How early should you get to the airport in the US?

  • When traveling on a domestic flight in the US, how early is it recommended to get to the airport before the flight is scheduled to leave? What about international flights leaving from the US? Are there general rules for times of day or days of the week when airports tend to be busier and it would be wise to arrive earlier?

    Spirit Airlines refused to even print a boarding pass if you try to use the Kiosk less than 45 minutes before the flight leaves.

    If you happen to know that a big conference is in town, traveling when it's ending might mean long lines, especially at smaller airports. Traveling out of San Diego when the Neuroscience conference ended meant sharing the airport with >10k extra passengers.

    @Charlie: 45 minutes seems to become a common time for check-in cutoff for economy class.

  • The general rule of thumb is that one is supposed to arrive

    • 2 hours early for a domestic flight and
    • 3 for an international flight.

    That said, I've never found that rule to be terribly useful because it doesn't take into account size of the airport, day of the week, or anything like that.

    Personally, I also find the times to be a little bit excessive - I figure on

    • 45 - 90 minutes domestically
    • 2 hours international

    I've never missed a plane (although once, going to Bermuda, they had to hold a plane for me!)

    As an example, (Dulles Airport) - On a Sunday evening, I could make it from car to gate in under 30 minutes, whereas on a Monday morning, I needed a minimum of 60.

    In general -

    1. Allow more time for larger airports (, , , , , etc.)

    2. Allow more time for international flights (obviously)

    3. Allow more time on Monday mornings, Thursday evenings, or any time on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday before about 4pm.

    4. Allow less time if you have access to a priority security line (usually due to a frequent flyer program)

    5. Allow a lot of extra time if you have to check bags. Personally, I can go for a week in just one carry-on bag - but if you must check bags or fly with someone who does, use the full rule of thumb time listed above…

    The key variable is determining how early you should arrive is the security line. You can get a decent grip on this by checking out historical wait time data or MyTSA's website and entering the airport you want to know the wait time for. Simply add some time on either end of that concomitant with the distance to security and from security to gate, along with other waits, and you'll have your answer.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM