How long before a flight should I get to the airport?

July 29, 2019

By Steph Marinkovic

Running late for your flight can put a damper on your holiday before you have even set foot in the airport. Similarly, arriving early can mean you’ll be eating into your holiday budget long before you’ve taken off – whiling away the hours over-priced cafes and gift stores can get pricey, after all!

To help you find the happy medium between too late and too early, we checked out the UK’s 15 most popular airports’ recommended arrival times so you can have just enough time to sail through security and tuck into a quick snack without feeling the stress.

How long before a flight should I get to the airport?

London Heathrow

Planning to check in at the airport? Heathrow recommends arriving at the check-in and bag drop desks three hours before your departure time. For flights within the UK and Europe, two hours will be plenty of time to cruise through the terminal.

If you’ve checked in online and have no bags to drop, Heathrow reckons you can get away with being at security control three hours before a long-haul flight and two hours before domestic and European flights.

London Gatwick

Gatwick asks travellers to arrive at least two hours before your flight to go through the check-in and security processes.

However, check-in opens four and three hours before long-haul and European flights, respectively. For UK and Ireland flights, check-in opens two hours before scheduled departures.

London Luton

Those leaving from Luton should make a note of boarding gate closing times – it’s an even 40 minutes across all flights.

That leaves you with a solid hour and twenty minutes to get through the pre-flight process, as check-in and bag drop desks generally open two hours before scheduled departure times.

London Stansted

Your Stansted send-off requires you to allow at least two hours before going through security, so take advantage of your airline’s online check-in or arrive earlier to do this at the desk.

For more specific advice, Stansted advises you to check your airline guidelines well in advance of your departure day.

London Southend

For flights departing from Southend, it’s best to check your airline’s instructions. Boarding gates can close between 30 and 40 minutes before scheduled departure time.

The general rule for Southend, however, is to allow at least two hours before your flight if you need to check-in or drop off bags at the desk.


How early you should arrive at Manchester can vary quite dramatically between airlines, and many leave the decision-making up to you.

For example, Jet2 allows travellers to check in at the desk three-and-a-half hours before your flight’s departure. If you’ve checked in online and are only travelling with hand luggage, Jet2 says you can speed through the process in just 90 minutes.

The airport itself generally recommends that you allow two hours to go through security after check in, but following your airline’s guidelines here will see you through safely.


You can be hanging out at Birmingham airport for up to
four hours if you like to travel with extra time on your hands!

Again, you should always check your airline’s instructions but at Birmingham, check-in opens four hours before your international flight and between two and three hours for your domestic and European flights.


Going from Glasgow? Check-in desks will open anywhere between four hours and ninety minutes before a flight’s departure time.

Rule of thumb here is to allow three hours before an international flight, two before a European flight and ninety minutes before a domestic flight. You can always check what time your airline’s check-in desk will open at Glasgow airport here.

East Midlands

Jet2 and TUI ask travellers from East Midlands airport to begin the check-in and security process three hours before your flight’s departure time.

All other airlines ask you to leave a two-hour buffer to get you through check-in and security.


If you’ve scored an amazing package holiday deal, Newcastle airport suggests you arrive at the airport three hours before your charter flight to ensure a smooth, stress-free process.  DIY-holidaymakers travelling on a scheduled flight, meanwhile, can stroll through two hours before the departure time.

Check-in times can vary airline by airline, however, so it’s always recommended to base your decisions on your carrier guidelines.


Most carriers flying from Edinburgh airport cut off check-in 30 to 40 minutes before boarding, and gates can close as little as 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

To make sure you get through the pre-flight process smoothly, you should be prepared to check in three hours before an international flight and two hours before all other flights.

Leeds Bradford

Between two and three hours is enough time to get through the checkpoints at Leeds Bradford.

They recommend this regardless of whether you have checked in online or plan to do this at the desks, so use your discretion!

Belfast International Airport

Check-in desks at Belfast International Airport open two hours before most domestic flights’ scheduled departure time. For international flights, you should aim to start your check-in process three hours before you are scheduled to fly.

Though it is a relatively small airport, they have urged people to stick to these guidelines over peak travel time and especially in the busy summer months.


Two hours before your fly should be enough to work your way through the checkpoints at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, though your airline may advise differently so check your booking before you leave!


Cardiff suggests travellers arrive at the airport four hours before an international flight and two hours before a short-haul flight (four hours or less) within the UK or Europe.

8 things to think about when deciding how early you should leave for your flight

1. Can you check-in online?

Online check-in and carrying hand luggage only can shave minutes off your wait-time at the airport as you can skip straight to security in most cases.

If you do need to check baggage, there’s often a separate desk or self-drop-off points for your airline.

2. When does your airline ask you to be at the airport?

Though the median time is two hours before you fly, as revealed above, some airlines ask you to arrive at the airport a lot earlier or later than the airport guidelines. Always carefully read through the instructions sent with your booking confirmation.

3. Is it peak holiday time?

Will you have to battle hundreds of other half-term holidaymakers or long-weekend warriors to get to through the queues? Make sure to factor this in to your schedule.

Outside of peak holiday seasons, you may also have to consider those frequent corporate flyers. Some of the busiest times can be early weekday mornings!

4. How are you planning to get to the airport?

Things outside your control, such as an accident on the road resulting in unexpected traffic or having to contend with peak-hour drivers, can add precious time to your airport journey. Checking the traffic conditions well before you leave may help mitigate the risks of running late, but if you’re worried, tack on an extra hour to your travel time.

Similarly, pre-booking your airport parking will not only save you money but will guarantee you a spot on the day, saving you valuable minutes. If you’re travelling by rail, be across any planned strikes and keep an eye out for delays.

5. How big is the airport?

And are you familiar with it? Some sprawling airports can see you walking upwards of ten minutes from security to gate. It mightn’t sound like much, but if you’re unfamiliar with the airport, it could be the difference between missing and making your flight.

6. How many people are travelling with you?

Will you have to organise passports, boarding passes and luggage for your family of five or are you travelling solo? Getting your group through the gate can take some time, especially if you’re navigating a busy airport with five carry-on suitcases and three antsy kids!

7. Are you entitled to skip the queues?

If you’re loyal to an airline's frequent flyer program, your mileage status could see you move to a much shorter queue, and the same applies to those travelling business or first-class.

Alternatively, you can significantly decrease your time in queues by purchasing VIP Fast Track passes. In UK airports, they can start from as little as £3 per person!

8. What’s in your hand luggage?

Hand luggage rules state you can only carry liquids under 100mls and that they all must neatly fit into a clear, one-litre plastic bag.

Though most airports will provide these bags for free, you can easily save time by having this pre-packed, instead of wasting time digging through all your belongings to find that misplaced moisturiser.

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