If you have an international flight coming up, you definitely don’t want to cut it too late and risk missing your flight.
You also probably don’t want to get to the airport too early and be unnecessarily bored out of your mind while you wait for your flight to board.
Generally, it’s recommended that you arrive at the airport 3 hours early for international flights, but this can vary depending on if you need to check in a bag, the airport you are flying from, the country you are flying from, the flight time, and more.
How Early Should You Get to the Airport For an International Flight?
It’s generally recommended that you arrive at the airport 3 hours early for international flights.
If you follow this guidance, you are practically guaranteed to make your flight, regardless of the size of the airport, the country you are in, and other external factors that might delay you.
If You Need to Check In a Bag
You never quite know what the airline check-in counter is going to look like before you arrive at the airport.
So, to be on the safe side, if you need to check in a bag, you should definitely follow airline recommendations and get to the airport at least 3 hours early to be sure that you will be able to check in your bag and make your flight.
If You Don’t Need to Check in a Bag
If you don’t need to check in a bag, and you have already checked-in online, you only need to worry about going through airport security.
So, if you don’t need to check in a bag, you can get to the airport 90 minutes to 2 hours before your international flight, and you will make your flight just fine.
With TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
If you have TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, you can get through security lines (or U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the case of Global Entry) more quickly.
This can mean that you can arrive to the airport a little later for international flights, but you will want to make sure that the airport you are flying from has lines dedicated to these programs.
If there are TSA PreCheck and Global Entry lines, you should be okay arriving at the airport up to 2 hours before international flights.
All airlines, regardless if you’re flying with Southwest, Delta, United, American Airlines, JetBlue, or any other major or regional air carrier, will recommend that you arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to your departure if you’re flying internationally.
If the airport you are flying out of is very large, it might take you a little longer to navigate and go through the process of checking-in, going through airport security, and finding your gate to board the plane.
So, if you’re flying from JFK or LAX, for example, you’ll definitely want to leave a little more time to guarantee that you will make your flight.
Depending on the country you are flying from, you might want to get to the airport a little earlier.
American Airlines, for example, recommend that if you are flying from Accra, Ghana, you should get to the airport a minimum of 3-4 hours before departure, even if you’re not checking in a bag.
American Airlines also advise you to arrive to the airport a minimum of 4 hours before departure if you’re flying from Dublin, Ireland, even if you’re not checking in a bag.
By Peak Times
It may seem overkill, but if you’re flying internationally during peak travel time, such as during Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s, spring break, etc., we recommend getting to the airport up to 4 hours early for international flights.
By Flight Time
Airports are generally less busy in the early morning (7 – 8am) and late evening (10pm+), so you can get to the airport a little later to catch your flight, though this is by no means guaranteed.
If you have an early morning or late evening flight, aim to get to the airport 2-3 hours before your flight.
If Flying With Kids
Every parent knows just how stressful it can be to fly with kids, so you will want to make sure that you get to the airport early if you have an international flight coming up – at least three hours.
If flying with kids, getting to the airport at least three hours before departure will leave plenty of time to manage extra luggage and deal with any mishaps.
With a Layover
Everyone knows someone who has missed a flight due to not leaving enough time between layovers.
Perhaps you’ve even missed a flight in this way.
If you have an international flight coming up with a domestic layover and are travelling on the same ticket, the bag you checked in at your origin airport will be loaded onto your next flight for you.
This means that you won’t have to pick up your bag and only have to worry about going through airport security again, even if you’re flying internationally.
If this is the case, you should leave at least 1-2 hours to ensure you make your flight.
If you have to collect your bag, you should aim for 3 hours between layovers, as you will have to check in again.
Why Do You Have to Be At the Airport 3 Hours Before an International Flight?
While there is no rule that states that you must be at the airport 3 hours before an international flight, it’s recommended, so you are practically guaranteed to make your flight.
To be more specific:
- Check in can take a long time with long queues, especially as on international flights most passengers will check in a bag instead of just flying with a carry on.
- Many countries require a visa for entry, which can take time for airline staff to confirm that you have when you check in.
- Airport security queues can take a long time, especially if many people at the airport are flying internationally, where larger planes are used.
- Boarding is usually carried out in stages, sometimes up to 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
Is it Okay to Arrive 2 Hours Before an International Flight?
It’s usually okay to arrive at an airport 2 hours instead of 3 hours before an international flight.
But for peace of mind, we still recommend getting to the airport 3 hours before your flight.
Provided that you aren’t flying at busy times, you’re familiar with the layout of the airport, and/or you don’t need to check in a bag, 2 hours should leave enough time to make your flight.
How Early Should You Get to the Airport For a Domestic Flight?
When flying domestically, it’s recommended that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to departure.
This will again practically guarantee that you will make your flight.
What to Do At the Airport While You Wait For Your Flight
If you’ve checked-in, made it through airport security, and find you have a lot of time to kill before your plane boards, you can:
- Grab a drink or bite to eat
- Plan what to do on your trip
- Chat to your fellow passengers
- Charge your phone
- Try to get an upgrade
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Watch a movie
- People watch
- Take a walk
- Catch up on some work
- Take a nap