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Most flying experiences begin by lugging your bags out to the airport, lining up to check-in, and queueing again at immigration: and even though a business class ticket or Gold-grade frequent flyer card can shorten that process, the formalities remain the same.
Seoul, on the other hand, does things differently, with a dedicated City Airport Terminal situated in Gangnam, the city’s financial district.
Attached to a shopping mall, this ‘airport’ has no planes, runways, or even an airport code: but, you can check-in for domestic and international flights departing from Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport and Cheongju Airport, leave your luggage, grab your boarding pass, and even pre-clear immigration, right in the middle of town.
Passengers can use this facility to make the most of their last day in Seoul without being weighed down by baggage or concerned about check-in deadlines, or, can zip straight to the airport afterwards and breeze through via a side door.
Here’s what you need to know about Seoul’s City Airport Terminal for your next visit to South Korea.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: Where it’s located
You’ll find the City Airport Terminal south of Han River in Gangnam’s Starfield COEX Mall – conveniently attached to the COEX exhibition centre, InterContinental Grand Seoul Parnas and InterContinental COEX hotels.
Once inside, follow the directions to “City Airport”, and when you’re in the right place, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived at a ‘real’ airport.
Of course, if you’re north of Han River and closer to Seoul Station, Korean Air and Asiana have check-in facilities there too for train passengers – but this guide is for City Airport Terminal users.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: participating airlines
Joining Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, check-in facilities are also available at City Airport Terminal for fellow Korean carriers Eastar Jet, Jeju Air, Jin Air and T’Way Air.
These are joined by international airlines Air France, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta, KLM, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Thai Airways and United, all in the same facility.
For Korean Air and Asiana Airlines flyers, check-in desks are open from 5:20am until 6:30pm daily, while check-in for all other airlines runs from 5:10am to 6:30pm.
As above, the service is provided so that you can check-in early for your flight or minimise hassle at the airport, so check-in at City Airport closes three hours before departure for flights from Seoul Incheon T1, and three hours and 20 minutes before flight departure times at Seoul Incheon T2, given this terminal takes longer to reach.
For those instead flying from Gimpo Airport, check-in at City Airport generally closes two hours prior to departure, or two hours and 10 minutes for those taking an international flight from Gimpo, although check with your airline for the latest information, including if flying from Cheongju.
If your airline isn’t on that list, you’ll need to proceed to your chosen airport and check-in for your flight as normal.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: checking-in
Each airline has a specific check-in desk, or desks in the case of Korean Air, which offers separate lines for first class flyers as well as business class (Prestige) passengers and eligible frequent flyers entitled to Sky Priority perks.
This is just like a normal airport – your bag goes on the belt to get weighed, tagged and taken from you; your passport and any necessary destination visas are verified, and after a brief moment, your boarding pass is in-hand, and you’re ready to roll.
Then, it’s upstairs to immigration.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: passport control
With that boarding pass and passport at the ready, venture up to the immigration office, which opens from 5:30am until 6:30pm daily.
One at a time, passengers are invited inside to have their documents sighted and their planned exit from South Korea noted in the system, before coming back out to the same place.
You haven’t actually ‘left the country’ at this point, but this step saves you time later, as you’ll see below.
From here, you’re free to leave the building and spend a little more time in Seoul, or head straight to the airport via one of the limousine buses.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: airport transfers
Most passengers using City Airport will be flying from Incheon, which is reached via a limousine bus service running every 20 minutes, with only two stops: Terminal 1, and Terminal 2.
The bus departures area is right next to the immigration office, offering a waiting room and basic amenities, as well as self-serve ticket machines which can be used in English and accept foreign credit cards (although not American Express).
One-way tickets cost 15,000 KRW (about AU$18.50 / US$12.70), and the journey takes around 70 minutes. Tickets are for a specific timed departure, with boarding commencing four minutes before that time and the ‘gate’ closing one minute before departure.
Unlike other in-town check-in facilities such as in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, here, you’re not required to take the attached transport (or at least, buy a ticket) to use the service – worth keeping in mind if you venture into another part of town, and choose to take a taxi or other transport to the airport ahead of your flight.
Seoul City Airport Terminal: speeding through Incheon
Once you’ve reached the correct terminal at Incheon, alight from the bus, and if your baggage was tagged to your flight’s destination, you do not need to collect it here – instead, you can head straight into the terminal.
Of course, you’ve already checked in, so there’s no need to revisit your airline’s check-in desks, and as a City Airport passenger, you won’t be joining the back of the queue at passport control and security.
Instead, keep your eyes peeled for a side door labelled “Crew & City Airport Terminal Passenger”: this is where the real fast-track aspect of using City Airport comes into play.
Simply present your boarding pass for scanning, go through security as normal, and then have your passport sighted at the end: usually a quick process, because most other passengers are being screened elsewhere, whereas this entire section is only for cabin crew, and passengers ‘in the know’.
Then it’s straight to the lounge, and onto your flight, having never passed by a regular airport check-in desk.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Seoul as a guest of Korean Air & IATA.