How early do you need to get to the airport to travel to USA?

how early do you need to get to the airport to travel to usa

How early to arrive before flying is a question every passenger asks themselves before going to the airport. Some people go there hours before as the idea of missing a flight makes them anxious. Others aim to get there as late as possible to save time.

The standard industry recommendation for all flights heading to the US from abroad is three hours. This is a conservative guideline which gives you plenty of time and allows for things to go wrong.

However, this is only a guideline and in some cases it could cause unnecessarily long waits, leaving you wondering how to pass the time at the airport. There are a number of considerations to think about.

Things to consider before going to the airport

Consider the following questions. The more you answer “no” to the later you can afford to arrive at the airport. If you answer no to all the questions you can arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight.

  • Do you need to check in luggage?
  • Is it a big airport? Will there be long walks?
  • Do you have any difficulties walking?
  • Does anyone your traveling with have any difficulties walking or are likely to slow you down?
  • Are you traveling with children?
  • Is the airport likely to be busy?
  • Is it the first time you have been to the airport?

Although some people who have already checked in online arrive only 60 minutes before their flight, this can be risky. There have been recent changes to airport security procedures for US-bound flights which take longer. The last thing you want to do is miss your flight. This could end up costing you a lot more in terms of time and money.

Passengers should also remember to complete their ESTA application online at least 72 hours before setting off for the US to allow for plenty of time for your application to be processed (if you’re traveling from a country eligible for the visa waiver).

How soon can you check in for a flight to USA?

This differs from airline to airline. United say that baggage will not generally be accepted for check in more than four hours before a scheduled flight. Whereas American Airlines accept luggage at their self-service kiosks up to 24 hours before a flight. If you don’t have any luggage to check in it’s normally possible to check in online at least a few days before your flight.

Minimum required check times before departure to travel to USA

This depends on the airline you’re flying with, where you’re coming from, and whether you need to check in luggage. For most airlines, including American Airlines and United, you need to check in at least 60 minutes before your departure to the US. From certain destinations it is 90 minutes so this is worth checking before you fly.

Airport security measures for US-bound flights

There have been a number of recent changes regarding rules and security checks for US-bound flights. In general the procedure has become stricter and more thorough. Passengers are asked a series of US border control questions, there is an enhanced screening for electronics, and there is increased security around the aircraft including sniffer dogs.

It is still possible to take laptops to the US despite the short-lived ‘laptop ban’. Passengers should check with their airline before flying as more changes are expected and they’ll be implemented quickly.

Travelers who feel they have been treated unfairly during the screening process can apply for a redress number.

Airport security procedures in USA

Though the rules for domestic flights are not as strict as those for US-bound flights, the TSA introduced a set of regulations in 2006 to tighten security. The rules are fairly standard for international travelers (you can take liquids on board as long as they’re in containers of 3.4 oz. or less, you can’t take sharp objects etc.). The rules for hand luggage vary from airline to airline.

Special circumstances to consider

If you have a disability or a medical condition with you have any concerns about you should contact your airline. In these cases you are not required to remove your shoes, though alternative inspection may be necessary. Your airline may advise you to factor in extra time for this procedure.

Necessary travel documents to show to US immigration control

It is generally necessary to show a valid passport as well as a valid visa issued by a US embassy or consulate. Eligible citizens can apply online for an ESTA Visa USA which saves the hassle of obtaining a conventional visa.

Do you need to print ESTA? Yes, it is necessary to present a printed copy of the travel authorization. You don’t need an ESTA for transit if you’re quickly passing through the US to another country

It is possible to apply for ESTA with dual citizenship as long as one of the passports is from a country eligible for ESTA.

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