How to navigate Dubai Airport when it's busy: our top tips on taxis, terminals and timings

From saving time at security to where to see live Christmas tunes, this guide will speed you through Dubai International Airport this holiday season

The new tourist visa announced by the UAE Cabinet hopes to boost visitor numbers to the country. Courtesy DXB
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This weekend is set to be one of the busiest at Dubai airport, with more than one million travellers flying in and out of DXB for the festive holidays.

Dubai Airports has advised passengers to leave extra time for journeys to and from the airport, and Emirates warned passengers to check in early and leave plenty of time to get through security.

The festive rush starts today, Thursday December 12, but Friday December 13 is set to be the busiest day. Next weekend is also going to be hectic, with thousands of passengers arriving in Dubai to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

If you’re travelling from DXB over the holidays, here are some travel hacks to make your journey smoother.

Pre-flight prep


Double check your baggage allowance before you fly. It can vary depending on the airline you're flying with and the type of fare you have booked. For instance, some promotional fares on Emirates now only allow passengers to check in 15kg of luggage, which might come as a surprise to those used to the airline’s more generous allowances.

Putting an empty water bottle in your carry on luggage is a good tip. It's allowed through security and there are lots of water stations dotted around the airport to fill it up from before you fly.

Don't wrap Christmas presents if you're taking them on a flight - airport security might open the gifts. Courtesy flickr 

If you're planning to pack Christmas presents, don't wrap them. Not only might they get muddled during the flight, airport security are allowed to open wrapped presents to check what is inside. If you need to have something ready to go when you land use a gift bag.

Tips for those on departing flights

Get out at arrivals

If the traffic to get to Departures at DXB is backed up, ask to be dropped off at arrivals instead. Once inside the airport, you can easily take the elevator to the correct level.

Check your terminal

It sounds obvious, but double-check which terminal you're flying from. Dubai International airport is huge and getting between terminals involves taking a shuttle bus or the metro. Typically, international flights go from Terminal 1, local or low-cost flights from Terminal 2 and Emirates fly from Terminal 3, but check the below guide for more information:

  • Terminal 1 — International flights (not Emirates)
    Most international flights depart from Terminal 1 including Aeroflot Russian, Air China, British Airways, Cebu  Pacific, Cathay Pacific, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Air, Gulf Air, KLM, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
    If you're not flying Emirates and your airline isn't listed below then you'll typically be flying from Terminal 1.
  • Terminal 2 — Regional flights and low-cost carriers
    Flydubai (select destinations)
    Air India Express
    Ariana Afghan Airlines
    Iraqi Airways
    Kish Air
    Pegasus Airlines
    Qeshm Air
    Royal Nepal Airlines
    Rwand Air Express
    Salam Air
    Transavia Airlines
    Travel Servis Airlines
  • Terminal 3 — Emirates hub
    Qantas (codeshare with Emirates)
    FlyDubai (select destinations)
  • Changing terminals
    If you need to change terminals, or find yourself at the wrong one — there's a free 24-hour shuttle bus between all terminals and The Dubai Metro runs between Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.


Ask staff if there are priority check-in lanes for families with young children. Courtesy Emirates 
  • It's usually best to check in online before time then head to the bag drop counters at the airport. During peak times, there's usually a line at both counters, but the bag drop queue will typically move faster than the check-in line.

  • If you're flying with young children, ask staff if there is a priority line for families.
  • Flying with Emirates? Pay for their baggage home service check-in and they'll come pick your bags up between 48 and seven hours before your flight, check you in and give you a boasting pass so you can go right to security. The service costs Dh250 for up to seven pieces of luggage.

Navigating security

  • Liquids. Prepare for security by packing liquids in your check-in luggage to speed things up when you get to security. If you do want to take liquids on board, everyone knows liquids, aerosols and gels must be in containers of less than 100ml, but did you know that the total quantity allowed per person is one litre? That's a maximum of ten 100ml bottles per person. Dubai airport does not hand out resealable plastic bags so be sure to get one before time.
  • Time savers. If you have a choice of lanes when you get to security, turn left. Research shows that most travellers automatically turn right first because the majority of the population is right-handed. Try to avoid security lines that have lots of small children in the queue. These will always be slower as parents need to navigate themselves, their children and buggies through security check points.

