These days, deciding what time to leave for the airport can be challenging. You want to maximize your time at home or on vacation and avoid a lot of useless waiting at the airport. But, you also don't want to be rushed or scrambling through the airport, let alone miss your flight.
The perfect arrival time can hard to estimate, due to many factors, some of which may vary, depending on the airport. Knowing what factors to consider, plus some general statistics, can help you develop an educated guess of how early you should arrive at the airport.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
When considering your arrival time at the airport, the first thing that likely comes to mind is how long the TSA line will be. According to recent data, average wait times in TSA lines have been the longest in New Orleans, where passengers have been waiting an average of 19.68 minutes to clear security.
After estimating the wait time for the TSA line, you'll need to add the time it will take to return a rental car (if applicable) and to get from the parking facilities to the airport entrance. Add more time if you're checking bags.
Even if being dropped off at the airport, it's essential to anticipate any potential traffic issues on the way, and inside the airport facility. At some airports, you can easily arrive right in front of the doors. At other airports, like Newark, a slow line of traffic snakes along the road to the terminal, putting the terminal in sight but out of reach, for what can seem like forever. According to car traffic volume reports, only San Francisco and Los Angeles have more traffic.
Airport size is also a significant consideration, as it directly affects the time required to walk from curb to gate. A recent analysis by Upgraded Points found that the airport with the largest acreage is Denver, at 33,531 acres. The remaining top five were: Dallas (DFW – 17,207), Fort Myers (13,555), D.C. (IAD – 13,000), and Orlando (12,600).
HOW EARLY TO ARRIVE?
After reviewing data on car traffic volume, airport acreage, the number of terminals an airport has, and 12 other data points, Upgraded Points Founder Alex Miller shared that Chicago's O'Hare is the number one airport in America where it's essential to arrive early.
Miller says, "arrive 3 hours and 4 minutes early to board smoothly." To explain the time recommendation, he cites the airport's 193 gates—more than any other airport in his study. Additionally, he notes that the airport is understaffed, citing, "O'Hare has 3,606 badged airport employees per square mile, 9% below the national average."
After O'Hare, the remaining airports in the top five for most time required are Los Angeles, New York (JFK), Houston, and Dallas (DFW), all which Miller suggests require 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Passengers flying through Columbus, OH, however, can adopt a more leisurely pace needing just one hour to comfortably reach their gate. The remaining airports in the top five for the least time required are Sacramento, Dallas (DAL), Kansas City, and Baltimore.
Flying on certain days and at certain times of day will change the time required, either up or down. Additionally, passengers with TSA PreCheck, Clear, or both, can remove considerable time from these estimates.