How Early Can You Go Through Airport Security?

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Are you considering spending a little extra time at the airport and thus considering going through the security as early as you can? This brings the very obvious question (which the whole article involves around) – how early can you go through airport security? 

In this article, we shall cover this question and a lot more.

How early can you go through airport security?

The answer is insanely subjective. How early you can go through the airport security does not only depend on the airline but also how early you are allowed to enter the airport (which shall be discussed in the next section of this article). 

In general, you are allowed to go through airport security as soon as you set foot into the airport, given that you have already checked in, printed your tickets at the kiosks, and dropped off your checked-in luggage. 

For example, if you arrive 4 hours early for your flight and print your tickets at the kiosk in, say 10 minutes, while also dropping off your checked-in luggage in 30 minutes, you will still have plenty of time in your hands before the flight.

This translates to you being able to go through airport security 3 hours and 20 minutes before your scheduled flight boarding. 

But, the question is, how early is ‘too’ early to go through airport security? It is too early for you to go through airport security if you are not allowed into the airport (because you arrived way before your scheduled flight departure). 

Another thing worth noting is that even if you are allowed into the airport and your flight is still not departing anytime soon, you may be denied to go through airport security before a certain timeframe.

For instance, if you arrive 5 hours early at the airport and are allowed inside, you may still be denied to pass through the airport security before at least 3 hours of your scheduled flight boarding, depending on what the TSA officials or the airline, or both decide.

Although it is highly unlikely you will be denied entry through airport security just because you are ‘too’ early, even though you are allowed to enter the airport, it is not impossible. Travelers are usually denied passing through airport security too early if it’s a peak time or if the airport (the section accessible post passing through security) is too crowded.

In conclusion, although there is no FIXED time pre-assigned by airports following which the travelers can go through airport security, it is advisable to get to the airport at least 3 hours early and pass through the security at least one and a half to two hours before the flight boarding. 

This is generally what we consider ‘on-time’; contemplating to pass the security check any earlier than 3 hours is at the discretion of the security officials (sometimes the airline) whether they will allow you to pass through the security or not.

How early can you enter the airport?

So far, you must have understood that passing through the airport security is intricately linked and dependable on how early you are allowed to enter the airport. 

An inevitable question that arises amongst all this discussion is, why would anyone want to arrive early at the airport? Here are a few reasons why travelers may want to arrive and enter the airport early:

  • If you have a flight early in the morning or late at night, you may want to arrive early to avoid the hassle – especially if the public transport in your city does not operate actively between midnight to 5 A.M. in the morning. Getting a cab to the airport during these hours makes very little economic sense since the prices highly surge at these points.
  • If you have already checked out of your hotel and your flight is due in the next few hours. Since the check-out time for most hotels is 11 A.M., and your flight is at 5 P.M. in the evening, it is only ideal to think of arriving at the airport early if you have nowhere else to go in the meantime.
  • Saving on the expenses of hotels near airports. These hotels may even turn out to be more expensive than the flight expenses. If you are on a very short trip and do not wish to spend those bucks on reserving a hotel only for a few hours of stay, arriving early at the airport may sound like a more viable option.

Typically you are allowed to enter the airport three to four hours before your flight boarding when it comes to international flights.

For domestic flights, you are allowed to enter the airport two to three hours before your scheduled boarding. This allows airports to sync in with the generally recommended check-in timings of most airlines, which in turn ensures that there is never too much crowd in the airport because of people arriving too early for their flights.

Although there is no pre-assigned time at which you can enter the airport (or before which you can’t enter the airport), arriving any time before four hours of your scheduled flight boarding can be considered early. 

The primary reason behind this is because most airlines recommend arriving three hours before an international flight and two hours before a domestic flight. Since you may have to face a surge in the crowd while dropping off your baggage or alone queue for security, it is only wise to arrive an hour early (and the guards who allow entry into the airport shall completely understand). 

Arriving a little ‘too’ early to the airport may lead to denied entry until a certain period of time. Say you arrive 6 hours before your flight boarding procedure, you may not be allowed into the airport and be asked to come back again later (probably three to four hours later).

However, a number of times, you may be allowed into the airport even if you are ‘too’ early, if you have a valid reason and if the officials on the entry point choose to be considerate to you.

How Early Can You Check-in for Your Flight?

There are two ways to look at this question:

  • Web check-in
  • Baggage check-in

Web Check-in

As for online checking-in of the passenger, most airlines typically allow checking-in up to 24 hours before the departure of the flight. Airlines usually allow online checking-in for your flight as early as 48-72 hours before the scheduled departure of your flight. This means you can check yourself in for a boarding pass, choosing of seats, etc., as early as 72 hours (if the airline allows it) before your flight. 

It is advisable to check-in as early as you can since the sooner you do it, the more options you have available for choosing your preferred seat.

If you do not want to perform a web check-in, or for a fact, can not do it, you can often check in at a self-service counter upto 12 hours before the flight departure. If you are checking in with an agent, it is possible to check in three or four hours before the departure of the flight, depending on the airline you are flying with and the route chosen.

Baggage Check-in

Baggage check-in can usually be done as early as three to four hours before the scheduled departure. For domestic flights, most airlines allow dropping off luggage two to three hours before the flight.

In cases of international flights, the passengers may be allowed to drop off their luggage as early as four hours before the flight. In the end, it is always dependent on the airline as to how early they will allow you to drop off your baggage. 

If the terminal is not too crowded and you are checking in your baggage at a point that is not the peak time, you may be allowed an even early baggage check-in.

Killing Time at the Airport

Now that you have arrived early at the airport and have already been through the security screening, what do you do? If you have plenty of time to kill at your gate, after having passed through the security check, you may want to do something productive while you are only just ‘killing’ your time.

The bright side to arriving early is that numerous airports, mostly the capital and most reputable ones, have myriad amenities and offerings to spoil you with. However, please be aware that most of these amenities are not free of cost, which means that if you opt to arrive early at the airport to save a little bit of your money alongside time, enjoying amenities at the airport may undermine the former goal.

You can freely walk through your gate and explore what all the terminal has to offer. If you are an airline rewards member, you can spend some time in the lounge of your airline if it’s available at the airport. You could also be spending time in private workstations, napping stations, game rooms, or going on a small shopping spree.

There may also be a library, and you are always free to scan through books or read one to pass your time.

All in all, if you have brought a laptop or tablet, you can either do something productive by answering a few emails or just sit back, relax, and watch a good movie while waiting for the boarding to begin. 

You could also explore the restaurant at the terminal and see if you could relish your food while waiting for your flight boarding.

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Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.

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