The everlasting dilemma could be solved with detailed planning. Here’s a beginner’s guide to a crucial part of airport experience
Travelling by plane is pretty exciting and a bit miraculous. You sit inside a metal bird that goes at a speed once unthinkable to reach. However, this way of travelling is accompanied by two nuisances — waiting in the halls and queues, as well as the possibility of missing your flight.
To avoid losing your precious time sitting or standing in a crowded place, or hurrying and cursing in fear of losing your long-wished travel opportunity, it comes handy to simply plan your arrival to the airport with accurately estimated time to spend on its premises.
However, the conditions always differ. To detect the ideal time to get to an airport you have to take these factors into account:
- Is your flight domestic or international?
- How big and busy is the airport?
- Is the flight departing during the peak or off-peak hour?
- Is it at the weekend, holiday or a usual business day?
- Do you have checked luggage or just a carry-on?
- Do you check in yourself online or is an airport check-in required?
International or domestic and what’s with all these bags?
The question of when to arrive at the airport has been around for decades. To make it easier for passengers, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has come up with an estimate of the ideal time for two types of flights. In case of a domestic trip, they recommend travellers to arrive at least two hours before the scheduled departure. An international journey reportedly requires at least three hours in advance.
But these recommendations are just general and can vary among airports, countries and routes with two crucial factors — what luggage passengers travel with and what kind of check-in they perform.
Basically, flying with a carry-on while conducting online check-in beforehand is the most time-saving way of air travel. In certain situations, arriving at the airport 45 minutes before the departure could be sufficient. But, beware of gates closing times!
On the other hand, departing from a large and busy airport with bags to check in can take even more than four hours.
If you are travelling from a mid-sized airport during off-peak hours, these time estimates should be enough for you:
- Domestic flight with a carry-on only but check-in at the airport — 1h
- Domestic flight with a checked bag — 1h / 1h 15m
- International flight with just a carry-on bag but airport check-in — 1h 30m
- International flight with checked luggage — 2 / 3 hours
If you are travelling from a major airport during peak hours, add another 30 minutes. And if it is the holidays or peak season, add at least one hour.
Airport size matters
Every airport in the world is quite similar. There are terminals with check-in counters, then you have security checks and boarding gates. In case of an international flight, add the border check to the list.
The difference lies in its size. While going for a short domestic trip from a small airport is usually no hassle at all, departing from the Atlanta airport — the world’s busiest — might make you anxious. In general, major airports in the world require at least three hours prior to the departure and even more in case of holiday and peak season.
To make it even more complicated, one has to think about other possible procedures taking place before the departure. For instance, Dublin airport is one of the small number of airports outside North America with the US Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facility.
As passing through these facilities can snake the airport time overall, some airlines operating from the airport recommend their passengers to arrive at least four hours before the flight’s departure if they travel overseas.
Check out when airlines close their gates
As all flights are a bit different, we strongly recommend you to check the exact details with the airline that operates your flight. Most importantly, look at the time when the airline closes the gate.
Again, this figure can vary among different airports, but in general, the time before the gates close ranges between 20 to 40 minutes before the scheduled departure.
It is important to keep the closing time in mind even after you check your bags in. Because the plane might fly without you with your stuff on hold. And that is not how your perfect journey should look like.