour of connecting time.
My advice for anyone traveling through Frankfurt Airport is don’t believe all the horror stories you read on the Internet. I’m sure many of those travelers had bad experiences. But that doesn’t mean it is always that way. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the airport before you go there. There are a number of diagrams that are available on the Internet for Frankfurt Airport. The airport map on the Frankfurt Airport web site is not the best one to use. I found the map on the web site for American Airlines was a better diagram. You should also consider that, if you booked your itinerary with one carrier, even if you have a short connection, your ongoing flight will probably wait a little bit for you because they know what flight you were just on and when it arrived. I heard between 5 and 10 “final boarding calls” for flights before the gates were closed. You’d have to be really late to miss a connection.
UPDATE 08/15/2011: Coming back through Frankfurt Airport on my way to Los Angeles was even easier than the outbound trip. Before leaving my last hotel in Venice, I used the Internet terminal at the hotel to check into my flights. The Lufthansa online system checked me into all flights, even my final United Airlines flight that was more than 24 hours in the future. So, I had my boarding passes for all three of my flights. My flight from Venice to Frankfurt deplaned at a gate in the A concourse of Terminal 1. The flight to Los Angeles was also in the A concourse. Departing international flights use gates on the third level of concourse A. There is an escalator between levels 2 and 3. Once you get to level 3, you will go through passport control again before you can go to your departure gate.
It is helpful to know that there is not as much room on level 3 as there is on level 2 in concourse A. I found level 2 was expansive, but level 3 almost felt claustrophobic. There are a limited number of restrooms on level 3, so you might want to consider using a restroom on level 2 before you go through passport control. There were lines at all of the restrooms after I got through passport control. If you do need a restroom, there is a restroom that is almost hidden from view at gate A65. It is located on the left side. Walk toward the windows and then turn left and the restrooms are on your left. These restrooms were very clean and no waiting, likely because most people didn’t know they were there.