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How Early At The Airport
Old 09-12-2010, 07:04 PM   #1
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How Early At The Airport

I've often read you should be at the airport 2 hrs early for domestic flights
and 3 hrs early for international. What physical acts need to be done for international that require that extra hour....for the passenger? For the authorities ? If you are flying a domestic route
first from A to B to connect with an international flight that flies from
B to C, do you need to show up 2 hrs early bc it is a domestic flight or 3 hrs early bc it connects w/ an international flight or do you show up 2 hrs early for the domestic flight as long as it is 3 hrs before the international leg?

When do you show your passport......at A when checking in for the domestic
flight or at B when you check in for the international leg?

I know in reality you can get away with shorter times
(at least for domestic). Just trying to understand why international requires more time.....bigger planes, more passengers per plane? longer lines? or something else?
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:41 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
I've often read you should be at the airport 2 hrs early for domestic flights and 3 hrs early for international. What physical acts need to be done for international that require that extra hour....for the passenger? For the authorities ? If you are flying a domestic route
first from A to B to connect with an international flight that flies from
B to C, do you need to show up 2 hrs early bc it is a domestic flight or 3 hrs early bc it connects w/ an international flight or do you show up 2 hrs early for the domestic flight as long as it is 3 hrs before the international leg?
In Canada the standard is to arrive 60 minutes ahead for domestic, 90 minutes ahead for US bound, and 120 minutes for international flights. If you board in Tel Aviv, it's 180 minutes because the Israelis are extremely meticulous about security!

I travel a lot, and I find that you really do need that time nowadays, if you don't want to be in a terrible rush, unless you are boarding at a smaller or very efficient airport with no bottlenecks. Security has added several steps. In the first year after 9/11 it was chaotic as security was a huge bottleneck. Nowadays they have opened up many more lanes. It really helps if passengers are ready, with their liquids & gels in the appropriate plastic baggie, and not wearing heavy jewellery that will set off the metal detectors. I haven't yet been asked to do the total body scan, but I've been asked to take off my shoes, so wearing boots with complicated laces is a no-no! Also, allow for a long walk to your gate if you are departing from or connecting in a major airport. 20 minutes would be common in LHR or ORD.

If you have a domestic connection to an international flight (e.g. Pittsburgh to JFK, onward to Paris) you and your luggage will be checked in for both flights at Pittsburgh International Airport, unless you are travelling to Paris on a different ticket. Therefore, you will easily meet the 120 minute criterion (or even 180 minutes) for the JFK-Paris flight. It also means that you must stay inside security at JFK.

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Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
When do you show your passport......at A when checking in for the domestic flight or at B when you check in for the international leg?
In my experience you show your passport at the check-in desk at the airport of departure, at the departure gate of every flight, at immigration, and at customs. Keep it handy!

Quote:
Originally Posted by kaneohe View Post
I know in reality you can get away with shorter times (at least for domestic). Just trying to understand why international requires more time.....bigger planes, more passengers per plane? longer lines? or something else?
Security is one reason (see Tel Aviv). The other is the size of the aircraft and the number of passengers. An Airbus 380 can carry up to 853 people in an all economy configuration. That's a long line up through one door! Actually, the most efficient boarding I have seen has been at Schipol (Amsterdam) where wide body jets are boarded through both front and back doors, and all passengers in the departure lounge are given coloured cards, so they can organize boarding in red, yellow, blue or green cohorts.

Bon voyage!
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Old 09-12-2010, 07:50 PM   #3
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In the US, if you have a domestic flight before you fly internationally, you have to show your passport to the folks at the ticket counter when you pick up all your boarding passes (before the first flight), then you have to show it again before you board the international flight. The only folks that will ask for it are the airline personnel, the TSA folks don't care (though you can use it as your official ID before you board that first flight). I'm not sure why the airline folks ask to see your passport before the first flight, maybe it is just to be sure you have it (and don't get stranded at the first international leg.)

I show up at my local airport 90 minutes before my flight wherever I'm going, 2 hours if it's a really busy travel time.

The real "fun" starts when you get back to the US. Customs, USDA, re-checking of bags, TSA, etc. I try to allow at east 2 1/2 hours for all of it if coming through Atlanta, a little less is okay at airports that operate more efficiently.

When traveling I wear a shirt with a pocket to hold the passport, boarding passes, earphones, ear plugs, Ipod, etc. It looks dorky, but it's nice to have everything handy without rummaging through my carryon or trying to find things in a pants pocket.
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Old 09-12-2010, 10:17 PM   #4
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Just to add a little to the excellent answers above. Folks generally have a lot more luggage on international flights and it takes more time per person to check in. In non-US countries, you normally have to go through EXIT immigration -- that's right, immigration lines to leave the country! In fact, the USA seems to be almost the only country without this. The bigger planes normally take longer to load with passengers. Many countries that I visit also require you to pay a fee to leave the country which is another small line. When leaving a country, I usually like to get rid of all of my local currency which kills some time.

The recommended times are based on peak airport hours. There are probably some good rules of thumb to predict airport busy-ness like Fridays are a busy flying day, Airports on the west coast are busier in the mornings for departures (domestic flights going east), etc.

