As a loyal TSA PreCheck and Clear member, I typically experience little to no wait time to go through the US Transportation and Security Administration at airports where Clear and TSA PreCheck are available.
Even with this peace of mind that I have from flying out of airports and airlines both offer expedited safety programs, I still tend to arrive at the airport earlier than necessary just in case something unexpected happens.
But even for travelers like me, there are sometimes unusual circumstances that result in a late arrival at the airport, which happened to me recently.
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An unexpected nearly hour-long Uber ride to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) caused me to panic slightly as I had to navigate through security at LAX Terminal B without a TSA PreCheck or Clear because the airline I was flying with does not participate and Clear was not available in the terminal .
As I waited about 45 minutes to get through security, I wondered how late I could get to the gate without missing my plane.
Although some airlines are a little more forgiving of travelers than others, most airlines have standard check-in time requirements, which vary depending on whether you’re flying on a domestic or international route.
While this is the absolute latest time you can check in at the airport and still get a boarding pass, you also need to consider how late you can arrive at your gate.
This guide describes the check-in and gate arrival requirements for major airlines.
Regardless of whether you’re checking a bag, all Alaska Airlines passengers are required to check-in for their flight at least 40 minutes prior to domestic flights and one hour prior to international flights.
To ensure that your baggage is checked in on time, Alaska encourages travelers checking their bags to arrive at the airport even earlier in order to be at the bag drop before the baggage check-in time listed above.
Alaskan flyers should be at the gate ready for boarding after checking in at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
“A delay may result in the cancellation of your reserved seats and/or your entire reservation,” says Alaska.
AA travelers can expect to board AA flights within 30 to 50 minutes of scheduled departure, although exact boarding time depends on your destination and aircraft.
For American Airlines flights, boarding ends 15 minutes before departure, regardless of destination. This 15 minute gate closing time is standard for most domestic airlines in this guide.
“If you’re not on board, we can assign your seat to another passenger,” American said. “Once the doors are closed, you are not allowed to get in.”
To check in and also check bags, you must do so at least 45 minutes before your flight for US domestic flights and within one hour for international flights.
As with Alaska, Delta passengers must check in at least half an hour before their flight and be at the gate and ready for boarding at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure of their flight.
When flying internationally with Delta, the minimum check-in time is one hour before departure, while Delta says you must be at your gate 45 minutes before your flight.
In perhaps the most generous international check-in policy of any airline mentioned in this guide, JetBlue allows passengers on international flights to arrive at the gate up to 20 minutes before departure, while respecting the somewhat standard 15-minute boarding window for domestic flights.
However, customers traveling on international flights must check in at the airport no later than 60 minutes prior to departure. In this case, the 20-minute window before boarding would only apply if there had been a delay between checking in and arriving at the gate. There is also a 60 minute window for international passengers checking in their bags to check in at the airport. Otherwise, all other JetBlue bags must be checked in at the airport 40 minutes prior to departure.
Related Topics: What to do if a boarding pass is not marked as TSA PreCheck?
Southwest takes the cake among domestic carriers as the most generous with their check-in policy. It allows customers to board up to 10 minutes before the scheduled departure of their flight.
Despite this, the Dallas-based airline encourages all passengers to be at the gate area at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
Out of the big three – American, Delta and United – United has different check-in policies for its travelers depending on their route:
- For most domestic flights operated by United and United Express, travelers not checking bags must check in for their flight at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
- For most domestic flights operated by United and United Express, travelers with checked baggage must check-in at least 45 minutes prior to departure.
- For most international flights operated by United and United Express, travelers are required to check-in at least one hour prior to departure, regardless of whether they are checking baggage.
At the gate, all customers must be on board the aircraft 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time for US domestic flights
“We recommend being at the gate at least 15 minutes before departure to ensure you’re on the plane before the doors close,” United says. “For international flights, we recommend that you be at the gate at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure.”
In addition to the airline guidelines above, note that airports impose requirements on travelers regarding the latest arrival time at the airport without risking missing your flight.
Most US airports require passengers to check in for their flights at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, although some require additional time regardless of whether you’re checking a bag.
For example, all passengers departing from Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ) must check in 90 minutes before their flight, while those departing from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) must check in within 75 minutes. If you have questions about a specific airport, we recommend contacting the airport directly for minimum check-in times.
If you’re checking a bag and flying within the US, most airports require you to check in 40 to 45 minutes before your flight, although John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is a notable exception to this and so requires passengers to do so 60 minutes before. If, like me, you refuse to check a bag, plan on arriving at the airport within 30-45 minutes for domestic flights and at least an hour for international flights.
If you find yourself in a long security line and at risk of missing your flight, please ask a TSA agent or airport security officer in charge if you may be able to get ahead of the line. I’ve seen people do this, and in my experience, the TSA agent usually helps these travelers.
Despite our best efforts, travel days sometimes don’t go according to plan. Be sure to check the minimum requirements for the latest time you can check in for your flight and arrive at your gate set by airlines and some airports.
Read more: 7 ways to get TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear for free or discounted