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How early should I get to the airport?

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7 min read

How early should I get to the airport?

While travelling is fun, the actual travel part sometimes isn’t. Yes, we’re talking about the actual airport time that’s involved. Whether you’ve got a domestic or international flight, the age-old dilemma of how early to get to the airport is a constant thing hanging over us.
But, it doesn’t have to be. Take a look here as we break down just what’s needed and what you should consider when heading off to the airport.

Top factors affecting your travel

There are a number of different things that can impact how early you need to be. Here, we’re going to dive right in and see if we can cover them all, so you’re always on time.

Which airport are you leaving from?

Top of our list, this is also the factor that most people neglect to consider. If we’re being honest here, you’re always going to need more time when travelling out of a larger airport. Take Heathrow for example. With five terminals and car parking relatively far away, you need to factor this in as part of your travel time. Let’s not forget that Heathrow is also filtering vastly more people than other airports.

Luton, for instance, is so much smaller and therefore far less busy. Distances are smaller between the parking and the terminal. And, Luton is simply dealing with fewer people overall making processes such as check-in and security a whole lot faster.

Is your flight domestic or international?

Seasoned travellers will also know that this has a major impact on your arrival time. If you’re going international then, typically, arriving three hours before your departure time is the norm. You’ve got to factor in a range of things such as check-in requirements, passport checks, and so on. Boarding also happens at least half an hour before domestic flights.

In contrast, some domestic flights, if you’ve checked in beforehand, can mean simply arriving an hour and a half before the flight. Although this is still cutting it a bit close.

When in the year are you flying?

Seasonal impact on airport arrival times should not be underestimated. Summertime and school holidays are typically a whole lot busier. This means that there are usually queues for checking in or even going through security. Giving yourself additional leeway here is prudent.

Are you flying at peak hours?

Your arrival time will also be impacted by the time of day. For instance, early morning flights are significantly less popular. As such, you can often come a little bit later to the airport and still get through all the checks in plenty of time.

In contrast, midday flights are incredibly popular. They’re also more expensive when compared to those morning or even late-night flights.

Group or solo travel

If you’re travelling alone, it’s also possible to risk arriving a little bit later than normal. You don’t have to allow for as much time and will be able to get through security with relative ease. Large groups, however, will take a lot longer, and you’ll need to keep this in mind. This is especially the case if you’re travelling with children of all ages.

Do you have carry-on or checked bags?

If you don’t have to check in any bags, then you can save significant amounts of time. But, if you do have to check in a bag, then you need to factor this in. Of course, you can try and reduce check-in bag time too by checking in online and then using the self-check kiosks at the airport. Not all airlines have these though, so if you don’t know the airport, then you will need to factor in the chance of having to wait in line to check a bag. Don’t leave it until the last minute.

Have you checked in online?

It’s also possible to beat the rush by checking in online. If you have no bags to check and have your ticket ready, you can simply head straight to security as soon as you arrive. It’ll save a whole lot of time if you operate this way.

How early to the airport

Final arrival time

We’ve taken a look at the main factors that impact how early you should arrive at an airport. Generally though, we still recommend arriving 2 to 3 hours before your departure time so that if there’s anything unforeseen, you’ve got time to deal with it.

Of course, each trip is different and might vary depending on the main factors we’ve outlined here. What we can say is that you still need to consider driving time and parking time. Taking these factors into account will make your airport experience a whole lot easier.