Even the most frequent of fliers might ask themselves how early they need to get to the airport, so what hope do people who only jet off once a year have?
Arrive too early and it can feel as if you have endless hours to fill, perhaps with over-excited children in tow.
Leave it too late and at best there is the stress of racing through, continually hoping you’ll make it on time and at worst a real danger of missing the flight.
How can you get it just right? Is there a magic answer, an airport arrival time that will make everything feel calm, ordered with neither too much time or too little?
The Two-Hour rule for Check in Times
If you Google any airport and a term relating to how early you need to get to the airport, the most common answer will be two hours.
Don’t believe us? – try it. We did just now for Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow and they all took us to pages that said passengers should arrive two hours before departure (Heathrow advises three hours in the case of long-haul flights).
Is it that simple then? Not necessarily. Much depends on you and your party, the specific flight, the time of day and just how frequent or confident a flier you are.
Let’s look at two contrasting examples.
The frequent flier
Mandy, a frequent flier who travels from Gatwick to Milan every month on the same flight might follow the two-hour guideline.
She knows the route to the airport, she knows how long it typically takes to get to the airport and she knows exactly where she is going once she gets to the airport. Check-in has already been taken care of online and her only bag is a small case that will be carried on to the plane.
Mandy will breeze through security, she knows the procedure and what you can and cannot have in your bag, she will actually have plenty of waiting time but she’s used to that. It will be time to have a read and a relax.
Even if she unexpectedly hits a hold up on the way to the airport she is seasoned enough for this not to be a problem, she’ll just have a bit less time in the departure lounge or to sip coffee in her favourite airport cafe.
The family holiday
Meanwhile, there are the Fitzpatricks. The Fitzpatricks are flying to Mallorca on an early evening flight from Manchester airport. Dad thinks driving and parking at the airport is better value than getting a taxi, so they have to factor in the shuttle bus to the terminal and then finding exactly where to go.
They have checked in online, but this is their first flight as a family in two years so there are nerves – double and triple checking passports and documents, making sure they’re at the right bag drop, adding in time just in case they find they’re at the wrong terminal.
Working backwards, they might try to be ready to go through security two hours prior to departure, this means they’ll have to be at the airport car park maybe 40 minutes earlier than this, and so they’ll have to leave their house maybe half an hour earlier.
What, though, if there is traffic – this is a Manchester ring road at rush hour after all. Is it better to leave an hour earlier, running the risk that there are three hours to kill at the airport, but also eliminating the risk of arriving late with huge stress ahead of their once-a-year holiday?
This isn’t a post on mindfulness, but giving thought to the nature of your character can help when deciding how early you want to get to the airport.
If you’re that family with an afternoon flight, the holiday is clearly dominating your mind, what else are you going to do on the departure day?
If you’re ready to go, is it worth getting to the airport early rather than milling around at home? Many would decide that having three or four hours to spend at an airport isn’t too bad, there are shops, there are cafes and time can be spent reading or playing on tablets, phones and laptops.
The airport website might say two hours is fine, but if you hit that bit of traffic and two hours becomes 1 hour 45, do stress levels rise? Have you gained anything by prioritising time at home over time at the airport?
You might, though, be someone who is very calm and for whom the flight is just one part of the day, perhaps with meetings at home and abroad either side of it. Two hours extra spent at the airport might be two hours that could have been put to much better use – if you’re a frequent flier, wasting two hours repeatedly will equate to several days lost across the course of a year.
We cannot answer this for you. For some people, the airport is an experience in itself, for others it is routine and time spent in it is to be minimised.
So, how early should I arrive at the airport?
You still want an answer don’t you, even if there is no one-size-fits-all.
The two-hour guideline is a good guideline if you are confident that you will actually get to the airport two hours before departure and that you then know exactly what you’re doing.
However, if you’re that bit less certain of the routine, and maybe that’s why you’ve sought out this information, adding at least one extra hour seems sensible. This time will give you a buffer that will ensure you will avoid unnecessary. stress while not being so long that it leaves you with half a day to kill in the sterile setting of an airport.
Hopefully, you will never need our services, but if you do have any problems with a flight please get in touch so we can get help you proves a flight delay claim and get the compensation you are entitled to – all on a no-win, no-fee basis and with a 98% success rate.
You can read more about us on this site – perhaps while waiting for that next flight!