How long before a flight should you arrive and when should you check in?

Woman arriving at airport for flight. (Getty Images)
Don't risk missing your flight this summer. (Getty Images)

Questions about when to arrive at the airport and check in before a flight are all too common when holiday season comes around - no matter how many times we've already asked them.

And with the COVID-19 pandemic finally behind us (though it's still worth double checking entry requirements for different countries), we no longer have an excuse to be a little rusty.

So, to remind you of the basics, and get those common queries answered once and for all, here's what you need to know before venturing to the airport this summer.

How long before a flight should you arrive?

Family arriving at airport. (Getty Images)
Always check the advice of your airline. (Getty Images)

The general rule of thumb is that you should arrive at the airport two or three hours before your flight, depending on where you are travelling to.

  • The popular flight booking platform Skyscanner states: "For domestic flights, plan to arrive at the airport 2 hours early" and "For international flights, plan to arrive at the airport 3 hours early."

  • Last year Gatwick Airport echoed this advice, tweeting: "We always recommend arriving at least 2 hours before a short haul flight, and 3 hours before a long haul."

  • The Heathrow website also currently urges: "We recommend getting to the airport three hours before your flight if you're travelling internationally, or two hours if you're travelling domestically or to Europe."

But while the above guidance is the most common, the best option is to check the advice of the airport and airline you are flying with and follow that. Last year Heathrow suggested three hours for all flights, so it can change.

If you're still unsure, it's worth going earlier rather than later, which will allow you to arrive at your gate without rushing, grabbing anything you need en route.

Boarding often starts around 45 minutes before take-off, and the gate closes around 15 minutes before departure time (again, double check this with your airline).

Of course, if you've already checked in online, aren't checking any bags, or anything else that might speed the process up, you should be fine with slightly less time. It's up to you, depending on how much spare time you like to have.

When should you check in?

Woman checking in. (Getty Images)
There are different check-in options to choose from. (Getty Images)

Your first port of call when you arrive at the airport should be checking in, if you need to. You should find out what time your airline's check-in opens at, which should coincide nicely with your arrival time.

For example, Gatwick Airport states that the following times provide a general guide:

  • Long-haul flights: check-in opens around three hours before scheduled departure

  • European flights: check-in three hours before scheduled departure

  • UK and Ireland flights: check-in two hours prior to scheduled departure

You can find your airline's check-in desk and bag drop by looking at the overhead screens for direction. You can check in at the desk, or if there's the option, save yourself some time and use the self-service check-in to choose your seat and print your boarding pass.

Most airlines also allow online check-in up to 24 hours before your departure, which is often the most popular choice.

Whatever you decide to do, if you have a hold bag you want to put on the airplane, don't forget to go to the bag drop, whether at the desk or using self-service. Check with your airline when this closes.

You can now head to security, then do whatever shopping you need to ahead of boarding.

Bon voyage!