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This Is How Early You Need To Arrive At These Major U.S. Airports

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Holiday travel is back and even bigger than last year, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expecting crowds almost the same as pre-pandemic levels, which means long security lines, check-ins, and a need to arrive early at the airport.

Some airports will require more time than others to get to your gate swiftly, but what is the sweet spot? Travel company Upgraded Points has conducted a travel study to identify the ideal time for how early you need to arrive to catch your flight across 50 major U.S Airports for domestic flights, allowing you plenty of time to grab a snack ahead of the flight.

This Is How Early You Need To Arrive At These Major U.S. Airports

“Preplanning is always key to a smooth travel experience,” said Alex Miller, Upgraded Points founder, in a press release. “But as we all know, things happen when it comes to travel – especially around the holidays. By knowing which airports are busier and why, you can preplan for any delays and ensure your timing sets you up for success.”

TSA predicts that the busiest day for travel will be December 30, so allow even additional time and follow some simple tips on how to minimize travel delays.

Young woman travels with suitcase early in the morning at airport

What Causes Airport Delays?

There are many different reasons that cause a delay in getting you to your gate. Usually, the biggest delay is airport security lines which make up the largest factor within airports. Average wait times can top 19 minutes or more at airports such as Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport (MSY) and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).

Fifteen different factors were taken into consideration to determine how early you should arrive at 50 of the largest U.S. airports, including the number of enplanements, number of passengers, airport size, average TSA wait time, number of gates, and number of eateries and bars to determine a score for a suggested arrival time.

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Nice plane close up, photo taken during a bright early morning sun.

What Airports Do You Need To Arrive 2.5 To 3+ Hours Early

Out of all airports, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) takes the prize for the earliest to arrive out of all the 50 major U.S. airports and requires passengers to arrive 3 hours and 4 minutes ahead of their flight times. According to Upgraded Points, this airport saw over 54 million passengers in 2021, which broke a record, and it has the highest number of gates of any other airport – 193 gates.

The airport is also considered understaffed, with 9% below the national average for the ratio of airport employees per square mile, and has one of the longest TSA wait times.

Travelers walk to gates at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in USA.

Coming in second and third, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) are almost tied a minute apart and require you to be at the airport just shy of 3 hours before. LAX has the highest amount of car traffic outside of the airport and 146 gates, which explains why it could take longer to get to your gate.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) comes in fourth with 2 hours and 55 minutes to arrive earlier. It is the 7th largest airport with 10,000 acres, which is equivalent to a small college, which welcomed over 31 million passengers in 2021.

the 15 Most Important U.S Airports to Arrive Early (1)
Image Courtesy Of: Upgraded Points

Even larger in size is ​​Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), which is the second largest airport with over 17,000 acres and requires passengers to arrive 2 hours and 50 minutes before their flight.

The full list of airports that you need to arrive over 2.5 hours early includes:

  • Chicago (OHR) – 3 hrs 4 mins
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – 2 hrs 59 mins
  • New York City (JFK)- 2 hrs 58 mins
  • Houston (IAH) – 2 hrs 55 mins
  • Dallas (DFW) – 2 hrs 50 mins
  • Miami (MIA) – 2 hrs 48 mins
  • San Francisco (SFO) – 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Charlotte (CLT) – 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Philadelphia (PHL) – 2 hrs 44 mins
  • Newark (EWR) – 2 hrs 41 mins
  • Seattle (SEA) – 2 hrs 39 mins
  • Orlando (MCO) – 2 hrs 36 mins
  • Boston (BOS) – 2 hrs 33 mins
  • Atlanta (ATL) – 2 hrs 31 mins
  • Denver (DEN) – 2 hrs 30 mins
Here's How Early You Need To Arrive to Catch Your Flight at 20 U.S Airports
Image Courtesy Of: Upgraded Points

What Airports Can You Arrive Less Than 1.5 Hours Before?

It turns out travelers who are departing from Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) can arrive at the airport the latest out of all the major airports analyzed, with passengers only needing to arrive 1 hour before. This is plenty of time to get you through the security, grab a bite to eat, and get to your gate with plenty of time to spare.

The full list of airports where you can arrive under 1.5 hours early includes:

  • Columbus (CMH) – 1 hr 0 mins
  • Sacramento (SMF) – 1 hr 13 mins
  • Dallas (DAL) – 1 hr 13 mins
  • Kansas City (MCI) – 1 hr 16 mins
  • Baltimore (BWI) – 1 hr 19 mins
  • Raleigh (RDU) – 1 hr 20 mins
  • Nashville (BNA) – 1 hr 23 mins
  • San Juan (SJU) – 1 hr 24 mins
  • Oakland (OAK) – 1 hr 24 mins
  • Indianapolis (IND) – 1 hr 27 mins
  • Fort Myers (RSW) – 1 hr 28 mins
  • San Antonio (SAT) – 1 hr 29 mins
  • Cleveland (CLE) – 1 hr 30 mins
Calm male tourist is standing in airport and looking at aircraft flight through window. He is holding tickets and suitcase

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Margot H Knight

Friday 23rd of December 2022

Argh. . .I’ve been up since 3 am. Reading this at 4:41 am with alarm set for 5 am to leave by 6 am for 45 minute drive to SEA-TAC for 9 am flight. While also obsessively checking to see if flight is cancelled due to icy rain. Want to wake my snoring husband and get out the door now. The only thing that calms me is knowing I have CLEAR!