It’s easy to get lost in an airport terminal. Here’s how to avoid it.

The objective seemed simple: Disembark the puddle-jumper from Porto, Portugal, to Madrid and find the designated pick up point for my Uber ride into town. But the 45-minute odyssey left me angry, disoriented and wondering: Why are airports so confusing?

I’m not exaggerating. It took me 45 minutes to find my ride. And it wasn’t the first time I lost my way in an airport. 

It happened when I arrived in Lisbon, too (it took half an hour to find my Uber), and before that, in Phoenix (20 minutes). I’d relied on signage and helpful directions from an online terminal map, but ended up wandering the terminals as if I were lost in the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral.

Why are airports so confusing? Probably because they were never designed to handle so many passengers, says University of Dayton aviation historian Janet Bednarek.

“Often, even the best designs have either been overwhelmed by a growth in passenger numbers that far exceeded predictions or, more recently, changed security protocols,” she says.

Getting lost at the airport is common. That’s because airports are trying to compensate for poor design by plastering the terminals with signs, which maxes out our brains. The fix? A little technology – and new terminals.

A lot of travelers are confused by airports

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