English for Travelling – Essential Phrases and Vocabulary at the Airport

You’ve booked your flights, your bags are packed and you’re ready to go!

When you arrive at the airport, you may encounter words and phrases that you’re not familiar with. Some airports use multilingual signs, but sometimes the only language used is English. If you’re travelling to an English-speaking country for your holidays, this blog post will help you with the vocabulary you need at the airport and help you to practise using it.

At the check-in desk

When you arrive at the airport, the first thing you need to do is tell the airline that you’ve arrived. Follow the signs for ‘Departures’ and the check-in desk for the airline you’re flying with.

At the check-in desk, make sure you have your passport ready for inspection. Here are some typical dialogues that may happen at the check-in desk.

Dialogue 1:

A: Good morning, madam. May I see your passport?

B: Of course.

A: Do you have any luggage you want to put in the hold?

B: Yes, I have two bags.

A: Did you pack the bags yourself?

B: Yes, I did.

A: Have you left them unattended at any time?

B: No, I haven’t.

A: Here’s your boarding pass.

B: Thank you. Which gate does the plane depart from?

A: It departs from gate B13.

B: Do you know what time the gate closes?

A: Boarding time is thirty minutes before the flight, and the gate closes 15 minutes before takeoff. You can find this information on your boarding pass.

Dialogue 2:

A: This flight is a long-haul flight, with a layover in Singapore.

B: How long is the layover?

A: It’s not too long, just two hours.

B: Will my luggage be transferred to my connecting flight by the airline?

A: Yes. Your luggage will be checked through to your destination.

Dialogue 3:

A: I’m sorry, sir, but your suitcase is too heavy. You will have to pay an excess baggage charge.

B: My bag only weighs 25kg.

A: Our baggage limit is 22kg, so your bag is 3kg overweight.

B: Oh no! How much is the excess baggage charge?

A: It’s £30.

B: Ok. I’m going on a skiing holiday and need to put my skis in the hold. I have already paid the extra charge. Can I give them to you here?

A: You need to take your skis to the oversized baggage area. It’s to your right, next to the stairs.

Some airlines allow online check-in. This means that you can print or download your boarding pass onto your phone and you don’t have to go to the check-in desk at the airport. If you have bags that need to go in the hold of the airplane, you can take them to the baggage drop. You can find the baggage drop for your flight next to the check-in desk for the airline you are using. If you only have carry-on luggage, you can go straight to security.

Remember: Bags is a countable noun and luggage is an uncountable noun.  If you want to make ‘luggage’ plural, you can add ‘items’ or ‘pieces’ before it. For example, ‘How many items of luggage do you have?’


Getting through security can take some time if the airport is busy, so make sure you’re properly prepared and allow plenty of time to get through security.

Hopefully, you won’t be stopped by security and the process will be quick. If security stops you, don’t panic! It happens to all travellers at some point, so it’s useful to know some of the questions that a security officer might ask you.

Before your carry-on bag goes through the scanner, you may be asked a few questions by a security officer to make sure you have taken some particular items out of your bag. These items can be put in the same tray as your carry-on bag, but they need to be visible.

Here’s a typical dialogue for this situation:

Dialogue 1:

A: Excuse me, madam. Have you taken all liquids out of your bag?

B: Yes, I have. They’re here in this plastic bag.

A: Please put them in the tray with your carry-on bag. Do you have a laptop or tablet in your bag?

B: Yes, I do. I have a laptop in there.

A: You need to remove your laptop and put it in a separate tray.

B: Sorry, I forgot about that.

Remember to remove all metal items from your body before you go through the body scanner. If the body scanner beeps when you walk through it, you will be politely asked to stop. The conversation is usually like this:

Dialogue 2:

A: Could you please step to one side, sir?

B: Certainly.

A: Are you wearing a watch or belt? Are you wearing anything metal that could have set the scanner off?

B: Hmmm…no, I don’t think so!

A: Please stand with your arms out and your legs apart. I’ll use the scanner to find the problem. [Beep] There seems to be something in your pocket.

B: Ah! I forgot! I left some coins in my pocket.

A: Can you please empty your pocket?

B: Of course. Here you are.

A: Thank you. That’s fine.

Remember, you can only bring liquids in your carry-on bag if they are 100ml or less and they are put in a clear, plastic bag. You need to remove the clear plastic bag of liquids from your carry-on bag when you go through security. If you have liquid in your carry-on bag, you will be stopped at security and your bag will be searched after it has been scanned.

Dialogue 3:

A: Is this your bag?

B: Yes. Is there a problem?

A: It looks like there is some liquid in your bag.

B: That’s strange. I thought I put all my liquids in the clear bag.

A: We’ll need to take a look. Could you open your bag, please?

B: Certainly.

A: You have a bottle of water in here. You can’t take it through security. You need to dispose of it.

Take some time now to look at the dialogues above. What do you notice about the way the security officers’ questions are phrased?

You may have noticed that they use “could” and “can” a lot. We use these words when we want to ask questions politely. “Could you open your bag?” is politer and less aggressive than saying, “Open your bag!”.

Getting to your gate

Congratulations! You’re through security and now all you have to do is get to your gate on time.

If you arrived at the airport early, or checking in and getting through security took less time than you anticipated, you might have time to get some food or do a bit of shopping. It’s a good time to make sure you have everything you need for your flight. If you’ve forgotten something, airports usually have exactly what you need!

Don’t forget to check the information about your flight regularly. You can find flight information on big screens in the departure lounges. You will see the name of the airline, your flight number, the time that your flight is scheduled to leave, your destination, any changes to the departure time and when you need to go to the gate.

It will look like this:

British Airways  BA4752  18:00  London  On time GO TO GATE

Sometimes navigating an airport can be confusing. It’s ok to ask for help if you’re not sure where to go. Here are some dialogues that will help you to ask for assistance:

Dialogue 1:

A: Excuse me, do you know where Gate C21 is?

B: All Gate C numbers are over there on the left.

A: Thank you. Do you know how long it will take me to get there?

B: It’s not far, if you hurry you can reach it in 5 minutes.

Dialogue 2:

A: I wonder if you can help me. I’m looking for my gate but I can’t find it!

B: What’s your gate number?

A: It’s B7.

B: Ah, it’s back that way. Walk straight on until you see signs for Gate B, then you’ll be able to follow the signs for Gate B7.

Dialogue 3:

A: I’m not sure where my gate is. Could you please help me?

B: No problem. Where do you need to go?

A: My gate number is D11.

B: It’s on the other side of departures. Take that corridor on the left, and then follow the signs for Gate D. It should take you around 15 minutes.

These dialogues are taken from our extensive online English for Travelling course.

Intrepid English Members can access the course right here to test your learning with interactive quizzes, and continue learning essential vocabulary and phrases for arriving at baggage reclaim, how to handle any missing luggage, navigating customs and transportation, booking and arriving at your accommodation, and much more beyond!

Not an Intrepid English Member yet? Check out our membership options right here. All memberships include access to our extensive online library of self-study courses on English grammar, pronunciation, idioms, business English, IELTS preparation, and much more.


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