It’s a question that has been hotly debated since the first person missed their flight thanks to an unforeseen hiccup in the security line. Just how early should you get to the airport? Ask 10 different people that question and there it’s likely that you’ll get 10 different answers. Some people are so afraid of missing their flight that they’ll arrive hours in advance and essentially camp out at their gate until their flight time. Others want to keep their total travel time to a minimum and pride themselves on being able to walk up to the gate just as the flight begins to board.
So, what’s the happy medium?
The TSA used to recommend arriving at the airport two hours before flying domestically and 3 hours before flying internationally, and that’s been a rule many have stuck to for almost two decades now. However, now you’ll have a hard time finding a recommendation anywhere on the TSA website. Instead, they suggest contacting your airline directly and taking things like parking, shuttles to and from the airport, check-in, and boarding pass printing into consideration.
That doesn’t even give you a rough estimate to work with anymore.
However, that bit about checking with your airline is pretty solid advice. Airlines will ultimately decide how late they’ll let you check in for your flight. Most airlines will usually stop the check-in process around 30 to 45 minutes before a domestic flight and 60 to 75 minutes before an international flight. So, if you subscribe to the idea of getting to the airport at the last minute, you’d better give yourself at least a half-hour window prior to your flight’s departure time.
On the other hand, some airlines limit how early you can check in, too. For example, if you’re flying on American Airlines, you can’t check a bag any earlier than 4 hours prior to your flight.
In many cases, it’s the airports themselves that have the best recommendations for when to arrive. Most of the world’s busiest airport websites generally agree that you should plan to arrive at least 2 hours prior to a domestic flight and 3 hours for international.
Unfortunately, we can’t give you a specific number but we tend to agree with the 2 hours for domestic, 3 hours for international rule.
But we also recommend downloading the MyTSA app, as well as apps for the specific airlines you’re flying. These apps are frequently updated with the latest information, so you’ll have a decent heads-up if you need to call that Uber driver a little earlier than expected.