Another question we get as often as “When should I buy my airline ticket?” is “How early should I get to the airport”? And while we would absolutely love to give travelers a simple answer to this question – like a lot of things in life – it can get a little complicated. First, an answer for the most seasoned and light travelers. You know who you are.
What should I do if I want to arrive just one hour before my flight boards?
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of time at the airport, and arrive a few minutes before boarding, here is your playbook. Travel light and use tech. We don’t suggest this plan unless you’re a fairly seasoned flyer who knows the general ins and outs of air travel. Follow these tips and you’ll shave off a whole hour from your suggested airport arrival time on domestic flights:
- Check in the night before online
- Print boarding pass at home/have it saved on your smartphone
- Skip airport parking and uber or have a friend/family member drop you off
- Skip checking baggage altogether
The less time you require at airport check-in the better. You can head straight to security if you’re traveling with a carry-on only. Pro tip: Don’t try to game the system. If you’re flying without a checked bag, make sure your carry-on meets the size requirements for your airline. Otherwise, they’ll simply take it from you at the gate and charge you for it anyway.
What should I do if I want to arrive with a little time to relax at the airport?
There’s no shame in arriving at the airport a bit early. Many of us like a little time to grab a few snacks or do a crossword puzzle before boarding. If your aim isn’t to breeze straight onto your flight, 90 minutes before the flight boards is probably going to be your sweet spot. 90 minutes will allow you to park onsite at most airports in the U.S., drop a bag at a self-service bag drop kiosk, and clear security – no problem.
You’ll still want to avoid the full service check-in counter, where passengers who need extra help can often hold up the line. And these days, airports are still ramping up their staff. Follow these tips and you’ll have a few minutes to relax before you board:
- Check in the night before online;
- Print boarding pass at home/have it saved on your smartphone;
- Park at onsite airport parking and take a shuttle to your terminal;
- Drop checked bags at a self-service kiosk
When should I get to the airport if I have special circumstances or I get anxious about flying/being late?
If you tend to get a little anxious about being late or a lot anxious when traveling, you should definitely plan to get to the airport with a big cushion of time – let’s say 2 hours to be safe – before your flight boards. There are a few circumstances that might also push you into being an early bird. If you fall into any of these categories, you should probably get to the airport early:
- Traveling with small children and/or have car seats or other baby gear to check;
- Flying with pets;
- Have a disability or are traveling with someone who has a disability that requires extra assistance;
- Have extra bags, overweight bags, or special baggage (sports equipment) that require assistance;
- Anticipate some issue with your assigned seats that requires check-in assistance;
- Have stolen or lost identification;
- Are an unaccompanied minor
If any of these circumstances sound like you (or if you just don’t like feeling rushed in any way), plan to allow a good 2 hours to allow for any extra time you might need to spend at check-in. Of course, these recommendations are for domestic flights only and you should plan to allow at least 2 hours for arrival for any international flight at a minimum.
You should also plan to allow extra time over any busy holiday weekend, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, and during the busy summer months. If you travel to a destination for a big event like a concert or festival, you should also allow extra time to get to the airport when you’re returning home.