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?
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, iad (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 -
Allow more time for international flights (obviously)
Allow more time on Monday mornings, Thursday evenings, or any time on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday before about 4pm.
Allow less time if you have access to a priority security line (usually due to a frequent flyer program)
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.
There is no single answer. You need to allow time for a number of individual things, which may or may not apply to you. Between the moment you drive on to the airport property and the moment you reach the boarding gate, you should allow for:
- parking your car and getting to the airport building. 0 min if you're in a cab or being dropped off, up to 30 min if you need to wait for a shuttle bus and it's a large airport, with the shuttle stopping at all the other terminals first
- checking in and getting a boarding pass. 0 min if you did that at home. 5 min if you're in business class or otherwise qualify for the express line. Up to an hour at busy times for everyone else
- dropping off baggage. 0 min if you're travelling carry on only, or included in your checkin time if you didn't check in online. Up to 20 min at busy times.
- just to make this answer applicable outside the domestic US, there are sometimes immigration formalities like "you are exiting Schengen" in Europe or "pre-clear to the US" in Canada that can involve another lineup of 15-60 min.
- Lining up for security. 5 min if you qualify for the express line. 30 to 60 otherwise at busy times.
- Travelling from security to the boarding gate. 5 min walk in a small airport, 15 or 20 min in a large one with trains and such to get you there.
So best case, I can get out of a cab and be at the gate 10 minutes later. (In a tiny airport, checked in online, status, no luggage.) Someone else with no status, a car to park, a bag to check, and no fast passes into express lines might need hours to cover the same distance if the airport was very busy. At the end of all that time, you need to reach your gate within the time specified by the airline. There may also be deadlines for checkin or baggage drop-off - these should be on the airline web site. For example you might need to get to the gate 30 min before the flight leaves, but drop off your baggage 60 min before. So you should keep those in mind as well even in a small airport.
I usually arrive between 1.75-2hrs before an international flight and I've never missed a flight. Although I wouldn't arrive any later than that (don't need to cause extra stress!). Different airlines can also close their check-in counters at different times so you don't want to be cutting it too close.
Arriving 2 to 3 hours early is unnecessary and neurotic.
1.25 hours is optimal. That is plenty of time to check in, go through security, find the gate and sit down and wait to board.
Eat something before you go to the airport and make sure to use the airport's facilities at least 15 minutes before boarding the plane.
Definitely bring some headphones or earplugs because the loud noise of air rushing over the plane's hull can drive you insane.
It is recommended to sleep on the plane to prevent jet lag if you are traveling East-West or West-East.
- Online Check-in- Domestic- Weekends- 1.5 hours
Airport Check-in- Domestic- Weekends- 2 hours
Online Check-in- Domestic- Weekdays- 1 hour
Airport Check-in-Domestic- Weekdays- 1.5 hour
Online Check-in- International- Weekends- 2 hours
Airport Check-in- International- Weekends- 3 hours
Online Check-in- International- Weekdays- 2 hours
- Airport Check-in- International- Weekdays- 3 hours