How Early Should You Get To The Airport?

You planned your dream holiday but you don’t know what time you should be at the airport. It’s important to get to the airport a few hours before your flight takes off to ensure you catch your flight.

But how early should you get to the airport? If you arrive at the airport a couple of hours before your flight is usually enough for you to check in your luggage and get to the gate.

How Early Should You Get To The Airport?

In this practical guide, we find out how much time you need to plan for your arrival at the airport and what factors influence the amount of time you need for your arrival.

How Early Should You Get To The Airport?

Most airports recommend that you get to the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight. If you need to catch an international flight, then you should arrive at least 3 hours before your flight.

This will give you plenty of time to find your way around the airport, drop your bags off, make it through security checks and arrive at the departure gate in time for your flight.

Can You Arrive At The Airport An Hour Before Your Flight?

Yes, you can arrive an hour before your flight takes off but this doesn’t give you a lot of time to drop off your luggage and get through customs.

If you are unfamiliar with the airport and there are long queues for baggage drop-off and security, then one hour is not enough to catch your flight.

Factors That Impact How Much Time You Will Need At The Airport

There are a number of different factors that influence how much time you will need to get to the airport and the amount of time you will need to get through the airport to arrive at your departure gate.

The Individual Airport

Each airport is different. If you are flying from a smaller regional airport, then you can find your way around much easier than with a large international airport.

Plus, keep in mind that the walking distances are much longer at a big airport.

International Or Domestic Flight

It is important that flyers who want to travel to an international destination arrive at least three hours before their flight at the airport.

This is much earlier than for domestic flyers because international flights often require additional checks, such as passport verification.

In addition, international flights also carry more passengers which means that the boarding process takes longer.

Travel Time

The season and the time of day of your flight also affect how much time you need to allow to travel to the airport and get through airport checks (see also “Travel Tips Beginners Need To Know About“).

Generally, summer is much busier than winter because people are often planning their vacations around this time.

This being said, winter flights can also be busy around bank holidays and half term.

Plus, midday flights are usually popular with travelers which means that it is very busy around noon (see also “How To Travel Around The USA For Cheap“). This means that you need to plan more time to get to and through the airport.

How Early Should You Get To The Airport?

Baggage Check-In

If you want to save a lot of time and go straight through to security screening, then try to keep your bags small to avoid checking bags.

However, if you need to check in your bags, then make sure to use the self-check kiosks that allow you to drop off your luggage without the need to queue.

Saying this, not all airports offer self-check-in which means that you need to queue up with other passengers. This can significantly extend the time you need to get to your departure gate.

Priority Check-In Or Airline Elite Status

Many airlines offer some form of priority check-in or airline elite status for frequent flyers. This can speed up the time that you need to check in for a flight or drop off your luggage.

You usually have to go to a dedicated line away from the queues which means you can check in much faster.

Keep in mind that each airline has its own requirements for priority check-in and airline elite status, so make sure to check this in advance before you arrive at the airport.

Travel On Your Own Or With A Group

Your time planning should be very different if you are traveling in a group or on your own. If you are traveling on your own, then you can move through the airport without having to wait for anyone else.

On the other hand, as part of a group, you usually need to factor in a lot more time because you want to make sure that the group stays together.

This is especially important for families who travel with children.


Security checks at the airport can take up a lot of time, especially during busy flying times. Everyone needs to wait in line, place their bags on a conveyor belt and sometimes also remove shoes or belts.

There are a couple of ways to skip the long security queues and save yourself some time.

One option is CLEAR. CLEAR is a type of airport membership service that allows you to verify your identity by fingerprints or eyes in a dedicated kiosk.

This is an automated process that works much faster than the standard security lines.

Alternatively, you can also use TSA PreCheck. Similar to CLEAR, TSA PreCheck is also a membership. It often comes included as a complimentary offer with credit cards.

TSA PreCheck allows you to keep any liquids and electronic devices in your bag during security checks. Plus, there is also a dedicated line.

Airport Lounge

If you want to make use of the airport lounge to wind down after the busy airport security checks, then you need to plan some time for food and drinks.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to how early you should get to the airport, you need to keep in mind what airport you are going to and how much time you need to get there.

Julia Wright
Scroll to Top