Tips and Tricks

After looking at enough terminal maps and Web sites to build the site, patterns emerge. And as I’m only one person, I can’t cover every single airport efficiently. Sometimes facilities change, terminals are razed and reconstructed, airports move, and the Web site isn’t up to date. Things happen.

Here are some general patterns to where postal facilities are placed. Note that this doesn’t cover every possible situation; it’s here to give you a rough idea in case you need to mail a letter in a place where I don’t have data and you can’t find someone to ask.

Mail Drops and Drop Boxes

Mail drops tend to be placed with an eye on making it easy for the postal employee to pick up mail. This is largely because postal employees are typically not cleared into secure zones to pick up mail. Therefore, most mail drops are pre-security.

Most people that need to drop off a letter need to do so before their flight. A lot of mail drops are on the departures level of the airport.

Finally, mail drops need to be somewhat visible and accessible. It doesn’t do a lot of good to have mail drops in strange places where there’s not a lot of traffic.

With that in mind – this is where I tend to look for mail drops:

  • The first place I check is outside by the curb of the departures level – especially for larger airports and hubs. This is the ideal placement for postal employees; they can drive up and empty the box without having to find somewhere to park and go inside the terminal.
    • If there are multiple levels, sometimes they are on the curb at the ground level. This is also true if there’s only one level serving arrivals and departures.
    • I’ve seen a few mail drops located in baggage claim and near mass transit stations – but it’s rare to see them in those locations in the absence of other mail drops.
  • The next place I check is around exterior doors. While less convenient for the postman, it’s in a more conspicuous place for travelers. Travelers will see the drop box as they’re walking into the airport and think, “Do I need to put something in the mail?” If I’m walking outside the building to check for curbside drops, I’ll keep an eye out for a drop box around exterior doors.
    • Note that some mail drops are near exterior doors, but are just inside the terminal building. This seems to be truer in colder climates, but not always.
  • If I can’t find anything on the outside of the terminal, they’re inside the terminal. In that case I work towards security checkpoints, keeping an eye out in publicly visible places:
    • Sometimes they are near banks of pay phones.
    • Sometimes they are in food courts and other shopping areas.
    • Sometimes they are near ATMs.
    • Sometimes they are near escalators, elevators, or near people-movers.
    • Mail drops are typically not near restrooms and water fountains, but they may be near them if it is a location with high foot traffic.
    • There are slightly better chances if they are near more than one of these areas. For instance, if there’s an ATM and an escalator next to payphones, there’s a better chance of a mail drop being around there than just next to an ATM.
  • I will also take a look around check-in counters. Sometimes this is impractical (like SFO), but in smaller airports they may be standalone or in the wall near a check-in counter.
  • Finally, I will check around public areas just before security checkpoints. This is the last publicly accessible location prior to clearing security, so this is the last place a postal employee can go to pick up mail and it’s generally the final opportunity for someone to realize they need to drop that letter in the mail.

Resources That Can Help

If you still can’t find a mail drop, it’s time to call in some additional resources.

  • Terminal maps: Mail drops are often placed on terminal maps. You will often have better luck looking for a terminal map online from the airport’s Web site. Many FAQs and airport services pages do not have information regarding postal facilities, or it’s so generic as to be useless (e.g. “it’s in the terminal pre-security”). Note that some maps may be frustrating to use or read depending on how you are browsing the information online and how the airport authority provides the maps.
  • Visitor information booths: If they’re manned, I’ll ask if they have a mail drop. I’ll favor kiosks and booths as the first resources to visit if I’m time constrained or if I’m in a foreign country where I’m paying an arm and a leg for internet access.
  • Airport volunteers: Some airports have volunteers in lieu of or in addition to staffed booths or kiosks.
  • Business centers: Business centers can be tricky because they can have fewer hours of operation and their services can vary greatly, but if they’re open I will stop in and ask. Note that business centers like The UPS Store and FedEx Office can be officially licensed postal providers.
  • Airport Security Staff Walking Around: They walk around a lot and make sure things are in order; they typically know where the drops are. However, they’re lower on the list because they’re trying to keep the place secure. I do not ask security scanners and at security checkpoints because (a) you’re typically past any accessible mail drop by then; and (b) this might unintentionally raise suspicion with people trained to look out for security threats.

I usually do not ask airline staff because they’re generally slammed with helping customers out and they may not know where there’s a drop. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re at the check-in counter conducting business, or if they’re not busy and you can’t find anyone else.

Also, if you’re asking a human for help – have the mail in hand before walking up to them and asking. Airport staff are asked to keep an eye out for potential suspicious activity as airports can be soft targets in a culture focused on making the airport safe and secure to transit.

Just One More Thing

Making your flight is more important than finding somewhere to drop the mail. You can always mail it from your destination, or potentially the connecting airport.

If you do find a postal facility that I don’t have on the site, let me know and I’ll put it on the site.

Last updated 17 June 2017