When traveling by air, the most important thing is to be at the airport in good time – early enough to check in your bagage, deal with queues and go through the security procedure. But how early should you get to the airport before departure? You will find the answer in this article.
Your journey starts the moment you lock your front door and leave your home. You may have tried to arrive at the airport at the last minute with a pounding heart. It’s certainly not optimal considering all the challenges you can encounter at an airport.
In addition to being in time to reach your flight, you also have to check in your bagage, go through security, and find the gate from which your flight departs. Furthermore, busy airports can be characterized by hour-long queues.
Thus, the exact arrival time at the airport depends in part on your airline’s boarding time, the country of departure, the administrative formalities and the security procedures.
How many hours before the flight?
The recommended time to arrive at the airport before a flight may vary depending on the destination, the airline, the departure airport and the type of flight (domestic or international).
In general, it is advisable to arrive at the airport:
- 3 hours before flight for international flights
- 2 hours before flight for domestic flights
However, be aware of:
- Baggage check-in is often no longer possible one hour before departure
- Boarding normally closes 15 minutes before departure time
For international flights
Procedures are longer and more complex for international flights, so most airlines advise you to be at the airport at least 3 to 4 hours before take-off.
Please note that you normally can check in your baggage 3 hours before departure, if you do it too late (less than an hour before departure) you may be refused to check in your luggage.
For domestic flights
Procedures for domestic flights are quite fast, so you should be at the airport at least 1 to 2 hours before the flight. If you are traveling in your home country and you have a flight with automatic check-in and no luggage, 45 minutes may be enough. However, we always recommend arriving at the airport 2 hours before in case of delays.
Please note that you can usually check in your luggage 2 hours before departure, if you do it too late (less than an hour before departure) you may be refused check-in.
Why arrive at the airport several hours before the flight?
When you arrive at the airport in good time, you have more leeway to deal with unforeseen events, such as queues, booking problems or delays. Above all, it allows you to check in your baggage – if you arrive less than an hour before departure, the hold could potentially be closed.
Here are the different steps you must go through when you arrive at the airport before you can board the flight and depart for your destination:
Find the check-in desk
The time it takes to find your airport’s check-in counter may vary depending on the size and layout of the airport and your knowledge of the airport. If you are abroad and do not speak the local language, it can be difficult to understand the signs and find your way around. Here are the things you should consider:
- Before arriving at the airport, familiarize yourself with the airport map by checking the airport’s website. Some airports offer interactive maps so you easily can find check-in and the gate.
- Always arrive in good time if the airport is large, as there can be a long distance between the various gates.
- Follow the signs at the airport that point you in the direction of the check-in counter. Most airports are well signposted to guide travelers. If you are in doubt or have difficulty finding your check-in hall, do not hesitate to ask the airport staff for help.
Security checks can be time-consuming, especially if the airport is very busy. For instance, the season and time of day in which you are traveling can have a big impact on how busy the airport is.
Shopping and dining at the airport
There is nothing better than having plenty of time to explore the airport’s tax free shops. It may also be necessary to have refreshments or a meal in one of the airport restaurants before your journey begins.
You need time to get to the gate before the jet bridge door closes. In particularly large and busy airports, it can often be difficult to find the gate. It is therefore important to budget more time for yourself if you are traveling through a large international airport.
In which cases do I have to arrive 5 hours before the flight?
You should arrive at the airport five hours before your flight takes off if:
- The departure airport is not in your home country or if you are not familiar with the airport
- You are traveling on an international flight
- You have baggage that exceeds the legal weight (baggage payment procedure)
- You have oversized luggage for check-in (such as stroller, surfboard, etc.)
- You must prove that there is a problem with your travel documents.