A Nerd’s Guide to MSP Airport

Heads up: construction activities in Terminal 1/Lindbergh are ramping up, so your routes through the terminal may change slightly. Always follow overhead signs and crew instructions, especially when going to and form the ground transportation center.

If you’ve never flown out of Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), it can be a little confusing when you first get to the airport itself. That’s mostly because there are two terminals that aren’t connected post-security (and actually have completely different road access points), and transit vehicles have a completely different entrance from normal cars.

Which terminal?

If you’re on JetBlue, Southwest, Sun Country, Icelandair, or Condor, you fly in and out of Terminal 2/Humphrey. Your gate will always start with the letter H, and there are only 14 of them, so they usually get assigned several hours in advance.

Everyone else is in Terminal 1/Lindbergh, but further split.

(The rest of this article talks about how to do the airport efficiently, which is a great idea and will save you a lot of time, but if you don’t want to read it, the tl;dr is just follow the signs and you should be okay!)

I’m departing from Terminal 1/Lindbergh, where do I go?

Most airlines are in Concourse E (use the North security point to get there). The exceptions are:

  • Boutique Air and Air Choice One are located in Concourse B (use the North or Bridge security points).
  • Delta is in all concourses except Concourse E.
  • KLM and Air France are in the international pod of Concourse G (gates G1-G10).

If you’re on Delta, you’ll need to check the monitors to see where you go. Delta is the biggest carrier at MSP, so gates normally are posted about three hours in advance (you should get notified through Fly Delta as well, and hopefully your mobile boarding passes in Wallet will be updated if you’re an iPhone or Apple Watch user). You can also check FlightAware to see your gate – these are usually posted about six or seven hours before departure.

Delta’s regional service is usually on concourses A, B, C, and D, while mainline and international service is usually on concourses F and G. There may be some crossover between these.

Note that gates G7 and G8 are for international arrivals only, there’s no way to board them as an originating passenger.

Avoiding construction in Lindbergh

Lindbergh construction activities can result in random routes being opened or closed, especially on the check-in and baggage claim levels. As of late August, here are some good tips:

  • Use the Lyft lanes for passenger drop-off and pick-up. Vehicles follow signs to Departures and make a hard left at the top of the ramp. Passengers follow signs to Uber/Lyft. Note that this area can get congested, so if you’re getting picked up, it’s best to go between the overhead skyways.
  • If you’re on Delta, use the tunnel desks instead of the terminal desks if you need to check bags or talk to an agent.
  • It may seem weird, but the elevators are usually faster than the escalators when going between the tunnel and main terminal. They’re big and shiny, and a lot faster than they used to be.
  • You can check security checkpoint wait times at mspairport.com. Note that these (and the signage throughout the airport) are the GENERAL wait times — if you have Sky Priority, PreCheck, or CLEAR, your wait time will be significantly shorter. PreCheck times are generally about half the general wait times.
  • If you don’t have PreCheck, the south point is generally faster than the north point.
  • No matter what, FOLLOW THE SIGNS!

I’m taking a bus to the airport. What do?

UPDATE OCTOBER 2017: Most buses have relocated to level 1 of the Green Ramp, just below the Uber/Lyft pickups, and right next to the taxis. This will remain in effect until 2020. Some buses like to pull all the way up towards Hotel Shuttles.

Upon arrival to the airport, enter through the sliding glass doors and turn right. Walk around the back of the escalators, take an escalator or elevator down one level to Level T, and walk towards the information desk.

Where you go next depends on who and how you’re flying.

Going to Terminal 1/Lindbergh?

Congratulations, you’re almost to your gate. Just a few questions about the details of your trip.

