Update: How early should you arrive at the airport to avoid travel chaos? We asked the staff

Jul 22, 2022

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Britain’s airports are staring down the barrel of their most frantic summer in years as millions of travellers look to jet away during the school holidays.

It also comes at a time when the U.K. has been under siege from record-breaking heatwaves, melting runways and piling on more pressure on air hubs already hit by delays, last-minute cancellations and huge check-in queues.

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So then, with this double whammy of record temperatures and increased passenger numbers, what time should you look to arrive at the airport to avoid having to sprint for the gate?

The Points Guy spoke to staff at some of the busiest airports in the U.K. and Ireland and also took a close look at their online guidance to figure out exactly how early you should be arriving.

In This Post

Manchester Airport (MAN)

The U.K.’s fourth busiest air hub has stressed that air passengers should arrive no more than three hours before their flight this summer.

As part of a new “Take time, take care” campaign designed to minimise travel disruption this summer, officials have also advised travellers with hand luggage to pack light if they want to have a speedier experience through the security chicken run.

The new guidance also takes into account the stickier climate, reminding visitors that they can take empty water bottles through security and fill them up on the other side in order to stay hydrated before a flight. “You can refill a water bottle at any of our water fountains,” say officials.

Since travel restrictions were lifted the airport has seen countless issues from terminal to tarmac, including the moment police were called to help TUI passengers abandoned for three hours inside a plane. Now, however, staffing levels have been greatly increased and wait times greatly reduced.

London City Airport (LCY)

Silhouette view of passengers waiting in the terminal building for their British Airways flights from London City Airport (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

Despite an increase in custom, London’s docklands-based airport doesn’t appear to have been too affected by queues and flight cancellations as its other rivals in the capital have.

Then again, traditionally catering to business travellers over package holidaymakers, it’s the ideal choice of airport for any summer getaway – even if you’re more likely to land in Geneva than Benidorm.

A spokesperson told us that air passengers should arrive “no more than 2 hours before your flight,” advising all visitors to check London City’s website for any further information before setting off.

Airport bosses are also reminding passengers to take care of themselves in the heat: “Our guidance to passengers during the hot weather has been to keep hydrated during this heatwave. If you are travelling through the airport, you can find cold water at our refilling station at Gate 7.

“To reduce plastic waste, you can also refill your water bottles at any of our cafes and restaurants throughout the terminal. Please also check for rail updates before travelling to the airport and ensure you allow enough time for your journey.”

Bristol Airport

(Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Following a rollercoaster Easter break when 300,000 passengers flooded its main terminal, Bristol airport staff are readying themselves for another frenzied onslaught when the summer school holidays begin.

To ensure things run more smoothly this time around, airport officials are asking passengers to be prompt but not too prompt: “During the busy summer period, customers are advised to check with the airline when their check-in/bag drop desk opens and arrive in the terminal at this time,” one airport insider told TPG: ”

“Customers are advised not to arrive early as check-in and security may not be open – adding to the congestion. Bristol Airport recommends all passengers to prepare and plan ahead.”

Anyone flying from the West Country’s largest airport are also being asked to check if their airline offers Twilight check-in (AKA free car parking in Short Stay car park provided), as this may also help ease congestion.

Dublin Airport (DUB)

Staff at Dublin International endured a tougher Easter break than most: long queues, delays and cancellations hit the Irish hub hard. But it’s getting back on its feet and after recruiting hundreds of new security team members summer should be a relative breeze…

The airport is advising that travellers allow 2.5 hours before a short-haul flight, and 3.5 hours before a long-haul flight, and to always keep up to date with the latest flight information before heading to departures.

Handily, you can see live security wait times in the top bar of the airport’s website, which, at the time of writing were just 10 minutes in Terminal One, and 15 minutes in Terminal Two.

“If checking a bag, verify your airline’s check-in & bag drop desk opening times, reads a statement on the airport’s website, “and if possible, allow up to one hour of additional time to check-in luggage.”

Aer Lingus planes seen grounded at Dublin Airport (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

London Gatwick (LGW)

Planning to fly in or out of London Gatwick this summer? Then you might want to keep a close eye on your booking after the U.K’s second busiest airport announced a new cap on flights during the peak season.

Eager to avoid a repeat of the chaos over recent months, Gatwick is cutting the number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August (normally the number is over 900) to ensure fliers “experience a more reliable and better standard of service” during the school holidays.

Related: Gatwick Airport set to cancel one in 10 summer flights to avoid further chaos

So always be sure to check in with your carrier of choice well before setting off to Gatwick to see if your flight is on schedule. You don’t want to be on the end of a last-minute cancellation with luggage in-hand.

A spokesperson for the airport told TPG that “passengers should “arrive at the earliest time their airline allows to check in”.

They also warned of potential issues for those looking to arrive by train this month: “We would however advise passengers to check the latest train times as there have been issues with Gatwick Express and Thameslink services north of London – which limits the number of their trains that run south through the airport.  Many Southern Trains are running as normal.”

“Passengers are also reminded to check that their passports are still valid — and have enough time left on them for the country being visited — and to check the foreign travel advice for all countries they will visit, or pass through, well in advance of travel.”

London Heathrow (LHR)

Far from immune to the pandemonium, London’s iconic Heathrow is another airport that has announced major flight caps, which are set to affect well over a quarter of a million passengers from now until October.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson told TPG that nothing has changed in regards to arrival times in the face of the current heatwave or these logistical challenges. Basically, arrive at the earliest time your airline allows to ensure smooth boarding.

London Heathrow Airport (photo by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy)

However, one of the ways you can combat queues is to download the official Heathrow app, enabling you to “reserve parking, maps of the terminal, pre-order food and receive live flight updates from wherever you are, all at the touch of a button”.

London Stansted (STN)

Punching above its weight for some time now, London Stansted Airport continues to do the lord’s work for travellers who want another option around the capital. This summer, it will welcome five million passengers in July and August alone.

Stansted, which is operated by the same group behind Manchester Airport, is also instructing passengers to follow a ‘Take time, take care campaign.

“Follow your airline’s advice about when to arrive at the terminal for check-in or bag drop, and not too far in advance or after the advised time”, it reads, “as arriving too early can create congestion and a less than pleasant airport experience”.

Steve Griffiths, Managing Director at Stansted said that while “queues may be longer than people are used to at times”, passengers can “definitely help us by arriving in good time”.

“We are also keen to remind people how they can minimise any unnecessary delays at the airport,” he added of the new advice for getting through security faster, including taking electronic devices such as laptops and tablets out of your hand luggage and laid flat in your tray as soon as you reach the scanners.

Related: How To Learn If Your Flight Has Been Cancelled – Even Before The Airline Knows

Bottom line

No matter what your airport or destination this summer, keep tabs on your carrier and the airport itself for changes to your flight or journey to the terminal.

Be sure to keep well hydrated in the face of increasingly dangerous temperatures, too, and make note of what dates rail strikes are set for.

Plan well ahead and you’ll be sure to arrive at the airport with plenty of time, giving you an excuse to put those points to good use and bag yourself a nice lounge at the very least.

You’ll have earned it…

Additional reporting by Matt Blake.

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