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Generally airlines suggest that you be at the airport around 3 hours from the time of departure. Flying from the US, I've often found this to be unnecessary and I generally end up waiting and getting bored at the airport.

I've also found airports outside the US, where they would not let you in before 2 hours from the actual departure time of an international flight. Often this happens to be a pain, waiting outside the airport.

Is there a reliable way to find out the right time to be at the airport depending on the country and the specific airport anywhere in the world?

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    It is not just the airport and the country, it also depends on the airline (as some have earlier check in deadlines than others) and the number of flights departing at any given time as that effects how long immigration and security can take. – user13044 Mar 23 '15 at 17:06
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    possible duplicate of How early should you get to the airport in the US? – JonathanReez Mar 23 '15 at 17:07
  • What I was wondering, whether there a website which would give the realistic time on an airport basis. – edocetirwi Mar 23 '15 at 18:29
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    I think a website that provided estimated processing times would leave itself open to lawsuits from people who missed their flights because circumstances caused their check in to be longer than stated. – user13044 Mar 23 '15 at 18:50
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    @edocetirwi In general, you should just check with your airline's website. I've flowing on international airlines out of the U.S. that actually closed their check-in desks 1.5 hours before departure. I certainly wouldn't want to risk that on a long-haul flight, especially if you got caught up in traffic or some such thing on the way to the airport. – reirab Mar 23 '15 at 21:24
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No. You need to first get through check in. For example, Budapest airport is annoyingly slow while Vancouver is surprisingly fast. Then there is security. The waiting time for this varies from day to day and hour to hour and often terminal to terminal. Some airports require you to

Remember, you will still need to pass through security at least 60 minutes before departure and be at the boarding gate no later than 30 minutes before departure

so you need to clear security well before boarding.

At some airports and some flights you also need to clear passport control. You might have exit controls, you might be entering Schengen, you might have preclearance to the USA and so forth.

And, of course, boarding opens earlier for bigger planes than smaller ones.

Three hour is almost always an overkill but if you get secondary screening and late from the plane, the airline can say "you should've been here three hours earlier, we told you". Sometimes they won't (thanks Alaska!) but it's there.

Also, the airlines will give a time that works for everyone. For example, I have made my USA bound flight several times at Vancouver airport with only 60 minutes but I have a NEXUS card and I am a very experienced traveller -- so I get a special queue for security, I am packed to breeze through security, I go through the border via a machine and no queue. It is neigh impossible for an ordinary traveller to get from airport door to gate in <30 minutes as I do.

  • Agreed, you have to know the airport. For example, at London City Airport (LCY), half an hour is plenty -- it's a small airport with nearly all short-haul services and mainly business passengers. – Mike Scott Mar 23 '15 at 18:24
  • Yeah, showing up at Bellingham (BLI) even an hour early is completely pointless... – chx Mar 23 '15 at 18:51
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    "You need to first get through check in." For many airlines, you can check-in online. – user102008 Mar 23 '15 at 21:03
  • Don't forget traffic problems. A few years ago one of my coworkers missed a domestic flight after getting stuck on the interstate for ~2 hours because a major accident shut the road down completely, and when it was finally cleared traffic was massively snarled as a result. – Dan Neely Mar 23 '15 at 21:36
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Some airlines actually publish recommendations per airport. See http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/check-in/requirements.html https://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/checkingIn/arrivalTimes.jsp?anchorLocation=DirectURL&title=arrivaltimes

In general I have found that 2 hours works fine for most airports in the US, Europe, and China. Early online check-in can speeds things up considerably and also gives you a bit of wiggle room if the airline has bungled your reservation or ticket. Budget extra time for dropping of rental cars, rush hour traffic, bad weather, etc. on a case by case basis.

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