How to Get to the Airport on Time

Basic of Air Travel: Get to the Airport on Time

In addition to checking in for your flight, the other thing you can do from home that will make your travel easier is to plan how you are going to get to the airport on the day of your flight.  While this is always a consideration, during the busy travel times, it’s especially important to have a plan in place well in advance of your travel date.

You will want to arrive at the airport at least two hours of your scheduled departure for a domestic flight, three hours for an international flight.  The crowded and stressful holiday season is not the time to cut it close on arriving for your flight.

Here are some options:

  • Drive yourself and park at the terminal.  Depending on where you live and the traffic patterns, this could take a fair amount of commute time.  Additionally, terminal parking is generally the most expensive parking option.
  • Drive yourself and park off-site.  Again, you have to deal with the traffic and commuting issue, but at least parking off-site saves a bit of money.  Allow plenty of time to not only get to the parking lot but also to get from the parking lot to the airport.  The farther away the lot, the cheaper it will be.  Tip:  If your off-site lot of choice accepts reservations, consider making one and avoiding any chance that the lot could be full on your day of travel.
  • Take a cab to the airport.  You still have the traffic and commute to deal with, but you don’t have the headache of managing it.  Plus, most taxis are able to drop you curbside, right at your gate.  It may be expensive or difficult to get a cab, depending on where you live.  Tip:  Arrange for pick up in advance.
  • Use a car service.  Although not available in all cities, I’ve found a car service to be more reliable than a taxi service when it comes to a timely pickup.  Cars are clean and comfortable and comparably priced to a taxi.
  • Shared van service.  There are a variety of companies that provide these services, lumping several pickups in one shuttle.  Because these are shared rides, it will take more time to get to the airport, but you’ll also save some money.  For example, a taxi or car service from my home to the airport will cost about $50, a shared van service will take about half an hour long and cost about $28.  If there are two or more of you traveling together, it’s probably more cost-efficient to use a taxi or car service than to use a shared service.
  • Stay at an airport hotel that offers parking in addition to the room, and then take the hotel shuttle to the airport.  This can save a lot of time if you live a long way from the airport and is an attractive option for those very early morning flights.  In my area, many hotels offer seven days of free parking overnight.  Do the math and see if this makes sense for you.
  •  Public transportation.  Depending on where you live this could be a subway, train or bus.  This is my preference when traveling, but unfortunately not a viable option from my home.  If you have a service that can get you directly to the airport, like in Chicago (photo at top), San Francisco (photo at right), or Washington DC), this is probably going to be cheap and quick.  You will have to juggle luggage and kids, so if you’ve got lots of either, think about the additional stress this may place on you.
  • Have a friend or family member drive you.  This is probably my least favorite alternative because you really are pushing your schedule and commute time onto someone else.  Delays can wreak havoc on a schedule.  Besides, if you are a decent friend at all, you’ll bring home a gift or treat the person to lunch, dinner, or drinks.  It might be cheaper just to make arrangements of your own.

Frequent travelers most likely know what’s the best way to travel to the airport, but it’s something that the infrequent travel often forgets.  Planning ahead will not only make things less stressful but will also help to make sure that you aren’t rushing around on the day of your flight.

This is part 2 of our Basics of Air Travel series, detailing all the steps to make you an expert at air travel, even if you’ve never flown before.

  1. Checking in From Home
  2. Get to the Airport on Time
  3. Checking & Carrying on Luggage
  4. Getting Through Security – Planning
  5. Airport Security – Rules & Etiquette
  6. Getting to Your Departure Gate
  7. Boarding the Plane & Stowing Your Bags
  8. Turning Off Your Electronic Devices
  9. Safety Demonstration
  10. Beverage Service
  11. Airplane Etiquette
  12. Descent
  13. Landing & Deplaning
  14. Leaving the Airport
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