With pictures on the news of queues snaking around the terminal, it’s no surprise that people are leaving earlier to get to the airport.
Some airlines have also been messaging passengers to warn that the old rules about arriving two hours before most international flights aren’t sufficient anymore.
In the past the rule was typically two hours before short-haul flights and three hours before long-haul. However, we’ve asked eight of the biggest airports what they advise now. Many have changed their advice (see below) given the current travel chaos. Some expect you to arrive an hour earlier than others.
The crucial thing to remember is that it can be counterproductive to arrive too early before your trip.
Many of the airports we spoke to are pleading with passengers not to arrive ahead of time. They’ve experienced queues building up as much as five hours before flights, meaning increased congestion in the airport and slower queues.
Instead it’s better to follow the advice of your airline, or check our guide here.
Three hours before your flight - for both short-haul or long-haul trips.
Two hours before short-haul flights and three hours before long-haul.
At the time advised by your airline (typically two hour before short-haul and three hours for long-haul).
No earlier than the time advised by your airline - typically two hours.
'Three hours before – no earlier or no later. By arriving too early passengers can actually create unnecessary queues if they get here before check in or security has opened. Also by coming too early they could then be in front of people who have a flight earlier than those ahead of them in the queue.’
When check-in desk opens (between two and three hours before the flight, depending on the airline).
‘In line with check-in desk opening times, usually three hours before the scheduled flight departure time.’
‘We advise customers to arrive when their airline has advised check-in/bag drop or security opens (which can be two or three hours before departure).’
When you buy your flight you’ll typically be offered fast track security clearance for around £4 per person. You can also buy direct from the airport.
This means you get to zoom past the main queue and get through security more quickly.
Before the pandemic Which? Travel carried out some research that suggested there was usually little point in paying extra. In most of the country, queues were short enough that the extra money would save you a few minutes at best.
However, there have been times this summer when people must have wished they’d paid to escape a long, anxious wait.
Even now, though, you’re unlikely to need to pay that money to guarantee catching your flight. It might depend where you’re flying from - and whether it’s peak summer season.
Many airports say that the actual time in security queues is not that long. Gatwick, for example, told us that 90% of passengers go through security in under 10 minutes. However, that does mean that thousands of passengers a year are spending longer than 10 minutes waiting. During the rail strikes there were also queues for people arriving by car to get to the airport.
Edinburgh told us that fast-track security is typically five to 10 minutes quicker than general security. Other airports, such as Manchester, have had more problems with queues and so there’s a stronger argument for paying for fast track. Unfortunately Manchester has restricted when you can book express lanes, because of high demand. Birmingham Airport has stopped selling new express lane bookings altogether, to prioritise getting all passengers through on time.
We suggest only paying for fast track if you’re travelling during the summer holidays, or other very busy times, from an airport that’s been struggling.
Unfortunately you’re unlikely to be able to claim from your airline if the delay is outside their control. If you follow the airline’s advice, though, and arrive at the airport in good time you might be able to claim on your travel insurance. It will depend on your policy.