Dubai Airport Reviewed In 10 Minutes

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by Jamie Marshall

When it opened in April 2000, Dubai International Airport’s new concourse, the Sheikh Rashid Terminal, caused quite a flutter. It was a bold statement that Dubai was going to be Number One in the region, and that Emirates Airlines (the flagship carrier) would cause all rivals to be afraid, very afraid.

Terminal 1

The way in which it connected to the existing, older terminal was typically Dubai: in order to not disrupt operations at the older complex while the new concourse was being built, it was located over three hundred metres away from the original building, but connected by a spacious, air-conditioned, underground tunnel, designed to facilitate both incoming and outgoing passengers.

The new section was all departure and arrival gates, duty-free shops, restaurants, lounges, and other amenities. The older section continued to serve as check in, security screening, and passport control for departures, and as passport control, visa issue, and baggage collection for arrivals.

That original section was given a facelift so it meshed with the new terminal. This new terminal was shiny and glamorous. It was spacious and comfortable. It seemed to offer everything a traveler required, including very comfortable business and first class lounges.

Terminal 3

Fast forward eight years from what I have described above. Terminal 3 opened in 2008 exclusively for Emirates departures and arrivals.

Terminal 3 of the Dubai International Airport, for what it’s worth, is the second largest building in the world by floor square-meterage, and the largest airport terminal in the world.

Connected to Terminal 3 by an underground railway (much like a section of the Dubai Metro) is Concourse 3, built exclusively to handle the A380 double-tier jets. It allows the upstairs passengers to board separately from upstairs in the Concourse, thus vastly speeding up the process of boarding and disembarking on these very large planes.

No Terminal 2?

There is, but it’s over on the opposite side of the airport complex on Al Quds Street. It cannot be accessed directly from Terminals 1 or 3.

Terminal 2 used to be the arrival and departure point for smaller, regional airlines – ones with names most of us have never heard of. However, in recent years, Terminal 2 has become the hub of Emirates’ low-cost division, Flydubai, and also Air India Express.

The building itself has undergone a major refurbishment, and I’m told that it’s the equal or better than many other airports in the Middle East and North African region. Dubai even does budget flights with typical Dubai-style.

Find it all online

If you’re expecting a website that rivals or at least mirrors the physical location and experience of Dubai International Airport, you’re going to be a little disappointed. You can read more about the Terminals and their facilities here, and there’s a quite low-key section on Emirates’ own website: Terminal 1 here and Terminal 3 here.

Getting there and away

Most people will arrive and depart by either private car or taxi. Business and First Class travellers on Emirates receive complimentary limousine pick-up and delivery to the dedicated check-in area in Terminal 3.

The airport also has 2 Metro stations giving direct, covered, and air-conditioned access to the two Terminals. All rental car agencies operate from the arrivals sections of the Terminals.

Traffic control at departures and arrivals of both Terminals continues to improve. Even at very busy times, it’s usually possible to be directed to a slot for a quick drop-off, but pay attention to where the police officers are directing you. Ignore them and you’re likely to get a ticket and a fine.

If you are collecting arriving passengers, you’re really better off going into the paid-parking. It’s not possible to hover in Arrivals for more than a minute or so.


The process has vastly improved in recent years. With the advent of online check-in, it’s really just a case of going to a bag-drop in Terminal 3 (there are plenty of them) where your luggage is accepted and your boarding pass issued.

Curiously, even though Emirates issues electronic boarding passes to your smartphone, the bag-drop staff is still printing paper passes. Maybe this will become fully electronic very soon.

However, if you have checked in online and only have hand luggage, you can proceed straight to passport check – as long as you have downloaded the ticket to your phone.

In Terminal 1 (where all other airlines operate from) things have improved even more. You do need to locate the check-in area for your particular airline. There are large LCD displays telling you to go to Section A, B, C, etc., but then it’s the same process as above.

Security Screening and Passport Control

It’s probably no different than any other airport, and may well be better than many. For a number of years, it has been possible for UAE residents to avoid passport control by purchasing an electronic E-Gate card.

It is linked to all the data on your passport, and when the card opens one set of glass gates, you scan a designated thumb print and the exit gate opens. It usually takes just 20-30 seconds.

Previously, the E-Gate card also gave you access to a dedicated hand-luggage and personal effects scanner lane in Terminal 1, but there were some big changes going on the last couple of time I flew from T1, and the special queue was not available.

The advantage was that it again saved you time. There were notices all around promising big changes coming soon, so I suspect this is going to be the introduction of E-Passport and optical scanners in T1. E-Passport scanning has been available in T3 for a couple of years.

The Concourses

Architecturally, both are pretty stunning, but they’re also always very busy. There’s a lot of duty-free shopping of all kinds available. There’s too much to list here, really, but check this link.

It’s all very easy. All credit cards are accepted, and there are plenty of well-trained, English-speaking staff on hand to help.

There are also lots of food and drink options, and don’t be put off by the preponderance of fast food outlets on the first page of the link. That’s just an unfortunate coincidence – keep looking at the subsequent pages.

Finally, make sure you get to your gate

Dubai Airports Authority has a twenty-minutes-before-departure closure policy at the gates.

This is very strictly enforced so flights don’t miss their departure slots on the runways. Don’t get distracted by the shopping or dazzled by the ambience.

Be aware that some of the gates are quite a hike from the central duty-free area in both Terminals. I’ve seen distraught people running, and even more distraught people in tears after being refused boarding because they’re past the twenty-minute deadline.

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