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How early you should get to the airport to avoid travel chaos

Our ultimate guide to when you really, actually need to get to the airport before your flight

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Ah, the age old question: How early should I get to the airport? Well, for those who hate airports (and, TBH, we get it – they can be stressful places), you’ll want to ensure you keep your time in one to an absolute minimum. But you also don’t want to be forced into a mad dash to the gate or be so late you risk your bags not making it in time. It can be a delicate balancing act.

Plus, there’s pretty different advice on what time to get to the airport depending on whether you’re flying long-haul or short-haul, domestic or international. And given travel chaos could return this summer, you’ll want to be extra preparedSo, to make things as smooth as possible, we’ve put together an ultimate guide on exactly when you should get to the airport before a flight. Fly safe!

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How early should you get to the airport?

How early should I get to the airport for a short-haul flight?

A good rule of thumb is to get to the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to depart for short-haul flights. If you have any bags to put in the hold and/or you need to check-in in person (ie. you haven’t been able to do so online), you may want to leave a little longer. Usually, arriving two-and-a-half hours before departure will leave you more than enough time.

What about a long-haul flight?

When it comes to long-haul flights, you need to allow extra time due to the fact that the planes are larger – so more people need to check-in and drop bags off – and people are more likely to have luggage in the hold. The general rule is to allow at least three hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. Some airports and airlines even recommend having at least four hours in the airport before departure.


How early do I need to get to the airport for domestic and international flights?

The above timings both apply to international flights. For domestic flights, usually you don’t need to allow for quite so much time at the airport.

If you haven’t got any bags for the hold and you’ve managed to check-in online in advance, you’ll likely only need to allow for 90 minutes in the airport for domestic flights. Allow two hours if you’ve got bags and/or haven’t been able to check-in beforehand.

Does being a frequent flyer save time at airports?

Sometimes, but not always. If you fly often enough with certain airlines, they might offer you priority for check-in, baggage drop and boarding. They can also give you a fast-lane pass for security. If you can get it, all this stuff can save you time by speeding up the bits of air travel that cause the most delays.

However, lots of airlines don’t offer frequent flyer schemes – so instead you might have to pay for priority and fast-lane privileges. 

If you don’t get any of this, the only reason why being a frequent flyer might save you time at airports is because you may be more familiar with them. In other words, you’ll have a faster airport experience simply because you won’t spend so much time dilly-dallying about where to go.

It’s worth mentioning that there are caveats when it comes to all these questions. Each airport and airline is a little different and the running of airports can vary hugely on a day-to-day basis. It’s always a good idea to check your airline’s official guidelines, as well as to check out the official website or Twitter account of your departure airport – often these will have the most up-to-date guidance.

And if you do all that, you should be well on your way to a smooth departure! Of course, there are some reasons why you might actually like your time in the airport. You might want to check out some duty-free bargains or there might be some great food on offer. Or you might just like plane-watching. Whatever – you do you.

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