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How Early Do Planes Start Boarding?

No one ever wants to miss a flight, and one way you can help ensure you do not miss yours is knowing when planes board so you can be at your gate on time. 

So how early do planes start boarding?

Most airlines start boarding between 30 minutes and one hour before the scheduled departure time. The time varies depending on the size of the flight and where you are flying. 

For example, American Airlines boards 30-50 minutes before the flight:

Most flights start boarding 30 – 50 minutes before scheduled departure, but the exact time depends on your destination and plane. Boarding ends 15 minutes before departure. If you’re not on board, we may reassign your seat to another passenger. You will not be allowed to board once the doors close.

International flights and large planes board closer to an hour before the departure time. Small, regional flights only need 30 minutes to board since there are fewer people and no need to check passports. 

In the next section, we list the recommended arrival times by airline carriers. Then we explain what happens if you get to the airport too early, why you should board the planes as soon as you can, and whether or not planes ever leave early. 

You can get to the airport as early as you want or as late as you want if you are willing to risk missing your flight. But, airlines all recommend when you should arrive at the airport depending on whether you are flying internationally or domestically. During holidays you should arrive earlier since more people are flying than normal.

AirlinesEstimated Arrival TimeSource
American Airlines2 Hours for Domestic
3 Hours for International
American Airlines Arrival Guide
United2 Hours for Domestic
3 Hours for International
United Arrival Guide
Delta2 Hours for Domestic and InternationalDelta Arrival Guide
JetBlue90 Minutes - 2 HoursJetBlue Airport Arrival Time Tracker
Southwest90 Minutes - 2 HoursSouthwest Airport Arrival Time Tracker
Alaska Airlines2 HoursAlaska Airlines Airport Arrival Tracker
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What Happens if I get to the Airport Too Early?

If you get to the airport too early, you will spend a lot of time waiting around. And, you may not be able to check your bag or go through security if you are too early or they are not open yet. 

TSA does not have a specific recommendation for when you can arrive at the airport, but they advise you to check with your airline for arrival times: 

You are encouraged to contact your airline as times may vary depending on the airport and date of travel. In general, please allow time for parking/shuttle transportation, airline check-in, obtaining a boarding pass and going through the security screening process, which includes screening of your carry-on bag.

You can go through the security checkpoint as early as you want, as long as they are open. But, you likely have to wait until a few hours before your flight before going through security if you are checking a bag. 

Airlines do not keep their baggage check counters open all the time, so you need to wait until they open. Checking the opening times is important if you fly early in the morning since the baggage counter closes at night.  

And, you can only check your bag so early before your departure time, so you do not want to arrive before the airline accepts your bags. We have an article where you can learn how early you can check your bags and how it varies by airline.

However, getting to the airport early does have benefits. It will give you plenty of time to make it to your gate, so you have a low chance of missing your flight. And, if you have lounge access, you can wait for your flight there and enjoy the amenities offered by the lounge.

Why Should I Board the Plane as Soon as I Can?

airplane at sunrise

Many people think it’s best to be one of the last people to board a plane so you can spend as little time on the plane as necessary, but there are a lot of benefits to boarding the plane as soon as you can. 

First, you should board as soon as you can if you are flying first class. You are one of the first people allowed to board, and you should take advantage of that. 

Since you are one of the first ten to twenty people to board depending on the plane, there will not be a long line waiting to board, so you can get to your seat quickly. And, flying first class allows you access to pre-departure services like drinks before the plane departs. 

But, other seat classes should board as soon as possible. Not only does boarding sooner give you more time to settle into your seat, but it will keep you from missing your flight. 

Once most people have boarded, airlines start looking at the standby list and assigning any open seats to people on the list. If you arrive at your gate too late after boarding starts, the airline may give your seat away. 

For example, here is United Airlines’ policy on seat assignments:

If you haven’t boarded your flight 15 minutes before it departs for domestic flights and 20 minutes for international flights, you may lose your seat assignment.

And the earlier you board, the more space there will be in the overhead bins for your carry-on bag. If you board too late, you might have to put your bag in a bin far away from your seat or check it.

Finally, you do not want to wait too long to board because there is a chance that your plane could leave early, which we detail in the next section. 

We have an article that explains the boarding process if you want to learn more, including how long it takes to board a plane.

Do Planes Ever Leave Early?

Yes, planes do leave early, but it is not common. If a plane does leave early, it is likely to be only a few minutes when the boarding and takeoff process takes less time than expected. 

Airlines close the boarding doors five to ten minutes before departure, or sooner if everyone is on the plane. If they close the doors and are ready to go, they will leave. 

If you missed a flight because the plane left early, it was likely because you were not at the gate before boarding ended. You have to board the plane fifteen to twenty minutes before departure. Otherwise, they will give your seat away to someone on the standby list or close the boarding doors so they can leave on time. 

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Hayden Wall

Hayden is the founder of Travel Gear Discounts and tries to vacation as much as possible. He loves finding the latest travel accessories that will make getting out easier and planning the perfect weekend getaway.