First and foremost, it's always a good idea to be prepared so you can limit any hiccups in your travel experience. Keep in mind that no two trips will be the same but planning ahead can shave off some unnecessary time waiting at the gate.
If you are a frequent flyer, you will have a better feel for when to arrive at the airport. If you are an occasional traveler, here are common factors to consider that will expedite your airport experience and save you time.
- Get familiar with the airport and terminals
- Allow for airport size and busy times
- Know your airline's baggage policies and check-in requirements before arriving at the airport
- Check with your airline about any restrictions for carry-on items
- If it's an international flight, be mindful of customs and immigration procedures
- If you travel often, apply for TSA PreCheck for little to no wait time
How Early Should You get to the Airport for Business Travel?
Missing a flight is not a situation anyone wants to be in, but this is especially true for business travelers, who have the additional pressures of tight deadlines, meetings, and the awkward phone call to a boss explaining a missed flight. This is why we recommend business travelers arrive at the airport earlier than you would for vacation.
The most important thing is to be at your gate with plenty of time before departure when traveling for business. How much time depends on the airport size, time of departure, and what terminal it departs from. It's not uncommon for flights departing around noon to depart out of terminals far away or even across the airport so there may be additional walking involved in getting to the correct gate (especially if multiple airlines operate out of one terminal). Business travelers should plan to arrive 2 to 3 hours before the scheduled departure time.
How Early Should You get to the Airport for Vacation Travel?
Vacation travelers can afford more flexibility when arriving at airports because they do not have an urgent deadline for arrival like business travelers do. How soon vacation travelers need to get to their gate will depend on the departure time and terminal, but they can typically arrive 1 to 2 hours before the scheduled departure time.
If there is a layover, vacation travelers should get to the first airport no less than an hour before their new flight departs. This will allow them time for any additional procedures needed at their destination, such as clearing customs and baggage claims. How soon you need to arrive in advance will depend on your connecting airline's policies. For example, if you are connecting to a domestic flight, your airline may not allow more than 2 hours between flights. If there is a layover, vacation travelers should get to the first airport no less than an hour before their new flight departs. This will allow them time for any additional procedures needed at their destination, such as clearing customs and baggage claims. How soon you need to arrive in advance will depend on your connecting airline's policies. For example, if you are connecting to a domestic flight, your airline may not allow more than 2 hours between flights.
Ultimately, travelers should do their research beforehand and arrive at the airport early enough so that they have plenty of time for checking in and going through security checkpoints. Take advantage of all the fantastic travel apps out there, such as the MyTSA app. This app gives you estimated wait times for security based on historical data, so you have an idea of what to expect upon arrival.
If you're traveling with children, remember that they have different needs than adults. The more people in your party, the longer it will take to navigate through airport checkpoints, especially with children. Use your best judgment and adjust your arrival time accordingly.
What About International Travel?
TSA recommends that you arrive at least 3 hours before your scheduled departure time. Since international flights are significantly more expensive than domestic flights, it's worth it to arrive earlier than you probably need to. International travel requires tighter security, so give yourself ample time to check your luggage, go through security and immigration/passport control.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, business travelers should arrive earlier than they would for vacation travel. It's a good idea to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before departure for business travelers and 1-2 hours for vacation domestic flights. When traveling to international destinations, try to get to the airport at least 3 hours before your departure to ensure you never miss a flight.
If you travel for business, check out our article 8 Helpful Tips for the Business Traveler!