Hey traveling guys and girls! Ever wonder how soon to arrive before a flight to the airport? I can give you my first hand experience. I personally have never missed a flight because I usually like to leave WAY ahead of schedule and just relax on the way there or at the airport, and i’ll tell you why. For international flights, make sure to leave a much longer timeframe because you may need to pass through all 3 of these – immigration, security, and airport check-in.
Back when I was employed at a corporate job I took this flight out of JFK airport, oops it was out of La Gaurdia, thats right i went to the wrong airport! There was a bit of confusion with my current managers travel plan. The good news here is that i jumped in a cab dropping someone else off at JFK and was at LGA in New York City within 30 minutes so about 3.5 hours before the flight instead of 4. I usually like to arrive at the airport about 3 to 4 hours prior to departure for a domestic flight, not including travel time to the airport and 5 to 7 hours for an international flight.
Here’s another example, When i started this global adventure i took a flight out of JFK airport that took off at 12:20 AM. Boarding time was about 11:40PM aboard a huge Boeing 777-300ER airplane from EVA Airlines out of Taiwan. I arrived at the airport around 6:30 PM. I was coming from Bay Ridge Brooklyn, and this trip was a bit more complex because of my luggage – hard to move without a taxi driver helping me. I left about 1 hour for the livery car out of Bay Ridge to take me to the airport, in fact I think i have a pic of the Toyota Camry that drove me there…let me see. So most check in desks wont allow you to check in sooner than 3 to 4 hours before the flight because they dont want too many people sitting in the terminal. So for JFK, the EVA air desk was not open upon arrival so i just sat nearby for an hour or so along with a few other early bird Asian travelers.
On to security, I would leave 30 minutes to 1 hour for the typical wait time; granted if you check in, they are probably not going to leave you behind, unless there is some serious problem with either TSA security or immigration. The reason for the lead time is that you may spend about 30 minutes waiting in line to check in with the airline.
Passing TSA security… a little advice on passing through security. Stuff you cant bring… sharp objects, scissors, bigger knives, anything with sharp objects, anything like a long blunt object like a golf club cannot be brought into the cabin. Water or other liquids are also banned, and course obvious things like weapons and things like aerosol sprays and gasoline. Over in Cambodia i had a wrench confiscated, it was for use on my bicycle, oops! For me personally, i usually have a lot of stuff, like hats, electronics, phones, coins, belts, clothing, gadgets, so it a bit longer for me to get through the line.
Heres my routine for passing security… after checking with the airline, walk near the wall, #1 remove watch, put inside of my carry on bag #2, remove wallet from my pocket as well as keys, put these in my carry on, so they wont be stolen by another passenger. I also do the same with my cell phone, and the coins in my pocket, i usually take both my belt off and my shoes and walk through the metal detector in my socks. I also usually have an overcoat or over-shirt on, as well as eyeglasses and a hat, these i put inside one of the bins, with the glasses going into a plastic case to avoid ruining them. Sometimes the security personnel will search me, and sometimes not. This really depends on if i trigger the metal detector.
You may spend 10 to 45 minutes in a line through security. After passing through the line, I put everything back on on one of the tables they have set up after entry past security.
Passing immigration, border of the USA. For an American citizen exiting the country at JFK, the immigration officer scanned my passport, there was no physical stamp inside the book. They asked no questions about my exit. This desk was just past the TSA security check point. This wait took about 5 minutes, but of course if there is a delay it would be 20 to 30 minutes. So you can see the time really adds up.
Additional Checks and searches… Over in Morocco, there was an additional search by security personnel before boarding a flight form Marrakesh to London, England. I was told that this was a random search based on the number of people in line. Here, i was skipped. Our boarding area for British Airways was roped off and separated from other airlines boarding areas. I was quite surprised, so i guess each country has different protocols.
Boarding the airliner… Now we get onto actually getting inside the airliner. You can see that flying can really take up a bit of time. For this section, ill use a different example. Two days ago i boarded a flight from London to Tirana, Albania. It was delayed at Luton for about 30 minutes. Over at Luton all of the passengers sit in a big area in the terminal facing a mall and restaurants. On the screen it shows which flights are boarding. Once ours popped up about 10pm, everyone in my group went to the indicated gate Wizzair gate 32. Luton only has one terminal, JFK has 8, so you may want to just double check which terminal you are leaving from. Over at the gate which was about a 10 minute walk from the lounge area, everyone lined up, not surprisingly i was the first person in the priority boarding line, with the exception of a lady with two strollers and two babies who was allowed to cut. It took another 10 minutes or so, then we all walked out the door onto the tarmac and walked up the stairs (non-American airports tend not to have jetways leading to aircraft doors, but this varies. About 10 minutes later we were airborne for the red eye flight to Tirana.