how early should you go to the airport

by Balari Gabadamudalige
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Airport Terminal Waiting


  • Introduction
  • How many hours early should you get to the airport?
  • How early should you get to the airport for a domestic flight?
  • Final Thoughts

The million-dollar question that keeps popping up in the mind of any traveller is “How early should I get to the airport?” The time you need to arrive at the airport for departure is always a mind-boggling decision that even the most seasoned travellers get terribly wrong.

Sprinting for dear life after running late for your flight is not how anyone would want to begin their journey. Likewise, arriving too early at the airport and eating into your holiday budget at the overpriced airport cafes is also unacceptable.

So, how do we rectify this question once and for all?

As experienced holiday operators from the UK, we’ve analyzed this question from all angles and are happy to say that we have drawn a feasible conclusion.

Keep reading this travel blog and we a UK tour operators will enlighten you on how early you should get to the airport, whether you are flying domestically or internationally as well as what factors you need to consider to get there at the perfect time.

How many hours early should you get to the airport?

As an unwritten rule, travel experts suggest that you must arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to the official time of departure. This is because a little bit more effort goes into international travel and with the costs of flights being so high, it’s better to play it safe rather than say bye-bye to your flight.

British Airways

Travel tip: No matter where your holiday destination may be, ALWAYS check-in online before getting to the airport. Trust us, this will save you a lot of valuable time.

Let’s break down why exactly you need to arrive at the airport this early for an international flight. To put it simply, it is because of the extra steps that you are required to follow before reaching the boarding point.

  • Immigration and visa / passport control
  • Luggage check-in
  • Going through airport security
  • Walking to your terminal (Yes, that’s right. Some airports are MASSIVE and the distances you may be required to walk will blow your mind!)

Adding to the reasons why you should get to the airport at least 3 hours early is; just because you’re running late does not make you immune to queues. You’ll need to stand in the queue like everyone else, regardless of whether or not you’ll miss your flight. The flight won’t be held for you.

Not only are you required to check-in and arrive at your terminal early but also make it to your gate with ample time to spare. So, if you think you will be able to weasel your way in somehow after running late, then you better think twice!

How early should you get to the airport for a domestic flight?

Domestic travel is usually less complicating than international travel. That being said, for domestic flights, as a rule of thumb, travel experts recommend that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to take-off. However, this time range can actually vary from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on a number of factors.

Flybe Domestic Airline

Whether you’re checking-in a bag or not

The bag-drop lines can be long, thus it’s always better to get to the airport early. If by chance you miss the check-in cut off time, which is usually about 40 minutes before departure, you most certainly will not be able to make it to your flight. However, if you are only taking a carry-on bag, you can cut you arrival time much shorter.

The size of the airport

If you’re flying domestically, you are more likely to depart from a small airport. As a result, although it may not be as busy, because of its smaller size there’ll probably be a limited number of staff. Hence, security checks and checking in may take as long as it would if you were flying internationally.

Whether the day you’re flying is a peak day

If you are flying on a peak day you will have to battle your way through hundreds of other holidaymakers or frequent cooperate flyers to get through the queues.

How many people you’re travelling with

If you are travelling with a group, navigating your way through the airport and getting to the gate may take longer than it would if you were travelling solo.

Check out this video to get a different perspective to this million-dollar question:

On a final note

whether you are a holidaymaker travelling to a beautiful holiday destination or a cooperate flyer travelling for work; the time you arrive at the airport will play a vital role on your entire journey. Running late can dampen your holiday or business trip even before you set foot in the airport. As a result, it is always better to arrive at the airport early, but also, not too early. Thus, finding the middle ground based on the factors mentioned by the UK travel agents above will allow you to have a smooth sail to your designated flight. It is also important to keep in mind that some airports may have unique arrival times depending on their procedures and protocols.

The best option is to arrange your travel to the airport beforehand and check on any factors that may hinder this process. While waiting around to kill time can be quite tedious, it’s the better option as opposed to missing your flight.

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