Navigating Airports


This is a listing of the standard pictograms designed by the AIGA and DOT for use in wayfinding in a transportation setting. Some of the pictograms have counterparts in other parts of the world that are variations on the same idea.

Telephone Telephone

The handset was a very common design at the time that this pictogram was created. The handsets have changed drastically over the intervening years, however this is still a very recognizable form for a telephone.

Mail Mail

An envelope is symbolic of the mail. The folds on the back side of an envelope are a very recognizable icon that translates well to many people.

Currency Exchange Currency Exchange

These signs direct the traveler to a location where they are able to exchange their local money for the money of the destination location.

Cashier Cashier

This sign could also designate a banking facility.

First Aid First Aid

Medical help is available here. The green color is internationally recognized for first aid.

Lost and Found Lost and Found

This designates the area to both take items that you have found and to look for items that were lost.

Coat Check Coat Check

This would seem to be an unusual sign to have at an airport.

Baggage Lockers Baggage Lockers

Locates the area that is provided for storage of baggage, typically for a small fee.

Escalator Escalator

Generically identifies an escalator. Neither up or down is shown.

Escalator Down Escalator Down

Shows an escalator with the direction of travel. In this case, the escalator will take the person down a level.

Escalator Up Escalator Up

An escalator traveling up from one floor to another is shown.

Stairs Stairs

Indicates a stairway without restricting the direction of travel on the stairway.

Stairs Down Stairs Down

A stairway that only provides downward travel is at this location.

Stairs Up Stairs Up

The stairway at this sign brings the traveler up to another level.

Elevator Elevator

The elevator also moves travelers between levels in the airport. The up and down arrows depict the fact that travel in both directions are possible in the elevator and show motion.

Toilets, Men Toilets, Men

The stick figure of the man has been learned to be associated with a men's restroom in the context of an airport. This same sign located next to an outdoor path will inform the user that it is intended as a walking path.

Toilets, Women Toilets,Women

The female stick figure that has been associated with a women's restroom may not be as quickly interpreted. The western dress of the symbol is not as universally read as a women's skirt.

Toilets Toilets

This sign is used to designate an area where toilets for both sexes are available. It can also be found on or near the door to an unisex restroom.

Nursery Nursery

This sign is labeled as nursery. It may also be interpreted based on context as changing tables. There are alternate changing table signs seen in other venues and countries.

UK Baby Change
Drinking Fountain Drinking Fountain

This sign is not only informative of the location of drinking water, but somewhat instructional in the use of the drinking fountain.

Waiting Room Waiting Room

The seated figure with a clock on the wall characterizes a waiting area.

Information Information

The question mark is symbolic of a place where a traveler can get their questions answered.

Hotel Information Hotel Information

The information sign combined with a figure sleeping on a bed provides a specialized theme to the answers, hotel information.

Air Transportation Air Transportation

A generic airplane outline used more often to show directions to the airport rather than for wayfinding inside the airport.

Heliport Heliport

Used to locate a helicopter landing area. This could be found either inside an airport or elsewhere directing to a dedicated heliport facility.

Taxi Taxi

This symbol is often found grouped with other ground transportation symbols. When standing by itself, it designates the actual taxi cab loading area.

Bus Bus

Like the taxi symbol, this is part of the ground transportation grouping. It is used for both the city bus loading area and the specialized shuttles, such as hotels and off-site parking.

Ground Transportation Ground Transportation

This is a combination of the bus and taxi symbols that is used to show the direction to the ground transportation options.

Rail Transportation Rail Transportation

Train transportation including light rail and subways are indicated by this symbol sign.

Water Transportation Water Transportation

The water transportation symbol is used often to indicate ferry transportation. It is also used on roadways to indicate the direction to cruise ships.

Car Rental Car Rental

This key and car symbol indicates that the user will have the key to the car, in other words a car rental. It is frequently side-by-side with the other ground transportation symbols.

Restaurant Restaurant

The fork and knife are representative of a more formal dining experience as opposed to the fast food eateries. Some franchises have been able to incorporate their logo into the wayfinding signage in place of the restaurant or coffee shop pictograms. McDonald's is an example. The McDonald's logo itself has become a wordless symbol.

UK Baby Change
Coffee Shop Coffee Shop

Like the restaurant pictogram, the coffee ship image is beginning to be replaced at some airports by corporate logos. The more generic cup is still more easily interpreted.

Copyright restrictions prevent an example here.

