How Early Do You Really Need to Get to the Airport?

It’s that time again: prepping for the airport. You lug your suitcase and carry-on out from the back of the closet. It’s the same closet you’ll sloppily pull clothes from and—just as sloppily—stick into your suitcase. But, no matter the arrangement, you did it. You feel as though you have everything you need, from TSA regulated bags for your liquids to that pair of sunglasses you always manage to forget. Your ride-share is about to take off without you, but by some miracle you make it out of the house in one piece. Everything is going to plan, you get through security and to your gate, luggage and all, only to be hit in the face by reality: the gate just closed, and you missed your flight.

Now, what went wrong? And more importantly, how early should you be getting to the airport? Here are some things to consider when gauging the perfect time to leave and get to the airport.

1. Be Organized

This may sound self-explanatory, but among the chaos clutter accumulates and leaves you scattered. Most people can admit to procrastinating sometimes, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, when getting ready for a trip it can be detrimental to travel plans. Try to jump onto packing a few days before your flight, and make a list of all the important things you need:

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Luggage
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Toiletries

Once you’re packed and ready to go, you’ll have a better grip on when to arrive at the airport.

2. Domestic or International?

Typically, there’s some leeway when it comes to domestic flights, however, international flights need to be taken seriously. Airlines will often recommend that passengers show up two to four hours before an international flight, depending on the airport you’re departing from.

When flying domestic, and from a U.S. airport, showing up 45 minutes prior to departure for solo travelers works well.

Related:8 Stressors of International Travel (And How to Cope)

3. Checking Bags?

Another thing to consider is whether you plan on checking bags. If you are planning on checking a bag, familiarize yourself with your airline’s checked baggage policies, especially the cutoff time past which checked bags are no longer accepted.

Average time, prior to a flight, airlines stop accepting checked bags:

  • Domestic Flights within North America: 45 minutes prior to departure
  • International Flights from or to the U.S.: 60 minutes prior to departure

If you miss these windows, you will still be able to make your flight but will not be allowed to check any luggage.

The only time-consuming airport activities, when flying domestic, are checking in for the flight and security screening. Though, it’s commonplace that airlines allow you to check-in through their app or online 24 hours before your flight.

 For some international flights, there are additional steps that you’ll need to take.

4. Holidays are Hectic, Plan Accordingly

USA Today curated a list of the worst travel days of the year, which includes the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and a few others.

With an increase in travelers, you could run into more traffic on your way to the airport and longer lines once you arrive. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to arrive two hours early for domestic and three hours for international. This will give you plenty of time to check your bag and make it through security. Plus, a little extra time, when traveling, isn’t a bad thing; it can be instrumental to a pleasurable travel experience.

5. Extra Time?

After all that planning, you might have some extra time on your hands. If you find yourself at the airport with time to spare, nowadays there’s plenty to do for entertainment and relaxation.

Not only has free Wi-Fi and a plethora of power outlets become the norm at most airports, but there are also airports that go above and beyond. Changi Airport in Singapore has a butterfly garden, movie theater, gym, pool and more.

Many airports are stepping up their game when it comes to shopping and dining. So, check out airport websites ahead of time, and scope out amenities to kick off your trip.

Final Thoughts

The airline rule-of-thumb has been 90 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and up to four hours for some international flights. These are reasonable recommendations, but if you are familiar with an airport, can bypass the check-in counters, and are enrolled in expedited security programs like TSA PreCheck, you may be able to show up later than that.

Remember, though, that while it might not be ideal to spend more time in an airport than you need to, you should never press your luck to the point that you miss your flight.