Sunday, 19 February 2012

ITTP TEFL Prague: Arriving to Prague International Airport

The vast majority of our Clients arrive into the Czech Republic through Prague International Airport (Letiste Praha Ruzyne), located 17 km North West of central Prague. 

The first thing you should be aware of is that Prague airport, unlike the busier local airport hubs of Frankfurt, Heathrow, or Paris Charles De Gaulle, is small and manageable. It isn't the finest airport in the world (because IMHO either Hong Kong, San Francisco, or Singapore Airport are), but it must be one of the best in Europe - 'best' as in one of the most passenger-friendly and easily navigable. I'm sure this was a contributing factor to Prague airport being voted the best Eastern European airport in the World Airport Awards 2008.

Prague airport houses 3 terminals:

Terminal 1 is for flights to non-Schengen countries.
Terminal 2 serves Schengen-only countries.
Terminal 3 is the posh part and operates mostly private jets.

So, if you are arriving directly from the States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or the UK, then you can expect to arrive at Terminal 1. Terminal 1 btw was the first terminal built and surprisingly isn't showing it's age that much.
If you are flying through a Schengen country into the Czech Republic, such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, then you will land at the newer Terminal 2.
If you are flying in on your private jet then Terminal 3 will be your port of call.

- What is Schengen?
Schengen is a group of countries within Europe which no longer have internal border controls (only external ones), and is essentially a travel-free zone. The Schengen agreement is so named because it was signed near the Luxembourg town of Schengen. The Czech Republic is a member of the Schengen zone and this means that there should be no border control checks on it's borders if traveling either from or to another Schengen country. However, if you are arriving from a non-Schengen country then you will be subject to the usual border control formalities. There are currently 26 Schengen countries and it is technically feasible to travel from Norway to Portugal without ever having to show your passport.

As with all arrivals the first step is the walk from the plane to the baggage carousel. At some larger airports it is becoming more and more common that you have to catch a bus from the plane to the terminal and in my opinion this sucks big time - apart from of course though the initial 'Beatles moment' which you might feel walking off a place and onto the tarmac. Luckily, Prague airport is nice and cuddly small so it is rare that you will be traveling by bus from the plane, unless you are flying with a super low cost airline.

If arriving to Terminal 1 you will need to take a 5 minute walk to firstly passport control, and then through the gates to the baggage carousel. If arriving to Terminal 2 you just go straight through to the baggage carousel and again it is about a 5 minute walk only. There are some shops on the way from the plane to the baggage carousel but I would recommend just getting directly through to the Arrivals area and avoiding any impulse buys - hey, that Kafka marionette and Charles Bridge 3D puzzle can wait.

A FAQ concerns passport control (applicable only to Terminal 1), and many of our Clients do wonder whether they will have a hard time at immigration.
If you have a passport from an English-speaking country such as the US or Australia then you will spend a max of 2 minutes at passport control while the officer works out where to place the entry stamp and if you have an officer of the opposite sex then you might even find yourself lost in a flirty moment (sorry, that sounds a bit like something Borat would say). Otherwise, there is nothing to it and usually you just walk up, you get your passport stamped, and you are through. Welcome to the Czech Republic! It's that simple. Even at peak travel times the lines for passport control are minimal and you will never wait more than 15 minutes to have your passport stamped - which is a completely different world to Terminal 1 arrivals at JFK!!! (I know, JFK is so much larger but the wait at immigration there can be horrific - hey, especially when you have kids with you).

Quick bizarre tip: If for any reason you need to sleep over at Prague airport and if you don't want to pay for an airport hotel, then my advice would be to stay in the Departures terminal and find a place to sleep at either of the front terminal ends, facing the runways. For example if your plane arrives at 11:50pm and you haven't made any solid accommodation plans for the night then it would be safer to stay put - this would only apply though if you don't have any checked baggage because once you are at the carousel you are out of the Departures area.

At this stage I would also like to point out that there are numerous toilets on both sides of the airport and they are immaculately maintained. If you need to clean up a bit after the flight then you can do so hygienically at either terminal and either in the Departures of Arrivals sections.

In both terminals once you have collected your baggage you then walk through the customs exit - through the Nothing To Declare Green section and you are immediately in the Arrivals area and officially in the Czech Republic. There is no need to delay going through to the Arrivals area. In some countries there is a very good reason to pause and prepare yourself - such as arriving at Lima airport where once you enter the Arrivals Area it feels as though you are the prize bull at a Saturday morning cattle market. Prague airport is quite the opposite.

It's also good to remember that if arriving at Terminal 2 then you won't have a Czech Republic stamp in your passport BUT your passport will have been stamped at the first country which you arrived to in the Schengen zone and the date of that stamp is the official date connected with any applicable Tourist Visa. For example, US citizens have 90 days visa-free time in the Schengen zone before either needing to leave or needing to obtain the work permit, and that 90 days is calculated from the first time you set foot in the Schengen zone.

