Arrive at the airport with time to spare or last minute? Readers have their say

Stacey Lastoe, CNNPublished 27th August 2019
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(CNN) — When catching a flight, is it best to arrive at the airport early or just in time? That is the question.
Unless you're Carl from Atlanta, Georgia, who thinks it isn't a question at all.
In fact, after two CNN staffers penned impassioned essays on either side of the debate, CNN Travel asked readers for their thoughts on the great timing issue.
Carl, like other readers who took time to comment on this not-quite-divisive-after-all issue (a whopping 75% sided with my colleague's early arrival stance), has heard too many horror stories of travelers having to rebook flights on account of being tardy. He wants none of that and would prefer to relax with time to spare.
He was far from alone in this straightforward line of thinking.
Over 100 ardent and enthusiastic responses revealed that there are actually three sides to this story: Get there early, cut it close or make an educated decision.
See what readers had to say below. (Responses have been edited for brevity.)

Champions of early

Rules are rules
Some travelers feel strongly about following the rules to a T. One reader from New Orleans simply commented: Two hours domestic, two and a half hours international.
And Elizabeth from Ontario, Canada asks how this is even a debate. "The airline sends you an email telling you want time to be there," she says. "That's the time you show up. Anyone giving it more thought than this is giving it too much thought."
Frank in Amsterdam agrees: "Airlines and airports monitor and recommend particular lead times to process local, international and intercontinental passengers. I stick by these recommendations and never find myself with an excess of wasted time, or shirts clinging with sweat to my body."
Changi International Airport in Singapore helps pass any extra time before boarding easily.
Changi International Airport in Singapore helps pass any extra time before boarding easily.
Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images
Airports are cool
Lots of people aren't about arriving early just to avoid the stress of potentially missing a flight. Some just think airports are great places to explore.
Steve in Brooklyn admits he doesn't like flying but says he loves everything associated with it. "The planes, the airports, the lounges -- when done well, they are just beautiful in composite -- and one of the best expressions of our culture."
"I always get to the airport early. For one, I do actually enjoy being in the airport; I came from a family with modest means and though I travel much more as an adult, there's still a sort of child-like wonderment I get from travel." (Nick, Charlotte, NC)
"As someone who travels weekly, I tend to arrive at the airport as early as I can. This allows me ZERO worry to get through security, even if you have TSA pre-check or CLEAR. I enjoy seeing what new airports have to offer while waiting for my flight." (Jared, Philadelphia)
Some readers took issue with what it means to cut it close. Holding passengers up, arriving at their seat perspiring and out of breath, time savers are no friend of the traveler who arrives early.
"The scare of missing my flight or having people wait for me does not fill me with a any good feelings. My skin crawls when someone is not prepared to put the right things in the bins or hasn't removed their footwear. What is wrong with people? The thought of sitting at the right terminal waiting for my flight to board, makes me happy that I'm on time." (Millie, Brooklyn, NY)
"The idea of running and getting all sweaty before a flight seems crazy. I'm sure who ever sits next to that person doesn't appreciate it at all." (Ryan, Wendell NC).
Southwest Airlines has a loyal fan base as revealed by many readers' praiseworthy comments on the low-cost air carrier.
Southwest Airlines has a loyal fan base as revealed by many readers' praiseworthy comments on the low-cost air carrier.
The luxury of extra time
For a good number of readers, time is most definitely not money when it comes to getting to the airport with lots of time to spare before boarding begins.
"I'm an early arriver for the many reasons outlined by David Allan. When I'm early, I can take the time to read non-work related material (something of a luxury in a busy workweek), catch up on new music or podcasts, and grab a non-rushed meal rather than a questionably nutritious pastry." (Kristin H. Cambridge, MA)
"I'm a firm believer in arriving two hours before my domestic flight. It doesn't matter what time of the year or day I'm flying or if I'm checking luggage or not. Once at the gate, I find a seat near an outlet, plug in my phone, and break out the knitting." (Juliette, Nashville)
"I fly Business or First and always make us of the lounges that are usually available. I have a snack or light meal, pick up some reading material [international travel gives you the best newspapers and magazines] and enjoy the peace and quiet, usually. I am stress free." (Gordon)
Do what you have to do
Not all early arrivers enjoy airports; some simply believe it's the only surefire way to manage a trip and make the flight.
"I don't enjoy hanging out in airports, but I missed a flight to Florida once, and had to spend an additional 9 hours on standby, so I prefer to play it safe rather than risking that miserable experience again. I've never arrived 3 hours before an international flight though, that seems excessive." (James, Baltimore)
"Becoming a member of an airport lounge (in my case, through Priority Pass) changed my life. Now, time at the airport is for getting a snack, a can of soda to bring on the plane, checking email or finishing up a work call. It's productive time, and I still get to the gate just as my group number is being called." (anonymous)
"I won't say I like airports, or traveling in general, but arriving as early as possible gives me a chance to be a creative, considerate human-and that is what it should be about. Air Cubana had a slogan a long time ago -- Where ever you travel, in the world, always arrive happy. I usually do." (Ann, Thailand)
James in Shanghai had this to say: "I don't like rushing," and unsurprisingly, this is a common refrain among the early-arrivals group.
"I'm always early. I hate rushing. I travel long-haul at least three times a year and use the extra time at the airport to purchase international magazines for a fraction of the cost and read them on the plane before passing them on to friends and family. Always better that picking up tacky souvenirs." (Pamela, Vancouver)
"You will not understand the stupidity and useless stress caused by going late until you reach the gate of your flight and see your plane backing away for takeoff. It only has to happen once, and you will understand the peace it brings to your world to get there early... and save the money for a re-booked flight cost you had to eat... that you had to purchase to make that business meeting with your boss. Go early... do some work at airport if you must, make some calls, have a drink. Enjoy the experience." (J, Jasper)
The newly opened TWA Hotel at JFK Airport makes a case for giving yourself extra time at the airport.
The newly opened TWA Hotel at JFK Airport makes a case for giving yourself extra time at the airport.
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
To be early is to be zen
"I'm in the 'get to the airport early and dawdle' camp. I'd so much rather have the extra time to make sure I'm organized, fill up my water bottle, dive into my book, and have my Nth cup of coffee. It became a routine in my family when I started travelling for school that we'd get to the airport early and have a final cup of coffee together before I flew back to school. It was this moment of zen, of delaying our goodbyes just a minute longer." (Lila, Boston)
"Peace of mind that you are there waiting and ready to board compared to rushing to the gates or being inconsiderate by being late to the gate." (Leong, Malaysia)

