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How Early Should I Get to the Airport in 2023? Domestic and International Flights

How Early Should I Get to the Airport in 2023? Domestic and International Flights

Amy Lancelotte
Written By Amy Lancelotte
10 minutes read
Last Updated:

It’s every traveler’s nightmare to arrive late to the airport and miss their flight. Imagine you’ve finally planned your dream holiday or a business trip, and suddenly you realise you don't know how early you should get to the airport to catch your flight!

Besides external factors, such as traffic on the way to the airport, it’s important to keep in mind that thousands of people arrive and depart from airports every day. It's better to plan way in advance and check the exact time you need to arrive at the airport so you’re not rushed and have plenty of time to make the flight.

Missing your flight is an awful experience to go through since it can easily ruin your entire schedule and your flight itinerary. To help you avoid it, we’re going to get to the bottom of how to determine how long before your flight you should be at the airport.

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Airport Arrival Time Influencing Factors

Estimating the perfect time to leave for the airport can be quite challenging. It's hard to tell how long the check-in queue will be or how long it will take you to go through airport security. Here are some things to take into account:

  • How far is your home/hotel from the airport?
  • Are you driving or taking public transport?
  • Will you be checking any luggage?
  • Are you traveling with anyone who requires assistance?
  • How big is the airport? How far will you have to walk?
  • Is it the busy travel season? Think Christmas, school holidays, etc.

Checking in online ahead of time is always a good idea to save time and make sure you allow enough time to cover missed transit connections, navigating the airport, unforeseen traffic, and checking your bags.

How Far in Advance Should I Get to the Airport for Domestic Flights?

As a general rule, you should arrive at the airport no less than an hour before a domestic flight. Ninety minutes to two hours is a safer bet, and most airports, such as London Heathrow and London Gatwick, recommend that you get to the airport two hours before a domestic or European flight. 

Arriving at the airport at the upper end of the range (two hours in the case of domestic flights) will typically mean the lines are shorter for check-in resulting in a much more pleasant experience.

On average, the two hours are needed to queue for bag drop or check-in (20 to 30 minutes), get through security (30 minutes), and get to your gate (10 to 20 minutes). That leaves you a little over half an hour sitting at the gate, ready to board. Most flights start boarding around this time, so the process should be very smooth.

waiting area London Heathrow airport 

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When Should I Arrive at the Airport for an International Flight?

For long-haul international flights, it’s better to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to departure. This arrival time is more generous for a few reasons:

  • Long-haul planes are usually much larger than the ones used domestically. As a result, you’re competing with more people at the check-in and baggage drop desks, security, and even things like accessing refreshments and restrooms near your gate.
  • The planes take longer to board due to the higher number of passengers.
  • International terminals are often larger, requiring more walking to get to your gate.
  • Depending on your destination, like in the case of the US or Israel, you may be in for more stringent security checks.

When you arrive early at the airport for international flights, not only do you take a lot of the stress out of the experience, but you also minimize the chances of being denied boarding due to overbooking. The only good news about getting bumped in this fashion is that you may then qualify for compensation.

Check-in, Boarding, and Departure Times: The All-Important Double-Check

check in airport

Now that we’ve answered the question: “How early should I arrive at the airport?” for both domestic and international flights, to get things right, it’s important to check and then periodically double-check things like your flight’s check-in time, boarding time, and estimated departure time.

To be clear, the departure time is the time when a plane leaves the gate, while the check-in time is the time when the airline's desks open to greet passengers and check their baggage. The boarding time is when the plane starts accepting passengers, and in general, boarding closes 20 minutes prior to departure.

Here are the best ways to check all this information:

Online Check-in

Almost all airlines offer the option to check in online, which is typically available 24 hours before the flight’s departure time. When you complete this procedure on your phone or any other device, you will also see the suggested time to arrive at the airport. It’s usually in the same document as your boarding pass.

Normally, you will need to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes prior to your scheduled departure time if you have baggage to check for an international flight. In the case of major carriers like British Airways, the long-haul flight bag drop closes 60 minutes prior to departure. It’s 45 minutes before departure in the case of short-haul flights.

Verify Your Departure Time Online

You can easily check the status of your flight online at any time. To do this, go to your airline's website or app and click on “Flight Status.” You will know exactly when your plane is scheduled to take off. 

Airport websites also have up-to-date information on both arrivals and departures if you prefer to check this way.

If your flight is delayed, you may want to adjust how early you get to the airport - but be careful! Although a delay might be expected, sometimes planes make up time in the air, or the delay decreases for other reasons. It’s always safest to be at the airport and waiting at your gate as close to your flight’s original boarding time as possible.

If the worst happens and your flight is significantly delayed, you can apply for flight delay compensation using our user-friendly online form.