When you come into the Arrivals area of Terminal 2 to your right are the ATM's and AAA taxi kiosk (our recommended taxi company). A taxi into the center will take approx 30-40 minutes only and should cost no more than 600 CZK including tip. At Terminal 1 Arrivals there are a couple of ATM's to the left of the main doors and the AAA taxi kiosk is immediately in front of you. If you don't have any Czech currency then use your card to withdraw from the ATM. I wouldn't necessarily recommend using the currency exchange counters here - they tend to be expensive and you get a poor rate here (both in the Arrivals and Departures sections). We recommend the ATM's of CSOB because they won't charge you a silly amount for the transaction (unlike some foreign bank ATM's which do charge a silly amount and which it appears work on the assumption that they are seen as 'safe houses' because you know them from back home).
If you choose to bus it into town and save on the taxi fare then the bus stop at both terminals is across the road from the main exit doors. For more information on bus fares please refer to an earlier ITTP blog post: Thank you.

Remember: All ITTP Onsite and Combined course Clients receive a complimentary taxi pick up!

The view as you enter the Arrivals area in Terminal 1. AAA Taxis are directly ahead. ATM machines are to the left. Public transport information and tickets are located a short walk to the right. There is also a Starbucks located a short walk to the left.
The view as you enter the Arrivals area in Terminal 2. AAA Taxis and ATM machines are located a short walk to the right. Public transport information and tickets, and a Vodafone store are located a short walk to the left. There is also a Costa Coffee located to the left.

Located in the walk through area between Terminal 1 and 2 is the affordable Billa Supermarket. Located close by is the McDonalds. Both are a 5 minute walk only from both Terminal Arrivals.

If you are hungry and absolutely can't wait to eat until you reach the center then there are numerous food options in both terminals and if you like paying 140 CZK/US$8 for a slice of pizza then you will be frothing at the mouth with excitement. If like me you feel that 140 CZK for a slice of pizza might be verging on the extortionate then my advice is to either head to the McDonalds, located between terminals (they have good coffee and addictive egg muffins), or there is a Billa grocery store close to the McDonalds and here you can buy food and drink at the proper prices (although prices at this Billa seem just a bit slightly higher than Billa stores elsewhere). Terminal 1 also houses a (small) Starbucks.

One of the first things I do when I reach a new airport is check the internet options and unfortunately at Prague international airport the options for connection are limited. Really limited. Currently it is only possible to connect through the PRG.AERO network. The good news is that the first 15 minutes are complimentary ( - however, you do only get 15 minutes free and you can't sign up for multiple 15 minute's of free usage so make sure to use your 15 minutes wisely if that's all you are counting on using. It is possible to purchase additional @ wireless credit ( but trying to work out where the payment section is, is stuff of a Colombo series. Really. Therefore, best accept that 15 minutes is all you have. McDonalds and Starbucks used to provide complimentary internet but it appears that now the only options open are the initial 15 minutes free internet and then the paid internet option (if you can work out where on the website the payment page is - hell, I couldn't and I like to see myself as being tech-savy).

Another thing to note is that Prague airport is located in a bit of a rural area and is naturally subject to the elements. This means that Winter flights can be affected by the weather so if there has been recent heavy snowfall then it isn't unknown for arriving flights to be redirected to either Munich or Berlin, with a coach ride continuing to Prague - rare but it does happen. Also, flights tend to get delayed in cases of extremes of weather. Apart from the weather though flights tend to arrive and leave on time and I have never experienced any delays leaving Prague international airport. Just make sure to buy all your souvenirs in town when leaving the country because the airport is excessively expensive.

One additional tip is when flying into Prague try and sit on the left side of the plane so you can catch the views of the city as you come in to land.

As a final note, over the years I have heard reports that pickpockets operate Prague airport. Also, that there may be scam artists claiming they need money for a flight home, etc. I have never witnessed this and I actually see the airport as being incredibly safe. To be prudent though always guard your valuables and especially watch your things when sitting for a coffee or something to eat. Once again though, I have never seen anything mildly dodgy at the airport (apart from possibly the 140 CZK Pizza slices).

Don't panic!
IF you do land feeling completely jet lagged and homesick then in the wise words of Douglas Adams, DON'T PANIC! Go to the ATM and take out 1,000 CZK to last you a bit. Go buy yourself a coffee from McDees for 22 CZK. Get yourself a bottle of beer from Billa Grocery store for 10 CZK. Buy some fruit. Focus on yourself fully. Meditate. Rest on a bench for a bit. Remind yourself that you are here on an adventure and that pretty soon you are going to be meeting a whole new bunch of friends, and also picture a beautiful city in front of you ready to explore. In a few months, a school year, or even years down the road you will find yourself feeling the same way about leaving Prague and going home. Walk to the AAA taxi stand and get your taxi. Air travel is definitely one of the wonders of the modern age and while fuel prices are still relatively affordable having a world adventure is an opportunity that no-one should miss out on and we wish each and every one of you a safe flight over to Prague.

Hope it helps!

Hezky den!/Lovely day!

Neville :-)

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