Minneapolis / St. Paul - MSP

The historic bridge from the northern tier to East Asia.

The connection between the Twin Cities and East Asia goes back to the late 1800s and the days of the railroad barons. When local “Empire Builder” James J. Hill completed his Great Northern and Northern Pacific lines from Minnesota to Seattle, his trans-Pacific steamship line was waiting to provide continuous service to Yokohama and the ports of Cathay.

Northwest Airlines - headquartered here - pioneered the “Great Circle Route” from America through Canada and Alaska to Asia during World War II, and pioneered airline service along that corridor after the war. Minnesotan companies like 3M, Cargill, General Mills, and Target built import and export business with Asia; the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic attracted students and clients from across the Pacific; and a steady stream of immigration and overseas adoption has made the Twin Cities into a surprising multicultural home.

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The Minneapolis-Tokyo route is still flown daily by Northwest’s successor Delta Airlines; the terminus was switched from Narita Airport to the more-conveniently located Haneda Airport, making this flight excellent for family travel to Japan. Delta management says they intend to add additional nonstops from MSP to Asia later this decade (likely with new Airbus A350 widebodies.)

MSP is Delta’s 3rd-biggest hub, so same-afternoon connections from the inbound Tokyo flight can be made to every large city in the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast, plus almost every mid-sized community in the North Central states.

Customs Arrival

Even though MSP's Terminal 1 is a very busy facility, when the Tokyo flight arrives there are usually no other international operations being processed by Customs. As a result, passport checks go quickly; expect a 5-15 minute line.

Baggage claim at MSP used to be dreadfully long, but Delta has made steady improvements - domestic luggage is usually coming onto the carrousel by the time you’ve made it off the airplane and down to baggage claim. International passengers should expect to see their bags rolling up about 10 minutes after clearing passport control.

If you have nothing to declare, you may proceed directly to the exit area. If you’re connecting to another Delta flight, check your bags at the Delta counter and then go through security screening. You’ll exit directly back onto Concourse G - the same level you arrived on.

If you’re using another airline, taking ground transport or being picked up, skip the security check and head downstairs to the exit on the domestic baggage claim level.

Navigating the Airport

MSP uses two terminals, spaced several miles apart. Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) is much larger and the home of all Delta and SkyTeam flights, plus United, American, Spirit, Alaska, and Frontier. Terminal 2 (Humphrey) is the home of low-cost carriers Southwest and Sun Country. There is a free subway link between the terminals which is accessed via the parking complexes at each building. As most Asian trips through here will be on Delta, that’s where we focus this article.

Terminal 1 is H-shaped, with four main piers extending from the central ticketing / shopping / baggage claim complex. The longer concourses (A, B, C, and G) are equipped with moving sidewalks, and there is also a tram running between the A - C - D gate areas.

Delta uses the A, B, C, and D gates mostly for regional aircraft and shorter-haul routes. The F and G gates see larger aircraft and longer-haul routes.  Gates G1 - G10 can serve international flights; the Tokyo run usually departs from G4.

The G-concourse was renovated in 2012-2013 to feature thoughtful, family-friendly improvements such as wider seats, easy access to power outlets, and even iPads free to use for games and ordering food (which is delivered to where you are sitting!)

All other Terminal 1 carriers are located on Concourse E. Regional propeller-aircraft flights dock at the end of Concourse B.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

In the middle of Concourse C you’ll find a large active play area, where kids can climb, slide, and explore a two-level jetliner.

Also near the play area (by gate C22) you’ll find a private nursing-mothers room. And there’s a vending machine for diaper-bag basics next to the play area, too!

MSP has sported video-game and pinball arcades since the 1970s and there are three of them operating today - look by gates G7, C1, and F7.

There's a small, free movie theater that runs short films near Gate C13, and along the moving sidewalk between gates C7 and C4 there is an art gallery with frequently-changed exhibitions.

The Republic bar at the entrance to the D concourse has partnered with St. Paul's McNally-Smith College of Music to create a live-music venue that will showcase work by students, faculty, and friends from the Twin Cities' music community. 

Most local travelers don't know about the open-air “Quiet Seating Area” in the central complex upstairs on the Mezzanine level; a perfect place to close your eyes and get away from crowds between flights. Look for the sign by the entrance to Concourses F.

Another great place to find some peace is off Concourse D, up three flights of stairs to the Observation Deck. You’ll have a panoramic view of the eastern half of the airport and Downtown Minneapolis. There are extra seats here and usually very few travelers. If your kids are a little bit older or fascinated by airplanes, head here between flights.

Restrooms

There are five Family facilities in the secure side of Terminal 1 (near gates A6, B11, C16, at the entrance to Concourse E, and F11.)  Restrooms throughout Terminal 1 are being progressively remodeled to give more light and less crowding - these upgraded facilities each feature unique and cheerful mosaic artwork at their entrances. Brightly lit and with plenty of room to maneuver around in a heavy coat or with a stroller, these could be some of the best airport restrooms in the country!

Stalls are both wider than the ones they replaced and *deeper* which means you can get your roll-aboard suitcase in there with you ... or a stroller... and still have room to take care of business without smashing your knees. They've also added hooks and small shelves inside the stalls to help you keep your gear off the floor. Each of these upgraded restrooms has a changing table, and usually one even-larger stall for wheelchairs or family needs, where it's actually walled-off, not just partitioned-off, for extra privacy.

Food and Shopping

The many choices for eating and shopping at MSP, and their convenience, are award-winning. The “Northstar Crossing” central terminal area (being progressively re-built in 2017) houses dozens of stores, sit-down restaurants, and fast food and coffee counters. Ample seating at the central food court looks over the E and F concourses. Each concourse also has its own options, with mini-food courts in the A1, C12, F5, G-entrance, and G20 neighborhoods. You may never even need to venture into Northstar Crossing to find a great meal...

You walk through this market to get to the main International gates in Terminal 1.

You walk through this market to get to the main International gates in Terminal 1.

The open-air market area at the entrance to the G-gates is a particular favorite for families because of its many healthy food options, buffet-style stations, and a self-serve frozen yogurt bar!

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is now free at MSP for the first 30 minutes.

MSP is located on the light-rail “Blue Line”, taking you to Downtown Minneapolis (northbound, 30 minutes) and the Mall of America (southbound, 15 minutes.)

Also see:

Our family-travel guide to St. Paul's emerging "Little Mekong" district

Our Pinterest board for Minneapolis/St. Paul

Our Pinterest board on Northwest Airlines