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The Airport Timing Game

How much time do you really need to arrive at your airport before your flight?  It’s an age-old question (well since 9/11 anyway)  and it’s definitely one of the questions that I am most often asked. Why? Well because there are so many different rules, suggestions and downright untruths out there.

Calling up your airline to ask them how long you need to be at the airport before your flight departs can often be a little misleading. They will recommend two hours before an international flight and an hour and 30 minutes before domestic travel within the USA. This however does not properly cover extremely high traffic seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas, or smaller, quieter airports at off hours.

Traveling within Asia you’re often told to get to the airport three hours before the scheduled departure time but that is way too conservative.

This can all be confusing and so to help you plan your trips to the airport I have put together a few ideas to make sure you arrive stress free. The key is to understand that the ideal time to arrive is really determined by a few factors.

Are you going First Class or Business?
Do you have TSA Pre Check?
Do you have bags to check?
Are you flying at a busy time period?
Are you a top tier member of the air alliance you are traveling on?
Have you checked in on line?

I check TSA wait times with ifly which is a very handy app that helps you plan estimated wait times at US airports. It works and always lets me know if an airport is experiencing more than usual security delays.

If you’re traveling First or Business class, or if you are a premium traveler with elite status, you may have a very short wait as you’ll have a dedicated check in desk and usually a priority security line.

Checking in on line and having no bags also helps tremendously too.

TSA Pre Check is for US airports and there is a charge to enroll, unless you are a top tier member of a qualifying airline. This allows you to go through a dedicated security line where you generally do not have to take your computer out of your bag or remove your shoes, belts or jackets. This can help speed things up.


The rule of thumb within the USA is that most airports are busy late afternoon, early evening and early mornings and that means longer lines. Noon time is best and generally Saturday is also a good time to fly. I like to avoid Friday night flights as they have both leisure travelers heading out for the weekend and business road warriors returning home.

Certain airports are worse than others and older non-refurbished airports are just plain ugly so why would you want to get there any earlier than you have to? On the other hand some airports like SFO are really nice with good amenities where you won’t mind hanging out. And of course the worst of all worlds is being rushed or actually missing your flight. So timing up your trip to the airport is critical.

Basically here’s the deal, two hours should always be plenty of time to arrive at any airport. And while each airport has different requirement, MSP for example will let you check a bag up to one hour before international flights, others like JFK aren’t so forgiving, but two hours should always work.

European airports are generally pretty smooth, Asian airports too. In Australia, Sydney and Melbourne are easy flowing. So the ones to watch out for are major US hubs and holiday destinations.

Plan ahead, think about traffic on the way there and arrive with just the right amount of time to start your journey smoothly and stress free.

Daniel - Living GreenDaniel Green, the Model Cook is a Celebrity Chef known for his healthy approach to food and living  well. With TV, books, magazines and live appearances, Daniel spends his time helping fans to cook better, feel better and live better. He’s also an avid traveler and a self-confessed Foodie.

To contact Daniel or learn more visit www.themodelcook.com or follow on Twitter  and Facebook

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