Avoid security line ups with small children and pushchairs if you want to save time at the airport. Courtesy Emirates 

Use smart gates — even if you don't live in the UAE

Anyone with an Emirates ID can use the smart gates, and these are typically much faster than waiting in immigration lines. Travellers from countries that are eligible for a visa on arrival in Dubai can also use the smart gate — you just need to register with an immigration officer at the airport.

At the airport: tips for when you're in the terminal

Once you're through security, there's plenty at DXB to keep you entertained. Here are a few must-dos:

  • Connect to Wi-Fi — select "DXB Free WIFI" then press "Get online now" and you have fast, unlimited free Wi-Fi.

  • Hop on the airport taxi — it's free for everyone, although priority is given to travellers that need assistance.
  • Chill in the Zen Garden — you'll find it at Terminal 3, between gates B7 and B27
  • Get a last-minute manicure — head to Express Spa in Terminal 3 or BeRelax in Terminal 1 and 3 for some last minute beauty prep or relaxation.
  • In Terminal 3, let your children blow off steam pre-flight at the family zone, near Gate B26-B32. There's a huge Bounce trampoline park, basketball court, indoor park and Candylicious sweet store. An inflatable beach ball is an ideal toy to pack in your carry-on to keep kids entertained at the airport if flights get delayed.

Tips for passengers arriving into DXB

Getting home

There are plenty of taxis allocated to arrivals at DXB ,but at peak times, taking one can often mean standing in long lines. Instead you can:

  • Hop on the metro. Even if you don't live near a metro station, you can get off a few stops later and take a taxi from there. You won't pay the taxi airport pickup fee and you'll have less of a wait. Note that the metro operates from 5am to midnight Saturday to Wednesday and 5am to midnight Thursday and Friday.
  • Book a Careem. Everyone knows about Uber, but only those living regionally will have Careem accounts, giving you a home advantage.

Pick up duty free as soon as you get off the plane and before you collect your luggage from the carousel. Courtesy DXB

If you’re planning to pick up duty free when you arrive — head to the shop as soon as you get off the plane. By the time you’ve bought what you want, your luggage should be on the carousel, and you don’t need to try to navigating the store with suitcases in tow.

Plus: ways to get in the Christmas spirit

Get in the festive spirit at DXB this holiday season. Courtesy DXB

Start the festive celebrations early by getting in the mood before you travel. As well as picking up last-minute gifts at duty-free shopping, you can catch live music and tuck into festive treats.

See live music: There will be live, festive-inspired music happening over the next two weekends to keep travellers entertained this holiday season.

Thursday, December 12 — Danny Aridi will perform from 11pm-1am. The Dubai-based Lebanese Canadian multi-award winning singer and songwriter will be playing some festive tunes in his rasping pop-centric voice.

Friday, December 13 — Pimms Brooke will play festive covers and original songs from 11pm-1am on Friday.

Thursday, December 19 and Friday, December 20 — Hollaphonic will keep travellers entertained with a dance-inspired performance, including festive sounds next weekend. Timings have not yet been released.

Festive dining

Tuck into festive turkey and cranberry burgers at Giraffe, Terminal 1. Courtesy DXB

Passengers flying with Emirates who have access to the lounge can tuck into traditional Christmas dishes like stollen cake, roast turkey and gingerbread ice cream. Many of the F&B outlets at DXB will also have festive offerings.

Jack’s Bar & Grill — for festive roast dinners

The Draft House —  Christmas dinner

Giraffe World Kitchen — Turkey and Cranberry burgers

Costa Coffee — gingerbread latte

The Daily DXB — pumpkin spiced latte

Check out the pop-up Marks and Spencer festive shop at DXB. Courtesy DXB

Marks & Spencer will also  have a pop-up festive store with a range of festive treats in Terminal 3