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Heathrow website says that it's enough to arrive two hours before departure (European flights), but I have heard that the lines are often long so maybe three hours would be better? How early should I arrive to the airport?

To be specific, I have a 10 AM flight at September from terminal 3.

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    I am a regular user of Heathrow. For me 45 minutes to one hour is sufficient. If dropping luggage add fifteen minutes. – Calchas Jul 31 '15 at 9:51
  • Do you have any luggage to check-in? – JoErNanO Jul 31 '15 at 9:55
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The answer depends on 4 things:

  • How you are getting to the airport
  • What airline you're flying with
  • How frequent the flights on that route are
  • How good your travel insurance is

If you have great travel insurance, are on a route with one flight roughly ever hour, and are just hopping on the tube for 20 minutes to get there, then arriving just before you're airline's cut-off time is probably fine.

If you're taking two trains a bus on a 3+ hour journey, with travel insurance that isn't very good about missed departure compensation, to take a once-a-day flight, I'd say aim to be there at least 3 hours before

The close of baggage check and at-desk checkin times varies between airlines. BA, for example, have a 45 minute cut-off at T3 and T5, AA it's 60 minutes, so check with your specific airline to see what they require.

Security queues can be bad at Heathrow, but not as bad as you find at some other airports world-wide. I often grumble about the Heathrow ones, but frankly I've had worse at JFK and Seattle recently! If you're a frequent traveller who knows how to properly unpack your bag, take out liquids properly, already has liquids in a suitable bag etc, you should be fine within the minimum checkin times. For less frequent travellers, I'd say 1 hour should be OK.

The question then is more about possible delays getting to the airport. You need to leave enough time so that if you get delayed, you won't miss the flight. The 2-3 hour figure tends to be more about that, at least for Heathrow. Think about what could go wrong, what's likely to go wrong, backup options, delay lengths etc. Then, check your travel insurance, and see what they require. If your travel insurance won't cover missed departures due to delays getting to the airport, go for 3 hours minimum unless really close. If your travel insurance says you must have aimed for 2.5 hours before if they'll cover it, obviously leave 2.5 hours!

Finally, there are shops airside in T3, and some restaurants, so it's not the end of the world if you get there with lots of time to spare. There are also some lounges you can pay to enter (the No.1 Traveller lounge in T3 is very nice, for example). If you have status or are travelling in a premium cabin, that could be a reason to get there extra early so you can enjoy the lounge more!

There is no universal answer

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Check-in and luggage drop-off usually will be closed 45-90mins before departure, depends on airline policy. Time is enough to arrive the farthest gate before closed if everything is ok in custom and immigration check in busy hours.

Heathrow T3 has a small but lovely shopping mall in airside and there are also several wide-ranged restaurants which price is slightly more expensive than those in London. However, seats is limited in the waiting area in airside and they will announce the number of gate around 1.25-1.5 hours before departure.

Virgin and Delta counter are located on the left of landside and all other ailrines' counter located on the front. In Lanside there is a few number of restaurants but seats are sufficient on upper floor. Custom and immigration check is on upper floor too.

Please note that it takes 5-10mins from tube station / centre bus station to T3 unless you are travelling RailAir, which will drop you off in front of T3 directly.

Conclusion: It depends on you, and I will go there 2 hours before departure.

  • For BA from T5, checkin+luggage drop closes at 45 minutes. Other airlines vary, but they generally say on the airline's website what that is, it can be shorter than the 60-70 you claim – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 10:47
  • @gravarr for europe flight that may be shorter but most other flight it needs at least 1 hour. My experience of virgin, cathay and emirate do so – Him Jul 31 '15 at 11:31
  • The BA Heathrow T5 deadline is the same no matter where you're going, 45 minutes for bag drop, 35 minutes for start of security – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 11:44
  • @gagravarr he is talking t3, which ba is not primary operator – Him Jul 31 '15 at 11:47
  • @gagravarr moreover destinations of all ba flight in t3 is in eu – Him Jul 31 '15 at 11:51

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