How Early Should You Get to the Airport?

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How Early Should You Get to the Airport? The Three Tomatoes

With Autumn here, we are beginning to plan for Holiday travel. Like Christmas decorations posted eight weeks before Christmas, travelers are starting to worry about airport crowds. Well if you are going to angst, let’s begin with some suggestions to make your trip less stressful.

The Three Hour Rule: If you are traveling from a busy domestic airport to a busy domestic airport, definitely get to the airport 3 hours before your flight.  FYI Some airports are surprisingly un-busy: take JFK for domestic flights over holidays. JFK is mainly international, and those flights tend to leave after 5PM. So if you choose to depart from JFK during the day, you might expect fewer crowds.

Take out Global Entry For $100 for 5 years and a short interview, you depart and enter airports quickly. If you put this “known traveler number” in your profile on line, you automatically get a TSA Recheck status. Returning to the airport from overseas, you enter a few details, then put finger prints into a scanner, and voila, you receive your paperwork. FOR WOMEN, IT IS IMPORTANT THAT IF YOU HAVE DRY SKIN, YOU NEED TO PUSH YOUR FINGERS VERY HARD ONTO THE SCANNER OR MOISTEN THEM AHEAD OF TIME ON THE PLANE.

If you are marked TSA directly by your airline, then you depart in the line that is usually shorter and less invasive (shoes stay on and devices in). For more explanation, read here.

Leave on the earliest flights possible or on the actual holidays:  Early in the morning, airports are less busy as connecting flights have not yet arrived. If leaving from a major business center, try to depart at 6PM or earlier and avoid all those poor working souls who cannot leave the office before 5PM.

If there might be a weather issue, look at your airline site to see if they are offering a free change of flight. If you do not see that offer, look at competing airlines: once others offer it, you can call and usually get the offer before your airline has posted it.

If you can, select your seat ahead of time and print out a boarding pass. Now you can go right to the bag drop off if you are checking bags and proceed to the security area. No waiting on that long line to check in with humans behind their desks.

Remember to look at the seating chart again 1-2 weeks before you leave as some better seats might have opened up putting you in an earlier boarding group or better seat.

Bring snacks or have food delivered so you don’t waste time on line. Some airports are notorious for long lines for food. Some new companies allow you to order food and have it delivered to the gate, to a lounge or to pick up at a restaurant. Here is an article about these new companies some of which require you to load an app on your phone.

Finally, if you can splurge, buy yourself an airport lounge pass so when you do get through in record time, you can relax in a private club. They cost about $50 per visit or an Amex Platinum Card might be $550 a year. But it is an open door for lounges in almost any airport. (Disclaimer I was just in Oslo, there were no lounges I could use with my Platinum card).

If you are early and the line looks like you will miss you flight, you should ask politely if you can go ahead of others. If not to protect yourself, take a photo of the time on a clock in the airport- like the departures board- so you can prove you were there 3 hours ahead.

Best advice, get their early and zone out.

The Women’s Travel Group at  offers Holiday Trips like Brazil and Argentina for Christmas when airports will be busy. We also offer small group trips to Europe, Asia, Africa and will find you a room mate if you wish. We are proud of our reviews on  Reach us at or 646 309 5607.



  • Phyllis Stoller has a BA from Tufts University, an MA from New York University and a Finance Degree from the University of the South Bank, London England. Phyllis founded the leading tour operator for women's travels in North America. After selling her company in 2006, Phyllis started a new company for women: The Womens Travel Group which she defines as Smart Tours for Women. She was voted top in women’s travel by Travel & Leisure Magazine,the first to receive this honor. Phyllis has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Lifetime TV for Women and others. Phyllis now resides in New York and London For more information: or to join a trip this year: Phyllis Stoller Visit her web site: Follow her on Facebook: on Facebook at /toursforwomen For more information: or to join a trip this year:

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