Would arriving at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight be too early? I would say no, that’s not too early. The old saying “better early than late” would perhaps only apply to my own philosophy, however.
But what is too early for you?
Do you dread dragging your feet around a seemingly endless airport terminal for a long amount of time?
Well, if you do, then welcome to life at the airport!
What airlines recommend
Each airline may differ in what they recommend for arrival time. Most airlines recommend you arrive at the airport at least one hour before your domestic flight departure time. If you are checking in luggage, then the airlines recommend 90 minutes prior to your scheduled flight.
If you are flying out on an international flight you should give yourself two hours. This is because of the necessity to stand in line at the check-in counter first. Not just to check in your baggage, but also for a passport check and issuance of your international boarding pass.
How early is early?
It depends on the airport and the check-in lines. In order to figure your best time to be at the airport for a given flight you should evaluate things such as:
- Is this a major airport, or a smaller one?
- What are the airport traffic and crowds currently like?
- Will you be arriving at the airport during rush hour traffic on the road? How much time extra should you allow for a traffic pileup or an incident snafu driving to the airport?
- Remember, “rush hour” going to an airport applies to your drive on the roads as well as times a day when “rush hour” happens at the airport! Rush hour at airports happens when “banks” of flights are scheduled to all leave around the same time-frame. An example of this would be at Newark Airport (New York) during the early evening hours when “banks” of airplanes are all scheduled to leave for Europe at that time.
- Are you checking bags?
- Do you need to go to the ticket counter, or are you only bringing a carry-on?
- Are the TSA lines long?
- Have you checked to see if your flight is still scheduled to leave on time before you depart from home?
How do I plan my time to get to my flight on time?
Just apply common sense and considerations for what’s discussed above, Simply consider what could potentially slow down getting to the airport. Then figure how much time you need to get to the gate.
What do the airlines’ recommended arrival times at the airport really mean?
The airlines’ airport arrival recommendations are basically an average safe time to arrive to ensure you don’t miss your flight.
The bottom line: It’s up to you to get to your flight on time.
A couple of handy planning tricks
You may want to check things that could help you determine a good airport arrival time:
- Use your cellphone’s Google Maps with road traffic status (color-coded and accident indicators) for the current traffic and driving time. Remember, traffic is always dynamic, and things can change in a heartbeat. But at least it serves as a good estimate for the time you need to set aside for your drive, barring unexpected delays en route.
- If you are driving your own car did you preplan where to park at the airport? Nothing is more frustrating trying to figure a place to park after you get to the airport. On the subject of driving, you may consider catching an Uber, Lyft, or private airport shuttle service to the airport. That would eliminate time lost on parking.
- Know what your current estimated time is to get through security. Use an app, such as the MyTSA app to get an idea of the current processing line and times to get through security. When I fly, not as a pilot, but as a passenger, I cannot go through the usual flight crew security checkpoint. As a passenger, I become just like any other passenger. Therefore, I would strongly recommend an app, such as the MyTSA app that I use myself. to make your planning to get through the TSA inconvenience a lot more convenient.
The airport-life of someone who flies for a living
By the way, for those of you who want to become pilots or flight attendants:
As an airline crew, you would be spending a considerable amount of your life inside airport terminals.
For those of you who are very frequent flyers, perhaps for business, I know how you must feel too.
The other parts of your life would mostly be spent on the airplane and in a hotel room for a few hours. Then you get to go back to the terminal for another day of the same routine before you proceed to somewhere else in the world for yet another night.