How Early to Get to the Airport: A Complete Guide

How Early to Get to the Airport

Since commercial flights became available to the general public, the subject of how early to get to the airport has been a source of conflict.

Some passengers prefer to arrive at the airport before the crack of dawn for a 2 p.m. flight, while others frequently have to sprint from security to the gate before the jet bridge door closes.

While everyone’s preferences vary, most people want to arrive at the airport early enough to avoid feeling rushed but also to reduce the length of time they have to wait for their aircraft to board.

As a result, determining how much time to allow yourself at the airport might be difficult.

This guide will help you answer that question by breaking down the most important aspects to consider when selecting how early to arrive at the airport.

The General Guideline for How Early to Get to the Airport

Most airlines recommend that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight and at least 3 hours before an international flight.

That being stated, there are numerous aspects to consider when determining how much time you should allow for at the airport.

Factors That Influence How Much Time You’ll Need at the Airport

Several factors influence how much time you’ll need at the airport.

Here are a few examples:

What Airport are You Traveling out of?

This is an easy thing to ignore, but it is critical to remember.

Simply put, if you’re flying out of a large international airport, you’ll want to allow more time for yourself because these airports are often much busier than smaller regional airports.

Are You Traveling on a Domestic or International Flight?

International flight passengers should arrive at the airport earlier than domestic passengers.

This is due to the fact that overseas flights may have additional check-in processes, such as passport verification, that must be performed before receiving your boarding card.

Furthermore, due to the bigger plane size, foreign flights typically begin boarding 15 to 30 minutes earlier than domestic flights.

What Time of Year are You Traveling?

The time of year you travel might have a major impact on how crowded the airport you’re flying out of is.

For example, wait times on winter flights are far lower than on flights during the summer, when demand for travel increases significantly.

What Time of Day are You Traveling?

Similarly, the time of your trip can influence how congested the airport will be. Have you ever observed that the earliest and latest flights of the day frequently have the lowest prices?

This is because midday flights are far more popular with travelers.

Given this, expect the airport to be much busier for midday flights than for early morning or late night flights.

Are You Traveling by Yourself or with a Group?

If you’re going alone, you’ll be able to move through the airport considerably faster than if you’re traveling with a group, so keep this in mind when considering how much time to schedule.

This is especially critical for families traveling with young children.

Do You Have Bags to Check?

Not checking bags saves time at the airport because it allows you to go right to security screening when you arrive.

For those who must check their luggage, several airports provide a self-check kiosk where you may just drop your bag at the desk when you are finished.

However, if your airport does not have a self-check kiosk, you will have to wait in line with all other passengers who are also waiting to check their baggage, and these queues can be rather long depending on the number of agents on staff.

Do You Have Airline Elite Status or Priority Check-in?

Those with airline elite status or a co-branded airline card with priority check-in can significantly reduce the time it takes to check their luggage or check in for their flight when they arrive at the airport. 

This is because people with elite status and/or priority check-in have a designated line that effectively moves them ahead of everyone else in line.

While the requirements for airline elite status vary greatly per airline, both American Airlines and United Airlines provide priority check-in to holders of the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the United ClubSM Infinite Card, respectively.

Do You Have TSA PreCheck and/or CLEAR?

Having TSA PreCheck and/or CLEAR is by far the most time-saving feature at the airport. Both of these allow you to bypass the airport’s extraordinarily long general security lines.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the differences between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR.

TSA PreCheck expedites security screening, allowing you to retain your laptop and liquids in your luggage while still wearing your shoes, and it has shorter lineups than conventional security.

CLEAR, on the other hand, speeds up the ID verification component of the security process.

After your identity has been validated through CLEAR, you can proceed to the head of the normal security line, or the TSA PreCheck line if you have it as well.

The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the Centurion® Card from American Express, and the American Express® Green Card are the only credit cards that offer a full complimentary CLEAR membership.

Are You Planning to Visit an Airport Lounge?

After you’ve completed all of the tedious tasks like checking your bags and going through airport security, the last major item you might want to budget time for is a visit to the airport lounge.

Airport lounge access is definitely one of our favorite credit card benefits because it improves the experience of waiting for a flight.

Instead of waiting at the gate or spending money on some barely edible pizza at the food court, you’ll have a beautiful area to rest where you can kick back, charge your devices, and enjoy complimentary food and drinks (including booze!) while your flight is boarding.

The finest credit card for airport lounge access, in our opinion, is the American Express Platinum card, which provides access to 8 lounge networks, including Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying with Delta), Priority Pass lounges (upon enrollment), and much more.

Having said that, there are several excellent credit cards that provide access to airport lounges.


As you can see, while 2 to 3 hours before your departure is a reasonable general rule, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for determining how much time to allow at the airport.

Instead, based on the considerations discussed in this book, you could be better off treating each trip on an individual basis.

However, those looking to significantly improve their airport experience should consider adding a premium credit card to their wallet.

Many offer the ability to both speed up airport security with TSA PreCheck and/or CLEAR and relax in an airport lounge with the time you’ve saved — a win-win.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I really need to be at the airport 2 hours early?

Most airlines recommend arriving at the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international journey. 

Is it OK to get to the airport 1 hour before?

Normally, airlines recommend that travelers arrive at the airport two hours before their flight. Some airlines are currently requesting four hours. 

Is 2 hours enough for an international flight?

The general norm is to allow AT LEAST 3 hours from arrival to departure for international flights and 1.5 hours for domestic flights. 

Can you get to the airport 30 minutes before the flight?

Most airports require you to check in at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure time.

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