Have you ever been late for a flight and had to run through a terminal Home Alone-style? No? Lucky you. If you have had this experience, though, you know that few things add to travel stress more than showing up with mere minutes to spare before your plane leaves.
So how early should you arrive?
While many airlines recommend you get to the airport two hours before your flight departs (three hours for international trips), there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. How early you should show up depends on your airline’s check-in requirements, how busy your airport is, your risk tolerance, and whether there’s anything to do while you wait to board.
Here’s how to plan your airport arrival time.
Read up on your airline’s check-in policies
Airlines have check-in and baggage check cut-off times, and some have recommended times that you should arrive at your gate prior to boarding. If you check in for your flight online and only bring a carry-on bag, you can bypass these steps at the airport and arrive a little bit later. If you miss these cutoffs, however, you may end up losing your seat.
Keep in mind that cutoffs vary by airport. Here are the requirements for several major carriers:
If you’re checking in at the airport and travelling with a group (and/or a lot of bags), allow extra time.
Check security wait times
The biggest bottleneck upon arrival is likely to be security. You can kind of plan for this, though. Airport website hubs have all the information you need to know about their security procedures, including how to ensure a smooth transit. Allow ample time to clear these security checks so you don't feel rushed.
Map your route to the airport
The situation at your terminal is one thing. The traffic and possible delays on your commute are another. If you’re taking public transportation to the airport, familiarise yourself with departure schedules, route closures, and delays. If you’re driving, riding with a friend, or calling a car, map your route in advance and keep rush hour and other possible slowdowns in mind.
When I fly, I check rideshare availability frequently in the hour before I need to leave so I can request a ride early in the event that wait times start to rise.
Finally, if you’re driving yourself, make sure you leave time to park and catch a shuttle or walk to the terminal. You can find parking and shuttle information on your airport’s website.
Find a good place to hang out
If you have lounge access, you may want to arrive early just to take advantage of those perks. If you don’t, research airport amenities like Wi-Fi networks and dining options.
If your terminal has shitty internet, limited seating, minimal electrical outlines, and nowhere to get coffee, food, or booze after you get through security, you may want to arrive closer to your boarding time. You can find terminal maps on your airport’s website and plan your downtime accordingly.
In general, we don’t recommend cutting it close when you’re flying — but with a little bit of planning, you can customise your airport arrival time.