  • Do you need to check bags, complete check-in, or print a boarding pass? (Note to Delta flyers, if you have the Fly Delta app, you should be checked in automatically.)
  • Are you traveling internationally?
  • Do you have TSA PreCheck clearance? (It will be on your boarding pass.)
  • Are you a CLEAR member?
  • Is it the weekend, before 5:30 am on a weekday, or after 1:30 pm on a weekday?
  • Is there a sign near the information desk saying that the bridge security point (also known as Skyway Security or Checkpoint 10) is closed?
  • Are you flying out of Concourses D, E, or F, gates C1-C9, or gates G1-G10?
  • Do you have any other special needs or circumstances that you need to address with your airline before you clear security?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then you should use the main terminal security checkpoints. To get there from the Level T information desk, turn right and walk through the tunnel – at the end is a bank of elevators and a large escalator leading up to the check-in desk. Take either of these up to level 2.

Depending on your situation you might also need to visit a check-in desk on the way to security. If you’re on Delta, there are check-in desks in the Level T tunnel that are much faster than the upstairs desk. All other airlines’ desks are in the main ticketing hall upstairs. You need to stop by a desk if you’re traveling internationally, need to check in, or need to check bags.

Now, if the answer to ALL of the above questions is NO, turn left at the information desk and enter the tram station. Board either tram and ride one stop to Blue/Red Parking. Exit towards the front of the tram and go up two levels to the security checkpoint on the bridge. This security checkpoint does NOT have CLEAR or PreCheck.

Going to Terminal 2/Humphrey?

Your instructions are a bit more straightforward, just because Humphrey is a smaller terminal. Buses drop at Lindbergh, so you need to switch terminals to catch your flight; depending on timing this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Here’s how to do it:

  1. From the Level T information desk, turn left and follow signs to Light Rail to Terminal 2/Humphrey. You will enter a tram station.
  2. Board either tram and ride one stop to Blue/Red Parking and Light Rail.
  3. Exit towards the front of the tram and veer left to walk through the sliding glass doors.
  4. An escalator down to the platform is straight ahead, elevators are around the corner to the right. Take these down one (large) level to the rail mezzanine.
  5. After going through another set of glass doors, you will pass some ticket machines and card readers. You can walk straight past these as it’s free to ride the train between terminals. An elevator down to the platform is on your left, escalators are on your right.
  6. After exiting the elevator or escalator, stand on the right-hand side of the platform, for trains to Terminal 2/Humphrey and Mall of America.
  7. Trains run between terminals every 10-15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Board one and ride one stop to Terminal 2/Humphrey.
  8. Exit towards the back of the train, and take the elevator or escalator up to Level 2.
  9. Follow the walkway around the parking ramp, across the skyway, and into the terminal.
  10. A security checkpoint will be right in front of you, and check-in/bag drop desks are down one level. Both security checkpoints in Humphrey have PreCheck, but do not have CLEAR.

What’s this CLEAR/PreCheck thing?

CLEAR lets you effectively bypass the ID check (because you ID yourself with biometrics), and PreCheck allows you to keep your shoes on and your stuff in your bags. Yes, you can use both at the same time.

If you have Sky Priority status, fantastic! Just note that it doesn’t have a whole lot of use at the Lindbergh security checkpoints.

Citizens of eligible countries can get PreCheck with a Global Entry membership, which costs $100 and is good for five years. Some premium travel rewards credit cards, or holding a high enough status with your main airline, may be able to pay this fee for you or reimburse you (with a statement credit) for the fee. If you’re thinking about buying PreCheck for $85, consider spending the extra $15 for Global Entry (cause Global Entry includes PreCheck, but not the other way around).

CLEAR is $180 a year, but if you have a Delta SkyMiles number (which you can get for free at delta.com/joinskymiles) then it’s $100 a year. Those with Delta status or a Delta Amex like the Gold Personal card (disclaimer: that is a referral link, if you apply and get approved for the card through that link, I may receive a bonus from American Express) can get it for $80 a year. If you’re Diamond Medallion, you get it for free.

I mention these programs’ availability in case you are eligible to use them. These are not required for travel.