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The counter issuing boarding passes opens up three hours before the flight. They've asked all the passengers to report at the airport at that very hour. Once that is over no one's allowed to leave the area or enter it. I was wondering if it is a common practice in all airports around the world? Are we supposed to wait for three hours or more at the airport? I am traveling from UAE.

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    Welcome to travel.SE. Where are you traveling to? – Karlson Sep 16 '14 at 15:47
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Three hours is not common and neither is being asked to show up at the time check in begins or not being allowed to leave.

Usually, you have to be at the check in desk some time between 2 hours and 20 min before the scheduled departure time. Because there can be some waiting and queuing, you are also typically advised to get there earlier and proceed immediately to the security check and the gate but I don't remember ever not being allowed to go back to the airport's public area after getting my boarding pass.

Nowadays, you are also often expected to check in online and to print your boarding pass at home. The only requirement is to be in time to drop off your luggage (if you have any) or show up on time for boarding.

  • I once tried the online options; it appeared as if the airports were confused about the procedure more than I was. Thank you for the helpful answer. – Renae Lider Sep 17 '14 at 9:48
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There are many airports in UAE

But taking Emirates as an example, the rules are:

  • Check-in opens 3 hours before the flight and closes 90 minutes before
  • You should go through security no later than 60 minutes before departure
  • Be at gate 45 minutes before departure, but no later than 20 minutes, because the gate will be closed then.

I personally have not heard of a requirement to be at the airport 3 hours before, but sometimes it is recommended, so that if there is a queue or any sort of hold up, then you would still have ample time and not be late.

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Actually, 3 hours is very common at foreign airports, but it is not a requirement, it is a recommendation. It is stated on the ticket and even recommended by the airlines. It is not required if you are flying domestic, but for international flights it is highly recommended.

If you are traveling business for example, you can arrive one hour before the flight and still check in - however, you may run into a wall of people at immigration (especially at a busy international hub like Dubai).

Now, once you are past immigration and security, you cannot leave the terminal unless under special circumstances - this is because its a high security area.

Reasons for the 3 hour requirement:

  1. Time for you to check-in and deal with any eventualities there (for example, oversized baggage, extra luggage allowance, etc.)

  2. Time for you to clear immigration. This can easily take 45 minutes to an hour at a busy hub like Dubai - for various reasons other than simply traffic.

  3. Time for you to pass through security. This again, chalk up at least 15 minutes if you are at a busy time.

  4. Time for you to find your gate. At some airports, you might need to take a train just to get to your gate.

Even if you ignore all the above, behind the scenes a lot needs to take place for international flights. Combine all this and 3 hours pass by very quickly.

Eventually when the large majority of airports (and travelers) come to grips with self-checkin, electronic boarding passes, and electronic gates - this time might be reduced but until then, enjoy the hustle of international travel :)

  • 1
    Foreign from where? – Andrew Ferrier Sep 17 '14 at 9:13
  • @AndrewFerrier anywhere outside the US... – jwenting Sep 17 '14 at 11:37

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