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I'm curious about one thing. When taking an international flight, it is recommended to be at the airport at least 3 hours before departure. When travelling with a connecting flight, and your first flight is an intra-continental one, check-in begins just 2 hours before take-off.

Let's consider an example: Budapest - New York via Amsterdam. You arrive at BUD airport, and you have to take the BUD - AMS flight. Check-in begins 2 hours, because this is not an intercontinental flight, even though your trip is actually intercontinental.

So how does the recommendation to arrive 3 hours in advance still stand in such a scenario?

  • Does a flight from one European country to another qualify as domestic? – s.brody May 23 '15 at 16:26
  • Yes, within Schengen flights are considered domestic and require no more than 2 hours check-in time. – Willeke May 23 '15 at 16:32
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    I adjusted the language to be more explicit. The original post had set international as contrasting with continental which didn't make sense either. – choster May 23 '15 at 16:32
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    I am not sure if I understand your question. Are you asking if you should be at the airport three hours before departure when flying from Budapest to Amsterdam because it is recommended to do so had you been flying directly from Budapest to New York? That does not make sense. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 23 '15 at 16:54
  • I'm asking: does the recommendation of 3 hours stands, in a situation where there's no way to check-in earlier than 2 hours? – s.brody May 23 '15 at 17:01
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In general if you are traveling on one ticket, with both a domestic leg and an international leg, the international rules override the domestic rules. So when you check in, you are checking in for an "international" flight and the check in counter agents need to document your permission to enter (passport, visa, etc) the international destination.

But the three hour suggestion, is just that, a suggestion not a rule. You really need to judge based on the airport and procedures.

Check in will take longer, as the agent needs to check your travel documents and to enter into their computer any government mandated info. Of course if you are flying to some obscure destination like Tuvalu, you might need to allow a bit more time for the check in agent to figure out where the heck it is and the rules.

The rest of time considerations are the same as a domestic flight for that particular airport.

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It's very simple — since you won't be passing through immigration on your outbound leg (assuming an intra-Schengen flight), the first leg you are taking is not international. Same applies for other modes of transport - just because I take a flight to the US after taking the train to the airport doesn't mean it's necessarry to arrive to the train station 3 hours beforehand.

  • Moreover, I've never arrived 3 hours before any flight, and never missed any flight I've arrived 1 hour before (though I've had a couple of close calls around the 1hr mark) – abligh May 23 '15 at 21:43
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No.

The only difference over a pure domestic itinerary at the first stage is that there will be a bit of extra time at the check in desk if (a) you have some weird through-check-in problem with a partner airline down route that day and (b) visa/passport checks.

The other thing is that the "three hours required" thing is a bit of a myth.

In some airports, particularly where there are lengthy, bureaucratic and chaotic exit controls (India, parts of South America) then you really will need that much time at the international exit point. But you certainly wouldn't at the domestic part of the journey.

In my personal experience; in Europe or the US, where taking an international plane is not much different to taking a city bus, it is rare for me to be at the airport more than sixty minutes before departure. Life is too short to spend it at the airport.

If you are checking a bag many airports will not accept economy passenger baggage more than three hours ahead anyway.

The main reasons, I think, for the "three hour recommendation" is (a) so you cannot blame the airline's guidance if you arrive at the airport slightly too late and (b) to give you more time to do shopping in the airport. On those two points you probably will be "recommended" to appear as early as possible.

  • I suspect spreading the load on the check-in desks for airlines who only operate a relatively small number of flights from the airport is also a large part of the reason. – Peter Green Dec 21 '18 at 16:50

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