The dreaded question: “Are you at the gate?”
I received this worried text from my mother at 9:30 p.m. on Apr. 2, 2023 — an hour and a half before my flight to London’s Heathrow Airport was scheduled to depart.
Quite frankly, I was not at the gate. In fact, I wasn’t even at the airport. I was in Warren Towers, packing my bag.
My friends saw this text and asked me when my flight was supposed to take off, and I told them it was 11 p.m. They stared at me with open mouths and wide eyes. This gawk is the typical response I get when I explain my airport arrival psychology: I arrive at the airport about 40-60 minutes before my flight is scheduled to depart.
You live life on the edge, they say. You’re going to miss a flight, they worry. But, they need not fret. I don’t see how calmly making my way through TSA and only waiting five minutes to board a plane is on any level of thrill-seeking adventure.
After I start with this apparently controversial statement, I try to explain my logic, but by that time, the gawkers are usually too defensive about their own airport arrival times to listen.
Luckily, this article is a medium where nobody can interrupt me — so here goes.
Massport’s official suggestion for airport arrival times is the same as most other airports: arrive two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours before for international flights.
There are three reasons why I almost never follow those guidelines.
It’s true, check-in lines can sometimes eat up a lot of time at airports. Luckily for United States passport-holders, it’s very rare that you’ll ever have to stand in one. Most airlines nowadays have online check-in, so this is a step you can usually breeze right over.
However, there are times where something might go wrong with online check-in. You may be booked on two flights with different airlines or your name on the booking doesn’t exactly match your name on your passport and TSA will require you to check in at the airport.
When these things happened to me, I arrived at the airport 70 minutes before departure time instead of my usual 50. That said, when you’re flying out of a widely-used international airport like Boston Logan, these minor inconveniences usually only take a few minutes to smooth over so long as you come aware of signage and communicate with staff.
If you’re only traveling with carry-ons, which I tend to do, you can cut these two-to-three hour recommendations down when it comes to navigating your way through departure.
Based on my experiences, there is usually no need to travel with more than a backpacking bag and a smaller school bag, even for months at a time. If your circumstances don’t require as much as moving, checking a bag can cost more money, time and effort than needed. This especially goes for those traveling on budget airlines.
Even if you are checking a bag, you still don’t need to arrive at the airport as early as you might be told. Many big airports have self-tagging stations where you print your bag tags at a machine and wait in a short line to drop your luggage off on a conveyor belt.
This is the big one. Everyone has to go through security at an airport, which is the only reason why I don’t arrive at the airport 15 minutes before departure.
Even though security lines can take a while, I find that most travelers tend to overestimate the actual amount of time that it takes to get through them. From my experience, it’s rare that security takes longer than 30 minutes to pass through at any airport — even during peak times.
There are rare cases in which there may be an abnormally long security line at an airport, like the hours-long lines at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol during the summer of 2022. However, when these anomalies do occur, airlines tend to warn passengers to arrive earlier than usual.
I understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. In fact, many of my critics have countered my habits with their extreme travel anxiety or the stress of traveling with family, which I can understand.
But I get bored when I’m waiting. I like to spend my last hours on the ground being productive at home rather than sitting around in an airport.
Of course I’ve had my fair share of close calls. This system has taken many trips to refine. Despite my so-called reckless airport arrival tendencies, I’ve never missed a flight — so far.
So, consider leaving later than you normally would for your next flight. You might receive some gawks, but I promise, you’ll make the flight and possibly gain an extra hour of sleep.