How Early to Arrive at the Airport and 9 Other Vital Tips for Pre-Boarding Ease

Kelly Dawson

If you're a first-time flyer, or you fly infrequently, an airport can be a daunting and disorienting place. People are everywhere, for starters—in fast-moving shuttles, in badly parked cars, in overcrowded lines—and the rules for getting from the entrance to a plane are not exactly obvious. To make matters worse, there are small details involved with flying that can complicate the process even further. Are you allowed to bring a regular-sized bottle of shampoo on to a plane? When does a plane typically start boarding? Wait, how much is a bottle of water at a newsstand?

Although an airport may be in your hometown, visiting one as a novice jet-setter might as well be like flying into a foreign country: There's a culture to it that gets easier to understand with either help or time. Scott Keyes, the co-founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, has spent countless hours researching the best plane fares before navigating the world's maze-like terminals, and he can be the expert you need to understand the ins and outs of airport etiquette. Let's start with an easy but vital question: How early should someone arrive at an airport?

"Domestic flights typically begin boarding 30 minutes ahead of time and with final call around 10 minutes before departure," he says. "For those flights, arriving at the airport two hours ahead of time is a good rule of thumb. That Will give you plenty of buffer time in case there's a line at security or you need to check a bag."

"As for international flights, those typically begin boarding 45 minutes ahead of time and have a final call around 10 minutes before departure," he continues. "For those flights, arriving at the airport two-and-a-half or three hours ahead of time is a good idea, especially if it's your first international flight. The stakes tend to be higher for international flights since there are fewer flights to get rebooked on if you miss a flight."

Now that you know when to get to the airport, Keyes has provided more insights into navigating check-in, staying on top of flight changes, and other vital moves so that you can look and feel like a travel expert without actually being one. Most of the time, that can make an airport a much more manageable place.

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