If your flight was delayed, canceled, or overbooked within the last 6 years, you could be eligible for up to €600 (£520) in compensation.Check Your Flight

Call the Airport

If you are unsure of when you should arrive at the airport and you don’t have internet access, you can always call the airport for more information. Over the phone, you'll be asked for additional information like your name, airline, or flight number, so you should have it on hand to receive the information you need promptly.

This is not the most efficient way to get the information - expect long hold times - but it will do in a pinch.

Stay Informed

Many airlines offer apps that make online check-in a breeze. The other added benefit is that you can get real-time updates on your flight status. Additionally, using the app, you can often subscribe to alerts for your flight either by SMS or email

Even if you don’t have the app, providing your email address at the time of booking means that the airline should also keep you informed this way. Make sure you check the box to request updates if the option is available.

The truth is flights get delayed all the time. Check out our post on which US airports encountered more than 50% delayed arrivals of over 60 minutes, and be ready to make better-informed decisions about your 2023 USA summer flight plans.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Plan the Trip to the Airport in Advance

Arrange your travel to the airport ahead of time. Depending on the means of transport you use to get to the airport, you should anticipate any strikes, traffic jams, or road works that may affect your journey.

If you are driving to the airport, you can rely on Google Maps to monitor traffic conditions. If you're using public transport, it's best to catch your bus, train, or metro earlier than the one that gets you to the airport right on time.

Google Maps is Your Best Friend

For very precise and real-time updates, use Google Maps on your mobile phone. Configure the "Arrive by" time setting option to plan your route to the airport. 

For example, if you are leaving London Heathrow Airport for a holiday to an international destination, such as New York’s JFK Airport, at 10:35 am, you should arrive at Heathrow around 7:30 am.

Google will provide you with live traffic updates, so you can optimize your route, re-route if needed, and set an alarm for when you need to head out. This is very convenient and will help you arrive at the airport on time.

Prepare For Airport Security

One way to help cut down on the time you spend getting through security is to dress appropriately. Don’t wear metal belts, excessive jewelry, or bulky shoes, and be prepared to take off sweaters, shoes, coats, and anything else that’s baggy or bulky.

Be aware of foods you can bring through airport security and keep your liquids separate. Keep your laptop and any other electronics easy to reach since you’ll need to pull them out for screening. 

Do all this, and your trip through security should be easy, saving you precious time.

The Aftermath of COVID-19

While most destinations currently have no extra requirements for COVID-19, airports and airlines are still dealing with the aftermath. Staffing shortages and increased passenger numbers create the perfect storm for busy airports and flights.

Airlines (and airports) are doing their best as passenger traffic increases to pre-pandemic levels, but you can still expect to encounter longer lines. When in doubt, add an extra half an hour to your airport arrival time to compensate for these types of delays.

10 Things To Do at the Airport

Arriving at the airport ahead of time has its own advantages, but arriving too early always means being willing to wait a while in the departure hall. However, it's always better to be early than to miss your flight.

It's true that nobody really enjoys wasting time in the terminal, but it can be a great opportunity to relax and entertain yourself. We’ve put together a list of 10 things to do at the airport before you take to the skies:

inside airport

  1. Buy yourself an accessory in some luxury boutique because why not treat yourself once in a while?
  2. Take advantage of the duty-free shopping and stock up on snacks for the plane.
  3. Update your social media with a photo of that pre-departure cup of coffee - it might be a great way to let people know what you're up to and maybe even catch up with some old friends.
  4. Put together your favourite songs for an epic holiday playlist. You'll appreciate this later on!
  5. Buy yourself a quick massage or beauty treatment to relax before the flight.
  6. Start the holiday right at the airport: indulge in a delicious meal with a glass of prosecco in one of the lounges.
  7. If you're a nervous flyer, buy yourself some earplugs and a puzzle book at the pharmacy (every airport usually has one), and check the turbulence forecast to prepare.
  8. Take a power nap. After a long check-in queue and security screening procedures, you’ll need some rest.
  9. Learn some words in the language at your destination, and the locals will love you.
  10. Call your loved ones and tell them you're already enjoying holidays for them.

Don’t be Afraid of a Little Downtime

When you’re addressing the question of how early you should get to the airport for your next flight, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. For international flights, go with 3 hours, and for domestic ones, 2 hours. Adding an extra half an hour can help with unforeseen delays and is rarely a bad idea.

As long as you don’t mind relaxing before the flight, grabbing a meal, or doing some shopping, you’ll never be bored, and you’ll take all the stress out of the sometimes harrowing airport experience.

Was your flight delayed over 3 hours or cancelled? See if AirAdvisor can get you compensated.Check Your Passenger Rights

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Travel Magazine 18.07.2022

Thanks for sharing that information with us. This is so valuable information for the best travel applications.

viking 13.01.2022

useful info need to know before boarding Viking Slough

William McCarthy 15.10.2021

Very helpful and definitely no red tape.

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