I make sure I have plenty to do at the airport. Sometimes I will plan to eat there even though it is a little more expensive, have plenty of reading material on my Ipod and Kindle, etc.
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Old 09-12-2010, 10:38 PM   #5
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When leaving the US on an international flight, I usually arrive at the airport about 1.5 hours before departure. Our local airport is rather quaint and queues are generally short, so we usually make it to our gate under 30 minutes. We fly domestic to a larger US airport and fly international from there. We show our passports to the airline counter at our local airport and they generally check us and our luggage in all the way to our final destination (domestic + international). Once that's done, we just have to go through security using either our passport or driver's license as proof of ID. That's it. The next time we present our passport is when we clear immigration at our final destination. Except for the passport requirement, flying international from the US is not much different than flying domestic.

On my flights back to the US, however, I usually arrive 3+ hours early at the airport. On my last trip back to the US from Europe for example I had to:

1) queue to clear a security interview (passport & visa check + other security questions) for all passengers to the US
2) queue to check-in
3) queue for exit immigration
4) queue for X-ray/carry-on screening
5) queue for a pre-flight US immigration check
6) queue for a full body/carry-on search required for all passengers to the US
7) queue to board the aircraft.

I didn't have much time to sit around and wait during those 3+ hours.
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Old 09-13-2010, 07:57 AM   #6
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Thanks all for the informative replies. Sounds like the longer suggested international times are really for physical reasons (not for background security checks )and only if you're not already checked in from your initial starting point....... I had forgotten about the double decker 853 passenger planes ,though, so on the return to US, it's the full 3 hrs.
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Old 09-13-2010, 08:39 AM   #7
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Kramer is right on non-US exit immigration, and I have seen a few people get holed up there and miss flights. US does have exit immigration, it's conducted by the airlines personnel and consists only of visa check and I-94 removal.

After new security regs were put in place in '01 all luggage for int'l flights had to be inspected vs. random checks for domestic. This was at least an extra hour in US airports. Now, of course, all luggage is inspected, so there is no real need to be 1 hour earlier - but airlines can't seem to change their tune.
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Old 09-13-2010, 08:59 AM   #8
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Now, of course, all luggage is inspected, so there is no real need to be 1 hour earlier - but airlines can't seem to change their tune.
I expect they'll keep this "requirement" in place for a long time. It costs the airlines nothing to burn the customer's time (as long as they all keep to the same government-supplied line) and it helps reduce the number of late arriving passengers who cause strife in the queues. The airports make more money in food sales, and folks can complain less about the TSA delays ("hey, we told you to be early, now you've missed your flight. I'm going on my break now").

It's another never-ending unfunded mandate.
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Old 09-13-2010, 09:16 AM   #9
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I'm always 2 hrs ahead for international. There have been times that I have been there 2 hrs in advance and have barely made my plane due to the lines for security and exit immigration. That said, it really depends on the airport and how busy it is. Getting out of the US is generally easier than exit immigration in some Asian countries.

This said, DW and I left HNL saturday at noon, after arriving at 10am (we took DD back to school in Laie). There was hardly a soul in line when we checked in and went thru security. We did show our passports a minimum of 5 times (luggage check, boarding pass issuance, to get in the security line, at the security scanner, and at the gate lounge). We sat in the business lounge for a while and when we left for the gate, the place was swarming with people, most of whom didn't seem to know where they were going nor seemed to have a deadline to get there (okay, okay, I'm not FIREd yet....).

This past June, DD flew from our local regional airport in California to SFO then on to LAX. We got her there about 45 min before the flight, and were the first to check-in. Boarding began 5 min before the flight departed (does not take long to get 10-12 people on a turboprop).

Hope this helps...

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Old 09-13-2010, 09:28 AM   #10
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I'm not sure why the airline folks ask to see your passport before the first flight...
It's to load your passport information (bar code) into the tracking system to see if you are on the no-fly list.

Additionally, if you are in a large airport with shared terminals between local and international flights in the U.S. the airline will again check your passport to ensure that the person on the passport is the person boarding the international flight.

A "bad guy" using just a driver's license could get a ticket and access to the terminal, without a passport. At that time, they could get the ticket from another and get on the international flight without any passport.

Assuming they were going to try to take down the plane, they would not need a passport on the other end of the flight.

Personally, I carry my passport for all flights (international or not) and I don't worry about it being checked multiple times...
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Old 09-13-2010, 09:35 AM   #11
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In non-US countries, you normally have to go through EXIT immigration -- that's right, immigration lines to leave the country! In fact, the USA seems to be almost the only country without this.
True. That's the only time I get an exit stamp on my passport. I only get the entrance block stamped when I get back to the U.S.

I guess the U.S. is handling this through their passport tracking system (the one they load your passport via scanner at the check-in point). That contains all the detail of your travels in/out of the country anyway. That's why they both scan and stamp on your entrance back into the U.S.

