In this two-part report, we’ll guide ourselves through the process of taking a flight from the Domestic Terminal of Seoul’s Gimpo Airport (GMP). Today’s instalment (Part 2) covers everything that takes place in the airside – i.e., restricted – area of the terminal, from the security checkpoint to the boarding gate.
Note: The information and pictures presented here are drawn from my own experience of using the Domestic Terminal of Gimpo Airport (GMP) on 24 January 2020. Details may change at any moment and without prior notice.
Click here to read Part 1, which covers the initial phases of the departure experience (including airport access and check-in procedures). Part 1 also includes a general overview of Gimpo Airport, which isn’t repeated below.
THE DEPARTURE EXPERIENCE (Part 2)
Note: Steps 1 to 3 are in Part 1 of this Terminal Report.
Step 4: Undergo security screening
Part 1 ended with us standing in the long queue for outbound security. I suspect it isn’t always as bad as this, though. Today just happens to be 24th January, the first day of the long Seollal holiday in 2020 (note: the date varies year by year), so a lot of Koreans are heading out of the big cities to their home provinces.
Needless to say, photography is frowned upon (to put it mildly) within the security zone, so I’ll do my best to describe the process in words.
First, there’s an initial document inspection. Present a valid photo ID and your boarding pass to the staff on duty, who will reconcile the details on both documents (as well as visually match the ID picture to your face) before allowing you through. GMP’s official website lists three types of ID as acceptable for this identity check:
- Resident registration card
- Driver’s licence
As a foreign visitor in Korea, I had my passport on me anyway and simply produced this for inspection.
Next, there’s the usual airport security screening where your carry-on bags are passed through a scanner and you’re directed to walk through a metal detector (with wand-waving and pat-downs if the alarms are set off). There were long queues here as well on the day I used the airport; again, likely Seollal-related.
Once you’re through, you’re done! This is a domestic terminal, so there are no immigration counters waiting on the other side after security.
Step 5: Enjoy the terminal’s airside facilities
You’ll probably need to jump straight to Step 6 if time is running short … but if you’ve arrived well ahead of schedule, congratulations! The newly renovated interiors of GMP’s Domestic Terminal are at your disposal.
Compared with the terminal’s former (i.e., pre-2018) interiors – which you can see in some of the pictures on Wikimedia Commons – this is a MASSIVE improvement. It’s taken them about a decade to go from meh to WOW, but the time and effort and money invested have clearly paid off.
Look closely and you’ll see the old coffered ceiling just behind the decorative assembly of what almost looks like a fleet of paper aeroplanes. Nice way of integrating the old and the new.
Something to bear in mind: dining options are fairly limited once you’re airside. Judging from the airport website, all you have is a café, a convenience store, and a restaurant (plus small offshoots of that same restaurant near the furthest gates).
Of course, since this is a domestic terminal, most of the passengers won’t be staying very long in the boarding area. Security queues aside, travellers taking domestic flights in Korea can cut things fairly close. Check-in ends 20 minutes before departure, whilst boarding gates shut at the 5-minute mark. (Note: these figures are quoted by Korean Air; actual operations may vary.) Given the relatively swift passenger turnover, a limited offering in terms of dining or shopping facilities makes economic sense.
Not hungry? All right – let’s look for an empty seat and settle down until boarding begins.
There’s plenty of seating available throughout the terminal. Note how the priority seats are very clearly marked, with deep red upholstery and thick blue borders traced out on the floor.
Surprisingly – for a country as tech-savvy as Korea, that is – it’s not as easy as one might think to find a charging point. There are outlets available and they’re prominently marked, but the way they’ve been fitted is … mm, I suppose the word “awkward” comes to mind.
There are water fountains – complete with paper cup dispensers – to slake the thirst of waiting passengers. (And there are also toilets for, er, getting rid of any surplus.)
