Stuttgart Airport (STR), Germany

by | Nov 15, 2023 | Aviation, Transportation | 0 comments

In mid-September 2023 I made a trip to Tübingen near Stuttgart, Germany. I had two options to get there, by plane or by train. As Deutsche Bahn (national railway company of Germany) is famous for its unreliability I decided to take an Austrian Airlines flight to Stuttgart. The flight took about one hour.

Location

Stuttgart Airport is about 12 km or 6.5 nm south of Stuttgart. As I was heading to Tübingen I didn’t really take much of an interest in how the Airport is connected to the city. However, I can tell you that you can get there by suburban trains (S-Bahn) or a light rail system (follow the U signs in the Airport) and both run frequently.

Arrival

When getting to Stuttgart Airport my first thought was, wow, this Airport is well designed. I arrived via jet bridge, took a right turn at the end, then a left turn, went down the escalators and arrived at the baggage claim. That took about 60 seconds.

Exit sign when leaving the jetbridge at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Two signs showing the direction to baggage claim and connecting flights at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Four signs showing the direction to baggage claim, the transfer counter and to various gates at Stuttgart Airport (STR).

In the baggage claim area I had to wait for about 4 minutes which was a relief because the downside on not having the possibility of getting lost is, there is not much to see. Once I got my bag, I went outside the baggage claim area through the door right next to the baggage carousel. I could’ve left the airport building by taking the exit in front of me, but I was looking for the S-Bahn station.

Baggage carousel number 11 at Stuttgart Airport (STR) with a display showing the estimated waiting time.
Terminal exit with signs for points of interest at Stuttgart Airport (STR).

After exiting baggage claim take a left and a few seconds later you will find the escalators down to the S-Bahn station on your right-hand side. So, let’s do some math, 1 + 4 + 1 = 6 minutes from leaving the plane till I was standing on the platform waiting for my S-Bahn to get me on my way. Not bad Stuttgart, good job!

S-Bahn station entrance at Stuttgart Airport (STR) with escalators.
S-Bahn station mid level at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
S-Bahn station at Stuttgart Airport (STR).

Challenges Chapter 1 or chek-in experience

But sadly, the departure experience was just the opposite. Let’s begin at the platform of the S-Bahn station. I followed the sign to get to the airport, then another sign told me to go back in the direction I just came. After some confusion I figured out what they wanted me to do. The idea of the people who put up those signs was that I should take the elevator. Well ok, there are of course different approaches on signage, one would be to show the nearest possible option to get where you want to or the other would be to differ between elevators and escalators or stairs. I am used to the latter because it is more efficient to handle big crowds and therefore kind of a standard, so that is why I got confused. Once I was in the elevator I was back on track. In the airport you must get up another level to reach the huge check-in hall. As in any other airport there is a departure board showing your designated check-in counter.

Escalator to the departure level at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Departure board at Stuttgart Airport (STR) showing all departing flights in the next couple of hours. Just below is a screen for the waiting time at the security checkpoint.

So let me tell you how check-in works in Stuttgart, I was departing from terminal 2, however I had to go to a check-in counter in terminal 3. The departure board told me to go to check-in counter 304-309, the app of Austrian Airlines told me to go to 313-319. Not sure whom to trust, I checked out the bag tag machine first. Well ok, there were different airlines on the display than on the sign behind the machine so probably not a good idea to use it. Exhausted all my non-human options I now tried to find the check-in counter named in my app. What I found first was a major design flaw, bright numbers on a bright background. Because of that it didn’t even matter that the font wasn’t as large as it should be. I had to use my smartphone camera to check for the numbers I was looking for. As the only open check-in counter had a Condor sign on the display, I can say that the app of Austrian Airlines had outdated and wrong information.

Wrong bag drop off location in the Austrian Airlines app for Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Baggage tag machine at Stuttgart Airport (STR) and some airlines like Lufthansa are provisionally concealed on the sign but not on the machine.
Check-in counter 310-319 at Stuttgart Airport (STR). Some are open for Condor.

The departure board had the correct numbers, so check-in for the Lufthansa Group was available at 304 to 309. There is one thing I want to mention which made my life really easy, they posted a huge economy sign at the entrance of the economy queue. I would love to have that on every airport, because without a proper sign I always have to take photos of the all the check-in counter screens, find my designated counter and then start looking for the entrance to the right queue. Check-in was smooth, I had the impression that the check-in agent was happy to see a non-German person for a change because Germans complain a lot and then always threaten to call their lawyer.

Small departure board and sign for the direction to check-in counter 300-309 at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Check-in counter 310-319 at Stuttgart Airport (STR) with huge signs for Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss economy class in front of it.

What else is going on at Stuttgart Airport? Well not much, there are a lot of travel agencies, shops and a Mc Donalds with not many seats. Before you are heading through security don’t forget that Germany has a nationwide deposit system for bottles, if you still have some you can return them at the Edeka store downstairs at the arrival level. Just go to the machine in the back of the store, hand over your bottles, push the button and then you will get a voucher which you can use to by some snacks. If you are ready to go airside head to the security checkpoints behind the check-in desks at the departure level. There is no fast-track/priority lane at Stuttgart right now because it is used for a rather absurd new system where you can book a 15-minute slot weeks in advance. So, if you see a handful of people waiting in front of the checkpoint, they are waiting for their slot and the other people you can’t see are stuck in traffic or miss their slot thanks to Deutsche Bahn. Those who miss the slot have to use the regular security check like everybody else. My security check was a bit weird because they changed shifts while I was standing in the body scanner and then they found out that there weren’t enough staff to man every station. After five minutes of general confusion, I was able to continue through an also very weird narrow corridor but luckily ended up in the departure zone.

Corridor at Stuttgart Airport (STR) with shops along the way.

Challenges Chapter 2 or airside experience

If you have some time to kill because your flight is delayed like mine. Try to find your gate in the meantime. As I noticed people asking staff and police where they can find their gate and I had some trouble myself, I really have to say, the signage of the gates is not good. Let me start with the signs you find after security and throughout the terminal to point you in a direction. I don’t know why but this is a common thing in Germany, they have standardized sizes of signs and font. You can see that a lot in German train stations, it doesn’t matter if the station has a 4-letter name or 24-letter name, the sign of the station on the platform has always the same size and font. The result you get is that the information on the sign looks misplaced (not centered) and rather small. If you don’t now what I mean look at the picture below, there is so much unused space on the sign they could have used a bigger font to fill all the space available. If you follow the directions on the sign, you probably miss your gate end up at a sign without your gate number on it. This is because the gates are not very noticeable. You can find your gate number only on a piece of paper next to the door of the gate. There are two big screens at the gate, please use one of them for the gate number and put that paper sign in the corridor (floor or ceiling) so you have two options to find your gate. What I like about the airside zone are the shops. Stuttgart has a really a good mix of everything you might need. However, the airport was very crowded, at least in the old part of the building. It is only one building but they refer to them as Terminal 1-4, one Schengen and non-Schengen area in the older part of the building and one Schengen and non-Schengen area in the newer part of the building.

Two small signs with good contrast showing the direction to your gate and a departure board, airside at Stuttgart Airport (STR).
Gate with automatic boarding system at Stuttgart Airport (STR).

Verdict

This airport is perfect for my first airport review because Stuttgart Airport (STR) is a bit of a night and day experience. The arrival was great, it was as simple as it can get but the departure experience needs improvement. The most important things are, the numbers above the check-in desks must be rich in contrast, the font on the signs in the airside zone could be larger to use all the space available and most importantly the numbering of the gates must be more visible. These are not overly complicated requests, but they make a big difference.

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