Punctual is not late

It's not that fliers opposed to getting to the airport early are tardy people who regularly miss appointments and disappoint friends and family (at least, none of our readers confessed to this). It's that this group is highly organized and time-efficient.
They've found a way to navigate the system with ease -- for example, Precheck for US travelers was cited by numerous travelers as a game-changing, time saver -- to minimize waiting.
It's the whole point
"It would be stupid to get there more than an hour early. You're just going to end up sitting around and negating the point of air travel, which is to SPEED UP your trip. If I'm going to hang out in an airport for 2 hours, in most cases, I'd be better off driving." (Laura, Memphis)
"I work in consulting and take usually 2 flights per week- maybe even 4 per week every now and again. Think about it - going to the airport 30 minutes later than the average person saves me (broad brush) 48 work weeks per year x 2 flights per week x 30 minutes = 48 hours or 2 full days. Now me cutting it closer than others results in me missing maybe 2 flights per year - sometimes getting rebooked at the grace is the airline staff, sometimes having to pay - costing me say £300 per year. £300 for 2 extra days? That's a trade I would make any day." (Aditya, London)
No idling, no thanks
"I like to get there about 20-30 min before boarding starts. Usually it is just enough time to get through security and to the gate. I can't stand checking bags or spending idle time in the lounge." (Carrie, Houston)
"I know the prudent decision is to go to the airport early, but as for myself, I've always preferred to cut it close to boarding time and get there at the last second! For one, by this time you usually don't have to wait in any long and confusing boarding lines. Living life on the edge is where it's at these days; besides, hearing your name during last-call over the intercom system across the airport is kinda cool and intense, right?!!" (Reed, Greenville, SC)
"When arriving, I try to cut it close, arriving at the gate about 10 minutes before the plane starts boarding. Typically, I fly early morning or mid afternoon; so for early morning, this gives me extra time to sleep in, and a little extra time to kiss my wife goodbye for a few days. When returning, i'm usually rushing out of a meeting, trying to get any last details taken care of before heading to the airport." (Russell, New York City)
Close but not too close
"I will start by saying that I have never followed the two-hours domestic or three-hours international rule. Ever. But that is not to say that I am one of those whose name is called over airport's PA system because the flight's gates are about to close. I time myself so that I am at the boarding gate 15-20 minutes prior to the boarding time printed on the boarding pass, keeping in mind that flights seldom start to board at the exact time printed on the boarding pass." (Rajeev, India)
"I tend to be the one who cuts it close. I would rather work at home or office depending on which I am traveling. I hate sitting aimlessly at airport or trying to make small talk. I normally arrive at the airport about 40 mins before flight time and touch wood have never missed a flight." (Deep, Baltimore)

Site-specific strategizing

Multiple readers responded with specific arrival strategies based on where they are flying out of, what time of day it is and the area's traffic patterns (traffic en route to Dhaka International Airport in Bangladesh is brutal, according to Rahatul, one of our readers).
Domestic versus international flights are also a deciding factor in many travelers' arrival time, who pride themselves on their savvy travel skills.
"For me it all depends on where I'm flying from, if I'm checking luggage, and if it is international vs. domestic." (Krystina F, Wichita)
Five-star airports, preferred
"Early or late, it's not that simple. No one would want to sit on an uncomfortable bench with poor WiFi just to wait. Of course, not all airports are the same." (Jason, Hong Kong)
Size matters
"It depends on the airport. I live in Tallahassee, FL and can often arrive 30-40 minutes before the flight leaves due to the small size of the airport and benefit of having TSA Pre-check. A larger airport domestically (JFK, SEA, ATL, etc) I typically like to arrive no later than 90 minutes in case there is a line at security or other unforeseen delay. International travel abroad on my flights home -- I like to get to the airport at least 3 hours early." (John Tallahassee, FL)
When in Aruba
"One hour before flights take off. Unless your are in Aruba ... make it 3 hours earlier." (Gam, New York City)
Handy TSA Pre-check
"Security is, for the most part, the undefined time variable. If you do not have TSA Precheck, 90-minutes should be the minimum to get to the airport. If you have Precheck, cutting the time in half to 45 minutes is perfect, especially if you're checking luggage." (Charmaine, Philadelphia)
But TSA Precheck, only available to travelers departing the US, has its critics too. Kris in Denver, Colorado hopes they're reading: "Please create a special line for those who have paid for TSA through proper channels and DOH interviews. This will speed up your lines considerably -- nothing irks a traveler more than a family of 7 who "luckily got" pre-check assigned by the airlines, yet they have no idea how to go through the line! Just the opinion of a seasoned road-warrior!"