Bar Bar

The martini glass with olive is indicative of a location that has alcoholic beverages for sale. It may be combined with a restaurant or coffee shop pictogram, if food is also available.

Shops Shops

This small assortment of the types of items available directs the traveler to the gift and sundries shops.

Barber Shop / Beauty Salon Barber Shop / Beauty Salon

This is the non-gender specific place to get a haircut or style.

Barber Shop Barber Shop

The shears and comb indicate the tools of the trade. Joined to the symbol is the male figure denoting the barber shop versus a beauty shop.

Beauty Salon Beauty Salon

Adding the female stick figure to the generic sign signifies a beauty salon.

Ticket Purchase Ticket Purchase

The AIGA/DOT pictogram incorporates a person standing at a counter offering a ticket to a traveler on the near side of the counter. Other countries have only used the ticket itself or variations on this pictogram.

Baggage Check-in Baggage Check-in

This pictogram depicting a piece of luggage is used as both baggage check-in and baggage claim. The context or environment surrounding the pictogram helps to provide the appropriate meaning. When this pictogram is found in the ticketing area, the meaning is check-in. Some variations on the pictogram are used in other countries to attempt to overcome the need for the image to be taken in context.

Baggage Claim Baggage Claim

This pictogram depicting a piece of luggage is used as both baggage claim and baggage check-in. The context or environment surrounding the pictogram helps to provide the appropriate meaning. This sign shown facing the inbound travelers deplaning at the airport conveys the meaning of baggage claim. Some variations on the pictogram are used in other countries to attempt to overcome the need for the image to be taken in context.

German Baggage Claim
Customs Customs

An official looking through an open suitcase is descriptive of the process of going through customs.

Immigration Immigration

This passport check differentiates the immigration process from the customs process. Immigration deals with the people, customs with the items they carry into the country.

Departing Flights Departing Flights

This is the same pictogram used to identify air transportation turned 45°. Other countries have adopted pictograms that show the plane nose up and taking off.

German departing plane
Arriving Flights Arriving Flights

The passenger hailing a ride with their luggage may be a little too far past the arrival process to have the appropriate meaning. On the other hand, the arriving plane used at other airports may be a little too much nose down for comfort.

German arriving plane
Smoking Smoking

This pictogram is becoming very rare in public places in the United States.

No Smoking No Smoking

The No Smoking pictogram incorporates the circle and slash of the international signs. The circle and slash indicate prohibition. The combination of the smoking symbol with the circle slash becomes quickly recognizable as no smoking.

Parking Parking

Use of the first letter of the word Parking as a pictogram is very recognizable for English speakers. Does this one really translate well internationally? It seems to translate in many languages that use the same alphabet into a word that starts with P.

No Parking No Parking

Again, the combination of the prohibition with the permitted results in a No Parking symbol.

No Dogs No Dogs

A very generic looking dog is used with the circle and slash to prohibit dogs.

No Entry No Entry

The color red is also associated with a prohibition or stop. The red circle with the horizontal bar is a recognized symbol for denied entry.

Exit Exit

Conversely to the color red, green is used for permitted actions. In this case a vertical line or path leading to an exit.

Fire Extinguisher Fire Extinguisher

The realistic look to the fire extinguisher along with the color red combine to locate the equipment needed to fight a fire.

Litter Disposal Litter Disposal

Showing what should be occurring, a person putting trash into a container.

Right Arrow Right Arrow

One of the set of arrows is usually paired with another pictogram to show the direction of travel. The right arrow directs the traveler to their right when facing the sign.

Forward and Right Arrow Forward and Right Arrow

This arrow refers to a forward movement combined with concurrent travel to the right.

Up Arrow Up Arrow

The forward travel is denoted by an up arrow. It can also refer to movement up a stair, escalator, or elevator to reach the desired location.

Forward and Left Arrow Forward and Left Arrow

This is the matching arrow to the forward and right arrow showing the left-hand move.

Left Arrow Left Arrow

The service is to the left as the traveler faces this sign.

Left and Down Arrow Left and Down Arrow

The down arrow has a very similar meaning to that of the up arrow. That is, proceed straight ahead. This is commonly used on overhead signs and says "go ahead and to the left"

Down Arrow Down Arrow

The down arrow, as well as signifying down for level changing actions, is interpreted as proceed ahead.

Right and Down Arrow Right and Down Arrow

Like the left and down arrow, this is proceed to the right and ahead.

© 2008 Alan Wyman, White Bear Township, Minnesota, USA
Page last updated: 2008-05-06 5:57