Missing your flight because you arrived to the airport too late is certainly not the ideal way to start any trip. On the other hand, sitting in the airport for several hours because you arrived very early or because your flight is significantly delayed can be frustrating and boring. Avoid both scenarios by planning carefully, paying attention and arriving to the airport at the right time.
Rule of Thumb
As a general rule, arrive at the airport no later than two hours before your domestic flight is scheduled to depart. This is somewhat later than the typical suggestion of three hours for an international flight. Arriving two hours in advance gives you time to find the correct place to check in for your flight, wait in line there, wait in the security line, and deal with any complications that arise as you go through security. Try to get your boarding pass beforehand.
Reasons to Arrive Earlier
Consider arriving at the airport more than two hours in advance in some cases. If you do not travel by air frequently and are nervous about the procedures involved, arriving earlier can help ease your mind and give you extra time. The same holds true if you are flying from an unfamiliar airport. If you are flying on a particularly busy day, such as near a three-day weekend or the day before Thanksgiving, arrive earlier to compensate for the potentially longer lines and delays.
Reasons to Arrive Later
While arriving two hours before your flight is typically a good idea, it is not always necessary. If you checked in online and only need to drop off your baggage – or if you checked in online and are only taking carry-on – you can often afford to arrive slightly later. This also goes for tsa precheck at airport security and if you’re flight’s departure is from a smaller airport. The same is true if you are not flying at a peak time, as the airport is likely to be less crowded and lines are likely to be shorter. According to Continental Airlines, time of day such as 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. are not peak travel times, so plan your arrival times when the lines may be shorter.
Checking Flight Status
Your flight may be significantly delayed, meaning it may be safe to arrive at the airport later than you planned. For example, if your noon flight is delayed until 3 p.m., you can get to the airport at 1 p.m. rather than 10 a.m.. Check the flight status online regularly before you leave to find out whether your flight is delayed. Visit the website of your airline to find the flight status; most have a link to this tool on the homepage.
Boarding ends well before takeoff. For a 2 p.m. flight, boarding typically closes around 1:40, so you shouldn't cut it close enough that you are arriving at the gate at 1:55. Also, if you are checking baggage, find out how long before the flight your airline stops accepting checked bags. Check the flight status boards at the airport; if your flight becomes delayed you might have more time to hang out with friends and family at airport before you go through security. When you arrive at the airport, take a look at the security lines. If they are long or moving slowly, get in line as soon as possible rather than killing time before security. Take out laptops beforehand to prevent additional time at security. Also check-in times for your flight are usually 24 hours in advance from your scheduled departure time.
major international airports and ports of global entry like atlanta, new york, and dublin are typically busiest, so get there with plenty of time to spare. This also goes for time of year, like major holidays, which is always a busy time for u.s. airports and international travel.