Side note: I love those luggage-shaped dustbins used in Korean airports. 🙂
Business Class passengers and frequent flyers might also choose to wait in the terminal’s two lounges, above (literally as they’re up on 4F) the hustle and bustle of the main departures level.
As a Prestige Class (Business Class) passenger on a Korean Air flight, I had the opportunity to use the KAL Lounge on this trip. Click here to read my review of the facility.
The other lounge is operated by Asiana Airlines. I haven’t had the chance to visit it yet, but here’s a video (not by me!) posted by a Korean traveller that shows what it’s like inside that space.
Keep in mind that both airline lounges are in the domestic terminal’s airside zone, after the final security check. Hence, you’ll need to complete all pre-departure formalities (including check-in and security) before you can access them. I need to stress this point because until quite recently – i.e., before the terminal’s massive renovation programme was completed in late 2018 – the lounges were part of the landside zone, before the final security checkpoint. You might still come across some not-too-old blog posts and reviews (such as this one and this one, for example) describing the lounges’ former location, so take heed of the fact that they’re now both airside.
Step 6: Go to your assigned gate and prepare for boarding
Wherever and however in the terminal you choose to wait – ensconced in one of the lounges, relaxed at a café, sprawled out on an empty bench, etc. – it’s prudent to head closer to your designated boarding gate when departure time draws near.
The Domestic Terminal has 20 numbered boarding points. Gates 11-14 are in the middle of the building, near the soaring main concourse just after security. All other gates are in the wings on either side: Gates 1-10 in the longer southern finger, Gates 15-20 in the northern part. Refer to the terminal map on the official website for details (click on “3F” to load the departures level).
My own flight – Korean Air KE 1331 bound for Yeosu/Suncheon Airport – was scheduled to depart from Gate 9 at 06:45, so I swung towards the southern wing after leaving the comfort of the KAL Lounge.
A long passageway fitted with travelators leads towards the more distant Gates 1 through 8…
…but I didn’t need to walk down there, since Gates 9 and 10 were quite close to the terminal’s midsection.
Here’s the thing. There are 20 numbered gates at the Domestic Terminal – but it’s only fitted with a dozen aerobridges. Though there’s no practical variance whilst you’re inside the terminal, you’ll definitely see and (depending on the weather) feel the difference when boarding time arrives.
Step 7: Board your aircraft
For the most part, and especially if your assigned gate is fitted with a conventional aerobridge, boarding will be very similar to what you’d experience at most other modern airports.
However, as mentioned earlier, not all of the terminal’s gates are equipped with sheltered aerobridges. Some, including Gate 9, are bus gates – and the boarding process for these is as I’ll describe here.
It all starts in the usual way. A call for boarding goes out, and the passengers start sorting themselves into the designated lanes. With a Prestige Class boarding pass in hand, I placed myself at the head of the Sky Priority queue.
The doors are thrown open … and the sight that greets us isn’t that of a glass-walled corridor with an aeroplane at the end, but of a staircase leading down into the depths of the building.
At the bottom, there’s another set of doors open to the tarmac outside. There, a low-floored airport bus is waiting to take us to the remote parking stand where our aeroplane is berthed.
After arriving at our plane, the bus opens up and everyone spills out onto the tarmac before shuffling up the boarding stairs. Although the stairs are roofed, you’re essentially at the mercy of the weather – in my case, the bitter chill of a Korean winter – from the bus door to the cabin.
And yet, for all that, I think I still prefer bus gates to aerobridges. Nothing beats the incredible view of a large jetliner parked out in the open, more specifically when seen from the ground – and it’s only possible to enjoy this vista if one isn’t cooped up in a glass tube at the same level as the aeroplane’s cabin floor.
Found your seat? Excellent. Fasten that seatbelt, settle in, and relax – because your job is finally done.
Our thanks to Gimpo Airport and its sparkling, newly refurbished Domestic Terminal for getting us this far. Now it’s the airline’s turn to take us where we’re going next.