Home Airports Airports’ Mixed Message: Get Here Early, But Not Too Early

Airports’ Mixed Message: Get Here Early, But Not Too Early

by SharonKurheg

Every since the pandemic has calmed a bit, people have been traveling like there’s no tomorrow. Although we haven’t hit the pre-pandemic numbers of 2019, we’re getting close. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics said that in March 2019, there were 77.3 million airline passengers (both domestic & international) in the U.S. In March 2022, that number was 69.4 Million. So yeah…close.

The big problem right now is that airports and airlines are understaffed, making virtually everything at the nation’s busier airports happen much slower.

When Joe and I went to Hawaii in February, we got to the airport 90 minutes before our flight (Note: I wanted to get there earlier but was outvoted by him who is taller and can carry heavy luggage better than me). The check-in area was a crowded mess and honestly, even if we had arrived 2 hours early, we still would have had to do the “I got here too late” walk of shame and ask the person manning the queue to let us cut the line so we could catch our flight.

Airports haven’t gotten any calmer in the past 6 months, so ever since our February debacle, I’ve insisted we arrive at our hometown airport, MCO, 3 hours early. He Who Carries The Luggage also happens to be He Who Doesn’t Like To Wait, so he often balks at that. But I give him side eye, remind him of the mess we encountered earlier in the year, and he usually settles down nicely ;-).

And it’s not just me. Some airports are even suggesting you arrive earlier than previously, and are going as far as putting it on their websites:

  • Orlando Int’l Airport: Please arrive 3 hours before departure time
  • Miami Int’l Airport: Please arrive at least 3 hours before your flight
  • Amsterdam Schiphol: Come to Schiphol max 4 hours before departure
    They have a whole web page devoted this this

When we were flying to Austin last week, we took American Airlines. We got to MCO right on time (read: 3 hours early for our 1:17 pm flight) and Terminal B was PACKED SOLID. Lots of people seemed just to be sitting around and doing nothing; just waiting.

We had checked in the day before, so the only thing we needed to get was the luggage tags from Americans’ kiosks. Then we had to get in the queue for bag drop. The American representative at the end of the queue asked everyone what time their plane was before they went in line. Why? “You can’t get in line if your flight is more than 4 hours away!” Ah, so THAT’S why all those people were hanging out – they were waiting for their flights to be less than 4 hours away!

So get there early. 3 hours early. But 4 hours? Nope.

The same thing is happening on the other side of the pond.

Some passengers are arriving at London-based airports upwards of 5 hours early, for fear of long queues, public transport disruption and pre-planned strikes by workers. The BBC reported that, in response, London Stansted Airport is requesting that people not arrive more than 3 hours early, because the airports were becoming overcrowded with people arriving so early.

So again…get there early. But not TOO early. And definitely not 5 hours early.

How early SHOULD you get to the airport?

Despite our encounter with “recommendation of 3, but no more than 4,” there’s no hard and fast rule of how far in advance anyone should get to the airport. It depends on how busy the airport is, whether or not you have to check baggage, who’s traveling with you, what class you’re flying, what memberships you have, etc. But this is a good primer to help you determine how early YOU should get to the airport.

Oh, and if you want to save some time at the check in counter? Do this, if you can.

And remember – get there early. But not TOO early.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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