How early should I get to the airport? It’s a question you might find yourself wondering before a trip!
“How early should I get to the airport?” – It’s an age-old question that has troubled travelers ever since airports and planes existed.
If you’ve found yourself wondering “how early should I get to the airport?” you’re probably stuck between wanting to be sensible (leaving yourself plenty of time) but also wanting to be efficient (without wasting too much time in duty-free).
But the answer to how early should you get to the airport can vary. It all depends on a few different factors!
If you’re asking “how early should I get to the airport?” we want to make the answers super clear for you. But you need to understand, this is one question that has many answers – and it very much depends on who you are, where you’re traveling to, and what you’re taking with you.
So let’s try and answer the question ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ from different perspectives.
In general – how early should I get to the airport?
When asking ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ – Between 2 and 3 hours is the standard response you’ll receive from most airlines and airports.
If your flight is an international or long haul flight, we would lean towards 3 hours. If your flight is domestic or short-haul, the answer to ‘how early should you get to the airport?’ might be more like 2 hours.
But it may vary slightly depending on your circumstances… Which we will elaborate more on below.
How early should I get to the airport with checked bags?
So, how early should you get to the airport with checked bags? Because ensuring your bags arrive at your destination with you, is super important!
As a general rule, if you’ve got checked bags (that are going in the plane’s hold – not the cabin), it’s recommended to travel to the airport about 3 hours before your flight.
This is so you can comfortably have time to check your bags (which usually requires some queuing) and also clear customs and security.
This will apply to both domestic and international flights. Allowing for 3 hours, will give yourself plenty of time ‘on the other side’ to grab a refreshment, ensure your bag gets on the flight, and not rush through to the gate.
However – if you’re flying during school vacations, or peak travel times, some airlines may even recommend arriving 3.5 hours early, so be aware of this. These times may mean longer queues, longer wait times, busier gates, etc.
If your flight is during peak business time, when queues are expected to be especially long, you may need to account for that by showing up a little earlier than planned.
Is there any exception to the 3 hour rule when you have checked bags?
How early should I get to the airport if my situation varies slightly….?
What are the exceptions to the 3 hour rules?
Realistically – you can probably get away with arriving 2 hours earlier – if you know the airport is quiet and the queues aren’t too bad.
Or, similarly, if you have a fast pass for security lines or bag check lines, you may be able to spare yourself an hour or so, and arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight, instead of 3.
Another exception to the rule, is if you’re traveling in Business or First Class, and you know you’ll have a separate check-in queue and separate customs queue. This is only the case at some airports, but where it is possible to fast-pass yourself through customs as a Business or First customer, it can save you valuable time.
So with that in mind, you might not necessarily need to arrive 3 hours before, you may be able to arrive 2 or 2.5 hours before.
But always remember to check the guidelines!
The question ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ – is usually in relation to checking your bags before a flight. And airlines will not only recommend 3 hours because of queuing and clearing customs.
They will also have a ‘bags must be checked by XX’ rule. If an airline needs all bags to be checked in 2 hours before a flight, you will have no choice but to arrive at least 2 hours before – to guarantee your bag gets onto the flight.
So always read the fine print.
How early should I get to the airport if I have extra paperwork?
If your travel destination is an international destination, and you have extra paperwork to confirm your travel status (which may be the case in the current climate with vaccine or testing mandates in some destinations) you will likely want to aim to arrive about 3 hours before your flight.
Maybe 3.5 hours before if you’re being extra cautious, or unsure about anything.
To save yourself time and stress, always have paperwork, vaccine status, or test results completed before the morning of your flight. So you’re not rushed to complete anything at the airport itself.
How early should I get to the airport if I’m flying with no checked luggage?
How early should I get to the airport if there’s no luggage involved? It’s a good question, and it does change the answer!
If you’re asking ‘how early should I get to the airport without check bags?’ you’re perhaps looking to save yourself some time.
But the main thing to remember, if you’ve got no checked bags, is that you’ll want to ensure you can get through the airport before your gate closes, not before your flight leaves. There’s a difference!
Your airline will stop boarding passengers after a certain time. The cut-off deadline isn’t the time your flight leaves, it is actually the time the boarding gate closes. This might be 30 minutes prior to actual take-off.
Also remember, when asking ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ – airports involve lots of queuing and waiting, and (often) in larger airports, lots of walking too.
So rocking up an hour before your flight might seem like you’re saving yourself time, but it might not feel so smart once you see the huge queues at customs or the 20-minute walk from customs to the flight gate. How early should you get to the airport…? The key is to avoid stressful situations like this!
It’s hard to predict these things, so even when traveling with no checked bags (hand luggage only) we’d still recommend arriving at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight leaves.
What can I do to save myself time at the airport?
So by now, hopefully you know the answer to “how early should you get to the airport?”.
But the thing is, if you’re really set on arriving as close to take-off as possible, and the reason you’re asking ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ is because you want to arrive as late as possible, then the next section of time-saving techniques might help.
Tip 1: Check-in for your flight online, print you boarding pass at home, and pre-select your seats. This saves you a lot of time and queuing when you first arrive. When it comes to how early should you get to the airport, the more paperwork you’ve completed the more time you can save.
Tip 2: Purchase a fast-pass for customs and security. Not all airports offer this, but for those who do, it can save you so much time in those lengthy security queues! If you’re flying in peak hours, this is a great way to whizz past the long lines.
Tip 3: Make security checks easy on yourself! Follow the rules, don’t forget to leave your laptop in your bag, or take your watch off, for example. Read up on what’s expected when you go through security, and have everything prepped and ready to go.
Tip 4: Wear comfortable shoes! When it comes to walking through the airport towards your gate, having a pair of comfortable shoes on your feet can make all the difference and save you up to 10-15 minutes.
Tip 5: Pick valet parking at the airport. If you want to literally pull up at the airport and walk straight into check-in and security – valet parking is a great way to guarantee you don’t waste any precious time walking miles between your car and the terminal. When asking ‘how early should I get to the airport?’ – a lot of people forget about the time it takes to walk from the car to the terminal!
Tip 6: Choose a good flight time. Airports have busy times and quieter times. In general, very early flights (4am – 6am) will likely avoid crowds and queues. And it’s the same for very late evening flights (anything after 9pm). Busy times tend to be 7am – 11am and 3pm – 7pm.
We hope this has helped answer your question ‘how early should I get to the airport?’
Read more: How to avoid boredom whilst flying long haul