Do you need to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight? A discussion

OPINION: Some of you enjoy a good missed flight, but plane tickets cost too much money for such shenanigans.

(Photo by Chalabala/Adobe Stock Photos)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Pre-COVID, I used to fly a lot. There were several months that I’d be on a plane twice a month going back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles or Atlanta or wherever. I know some of you travel way more than that, but it matters not — the point is this: A brotha was on a plane constantly enough to learn a thing or two about the various airports across the nation. A lot of times, I’d be traveling with other people for work, and most of our flights would be booked at the same time. And that’s when the conversations always started about when we needed to be at the airport. 

And that’s the moment all of our lives changed forever. 

Just kidding. But for some reason, social media has lately been aflutter with conversations that have moved into my group chats about whether or not you need to be at the airport two hours before your flight or not. I don’t know who started this latest round of conversations, but I’m fairly certain how you feel about that pre-flight time frame should be discussed before you marry somebody. I’m not even joking. But we’ll get back to that. 

Let’s start with me. For as long as I can remember, I have held to the belief that you need to be at the airport two hours before your flight if it’s domestic and three hours if it is international. I don’t know who came up with the rule but it was passed down to me, and I will do the same to my kids. In my head, it was a nefarious plot hatched by the airlines and the airports to get people to the airport to spend money on food and things you only decide you need because you have time to kill so you peruse random stores in airport terminals. Airports have become so much more cushy and commercial that you can have a downright amazing shopping experience in one. If you’re in Charlotte, you can sit in a rocking chair and relax. Shoot, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has so many good places to shop and eat it’s mind-boggling. But so do all the airports now; from Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles, even the newest terminal at Washington-Reagan is a shopper’s bonanza. 

But here’s the thing, and why that two-hour (three-hour) thing is outdated for many of us. I currently have TSA PreCheck AND CLEAR, which means that every time I go to the airport I’m trying to see if I can break a record for the shortest amount of time from check-in to gate. Two hours? That’s for regular people who won’t apply for TSA PreCheck. CLEAR is for the folks who like to spend money unnecessarily — hi, it’s me. I have literally gotten to the airport with 30 minutes to spare on a flight where I had only a carry-on bag and checked in the night before … and still had time to spare. Next time, we’ll see what happens within 20 minutes. 

Lifestyle

Times have changed. Sure, more people seem to be traveling despite the ever-rising costs, but it also really depends on the airport and what extra pre-flight services you’ve paid for. Even with TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, if I’m at Atlanta’s airport, I’m absolutely trying to get there with at least an hour and a half in my back pocket. I’ve been in CLEAR x TSA PreCheck lines that rivaled the regular security lines. I’ve seen celebrities get humbled in that airport. But if I’m in Huntsville, Alabama, I might actually show up 20 minutes before my flight because the lines are never long. 

Like with all things in life, it all just depends. Now, because of how I was raised, I still tend to be READY to get to the airport two hours in advance. My wife? Eh. She definitely is from the “all I need is an hour” community, and she doesn’t even have TSA PreCheck or CLEAR. When I’m traveling with her, I try to make us leave hours in advance; that doesn’t happen easily, or at all, so ya know, tensions may rise on occasion. We still love each other. We just have to walk way faster to gates than I like. We flew to Ghana, and I definitely know that we absolutely did not get to anybody’s airport three hours before our flight. I won’t say whose fault that is, but you know how I like to get down. 

Point is, like most things in life, how early you need to get there just depends. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to rush, two hours makes sense. If you’re a person who loves to tempt fate even though you swear you don’t, go on ahead and give an hour a shot even if you have to check a bag … at Atlanta’s airport. Running through an airport is good cardio from what I hear. 

But if you miss your flight, that’s on you, boo boo, since for as long as you’ve been flying I’m sure you’ve been told to get there two hours early.

Or go get your TSA PreCheck and CLEAR if you’re feeling rich and show up when you feel like it.


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio and host of the award-winning podcast, “Dear Culture” on theGrio Black Podcast Network. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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