Rebecca Goodman
By Rebecca Goodman
Finance Journalist
Updated 13 June 2023
|Read time: 4 mins

What time should I get to the airport?

Booking a holiday or even a short trip is exciting, and if you’re flying somewhere, you’ll want to make sure everything goes to plan. This includes arriving at the airport on time so you aren’t rushed through check-in or security, and you can start your trip in a relaxing way. You also don’t want to arrive at the airport with too much time to kill, especially if there’s not much to do. Here we look at how to get the balance right and make the start of your trip go as smoothly as possible.

How long before my flight can I check in at the airport?

It might be tempting to get to the airport with lots of time to spare, but most airports advise certain times depending on where you’re going.

Usually, it’s two hours before your flight time if it’s a domestic flight and three hours for international flights.

With long-haul flights, you’ll probably be taking larger bags with you to store in the hold, and you may need to go through more security checks.

When you book your flight, check with the airport and your airline to see how long you need to leave. It’s also worth checking on the day too, just in case something has changed.

While everything should run smoothly, sometimes incidents occur, which means you need to get to the airport earlier. This could be staff strikes, exceptional weather conditions, or additional security checks.

However, even if this is the case, arriving too early for your flight may not help either, as you may not be able to check in, and it could cause more congestion at the airport and slow things down for everyone.

Your airline should contact you to let you know if you do need to get there earlier, but it’s always wise to check their website or app so you’re fully prepared.

What’s the earliest time to check in at the airport?

In the past, travellers were told to arrive around two hours before the time of their flight, but this is not always the case.

A series of strikes by airport staff combined with the Covid pandemic means that some airports require passengers to leave more time to get through all the relevant checks. Therefore, to find out what you need to do, check with your airline.

Tips to make your airport check-in go to plan

To make your time at the airport go as smoothly as possible, here are some tips to follow.

1. If you can, check-in online, this will speed things up, and there may be charges to pay if you check in at the airport. For most flights, you can check in on the airline’s website or app, usually around 24 hours before your flight.

2. Check with your airline on the day (and the day before) just to make sure everything is still running and there aren’t any events taking place that require you to allow more time.

3. Does your hand luggage fit the airline’s requirements? This will be detailed online, both the weight and size, so it’s important to check before you get to the airport. This can save time and money in case the ground staff ask for you to check in your hand luggage. 

4. Can you skip the queue? If you’ve paid for a premium service, or if it’s included with your ticket, you may be able to skip security checks. If you’re travelling business or first class, you may even be given access to a private security service.

5. Always check that you (and anyone you’re travelling with) has the right documents and that they’re all up-to-date.

How to avoid getting to the airport late

There’s no way to predict what will happen with traffic or if your train will be on time, but you can make a few checks in advance to reduce stress and make your journey.

Before you set off, think about how you’re going to get to the airport. If you have an early flight, staying in a nearby hotel the night before might be a sensible option.

If you’re taking public transport, always check to see if everything is running on time and if there are no disruptions, such as strikes, to the service.

For those driving, check there are no traffic jams and plan where you’ll leave your car while you’re away.

If someone is driving you to the airport, give them a set time and potentially have a back-up option if they can’t make it on the day for some reason.

These are simple checks to add to your list before you go away, but they can make a big difference to your trip. It helps to avoid any unnecessary stress and start enjoying your holiday as soon as you set off.

Travel money made easy

It’s always useful to have some local currency when jetting off abroad. For great rates and no commission, pop to one of the Bureau de Change in our John Lewis & Partners shops around the UK, or order online for click-and-collect or home delivery.

When you return from your holiday, you can always sell your leftover travel money back to us at any of our Bureau de Change locations.

Exchange rates in our shops may vary from those offered online.


This article is for promotional or information purposes only. You must not rely on it as advice. Please contact a financial adviser if you need advice before you buy a financial product or service.

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We answer “how much money can I take abroad?” as well as rules around bringing cash into the UK.

John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners Bureau de Change are both trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc introduce the panel of carefully chosen providers in Bureau de Change products and services, whom each hold the appropriate licences with the Financial Conduct Authority and HMRC.

Foreign Currency online from both John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners is provided by First Rate Exchange Services Limited registration number 04287490 (Money Service Business licence number MLR-64068), whose registered office is at Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, West London, TW8 9DF England.

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