The other reason is probably they don't worry about bad guys leaving - just the one's possibly coming in ...
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Old 09-13-2010, 02:52 PM   #12
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I think a lot depends on the airport in question. If I am leaving on a flight originating out of LAX I will get to the airport 3 hours early, because the TSA security queues can be horrendous there. Also if I am booked in premium economy or above I know I can cut down on the time it takes to check in.

Personally, I would rather be thru the whole checkin and security procedure at least 90 minutes before my flight. I am happy to stroll around the terminal, rather than be stressed about how much time I have before the flight departs.

I came back from Las Vegas yesterday, that's a really busy airport, however because I had no checked luggage and was on a business select flight with Southwest I was able to go thru the business TSA line so from the time I entered the terminal to the time I got to the gate it would have been a max of 15 minutes. That enabled me to get on a flight that was departing 2 hours earlier than I had scheduled.
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Old 09-13-2010, 03:06 PM   #13
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It depends on a lot, I always give the airlines plenty of time. I was flying out of Phoenix to Canada when the US Airways people pulled the couple behind us out of line. They had 90 minutes until their flight left for Mexico and since they hadn't checked in, they were not allowed to fly until the next day. And there were no other flights, so sorry, so they were told they had to wait until the next day. They were not happy.
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Old 09-13-2010, 05:22 PM   #14
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In June I flew within the US on Spirit Airlines, the folks who for their passengers' convenience are limiting "free" carryons to a single item that must fit under the seat (that would be a handbag or a backpack, period); anything that would go into an overhead bin costs extra Spirit Airlines - cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap hotels, cheap car rentals, cheap travel. Their purported reasoning is that boarding their planes will therefore be much more efficient.

So they asked that we arrive at the airport three hours in advance.... Hard to think how early you'd have to be there without their expedited boarding porcedures.
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Old 09-13-2010, 05:48 PM   #15
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Normally when leaving the US, non-citizens get to drop off their I-94 (immigration form) counterfoils, so that someone can laboriously type exactly the same info in and hopefully have you flagged as not overstaying.

On our last trip to the US, however, we left NYC via Toronto, and this principle broke down. LGA-YYZ was considered a "domestic" flight, but when we got on the plane to Frankfurt we were leaving Canada, not the US. So there was nobody to collect our I-94s. Our party and a couple of others were aware of the significance of this, but most of the German passengers were blissfully unaware. On returning home, my wife contacted a friend in a US Consulate who gave us an excellent "to whom it may concern" letter for next time we return to the US. The more laconic Germans will probably find themselves in shackles, or on a flight south in orange jump suits.

Back on boarding times: Ryanair, the largest airline in Europe, closes check-in 40 minutes before departure, even at places like Stansted which - unlike much of Europe - frequently does make you take your shoes off. They then load 189 people onto a 737-800. It can't be that hard.
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Old 09-13-2010, 06:36 PM   #16
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I wouldn't worry too much about the I-94s. Last time DH left the US he handed in my I-94. On the previous occasion when we entered the US, the immigration officer obviously stapled DH's I-94 into my passport and his into my passport. Shows how much they are checked as he had no issue re-entering the US though theoretically he had never left.
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Old 09-23-2010, 09:06 AM   #17
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For the clock-time, I work backwards from the departure time.
1. One-hour to go thru security and get to the gate b4 boarding starts.
2. If checking-in or checking bags, I tack on another 30 minutes (90 min).
3. If parking or returning a rental car, I add another 30 minutes (2 hrs).
4. If its an international flight, add 1-hour... its mostly for queing (3 hrs).

I know that many peep like to show at the last possible moment. To me, it ain't worth the risk of missing the flight or the hassle of being rushed.

Online check-in can save you a ton of time, since many airlines have special lines for those who have pre-printed their boarding passes.
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Old 09-23-2010, 09:35 AM   #18
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I've always go 2-3 hour early. You never know what could go wrong. I prefer to have time to react if something go wrong.
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Old 09-23-2010, 10:04 AM   #19
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I used to do road warrior type travelling for 3.5 years from MDW (Chicago-Midway) to LAX (Los Angeles) and DFW (Dallas). I only got to the airport with 60 - 75 mins to go. Only exceptions were before/after major holidays, then got there 90 - 120 mins early. I never missed a flight or a check in at the gate. This is also without checked luggage. Many times getting to security with almost no waiting at the security line too. Biggest issues were people not knowing/having boarding pass and ID's ready and keeping illegal items off their person before security checks. I also discovered you can pass through security with items in your pockets, small shampoos, lip balms, etc (don't try this without knowing the risks!), never stopped once or set off security screen. I was able to go thru security check with a portable car battery charger/jumper, I was questioned to death, but I had asked security at DFW the week before and they said it would be ok...they let me through after 5 minute interrogation. Worst case is doing emergency travel. I was interrogated the most when my brother passed away, had to buy a ticket that day. This scenario flags as a security threat automatically. I was questioned more for this reason than the battery charger incident.
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Old 09-23-2010, 11:08 AM   #20
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I'm a United 1K so on star alliance its a breeze but when I flew Delta to Bonaire it took 1 hour and 45 minutes from when I waled through the front door at Dulles till I got to the gate.
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