Why do people get to the airport so darn early?

Yeah, I guess I really shouldn’t be talking, but still. I’m flying Singapore Airlines this afternoon from Los Angeles to Singapore (via Tokyo), and got to the airport at around 11:45AM for a 3:45PM departure. Way early, of course, though I arrived early simply because I would have lounge access and frankly, most lounges are nicer than the Holiday Inn Express I stayed at last night. Beyond that, now that I’m a Priority Pass member, I wanted to try out the SkyTeam lounge and also reLAX lounge.

Singapore check-in only opens at 12:15PM, so I headed to the reLAX lounge, which is landside. What shocked me was that as I walked by Singapore check-in, there were probably already 100+ people lined up in the economy class line, which is nearly half of the cabin… and that was four hours before departure.

I can understand why people do that for a late night departure, when they have to check out of a hotel at a reasonable hour. But four hours before departure for a daytime flight? Those passengers don’t have lounge access, not to mention Bradley is probably the worst airport terminal in the US.

I can’t come up with a good reason, other than that it’s probably a cultural thing. Most of the people in line had a bunch of bags and I’m guessing don’t travel all that often (or at least travel for long periods of time), so would rather show up way early than feel “stressed.”

On an unrelated note, what’s up with all of the people with machine guns in the terminal? I expect that at El Al check-in (and there were several of them there), but they were all over. Guess that’s heightened security (or intimidation, at least).

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Did those folks with the machine guns have bullets? Did you ask ’em? Just curious. I feel safer, of course. Don’t you?

  2. Dude, we just assassinated the top terrorist in the world and Bradley was the scene of a terrorist shooting after 9/11 so I think that explains heightened security — also Bradley has upgraded their terminal with great food so it’s not a bad terminal – although I can’t explain why people show up four hours early. I love getting there earlier but only with great lounge access

  3. I don’t know why but when I fly I usually end up blocking off an entire day on my calendar for “Travel to XXX” even if I have a noon/afternoon departure. Without anything to do I’ll usually get restless and leave for the airport early (though not usually 4 hours early).

  4. I’m always there 4-5 hours early. Hit the lounge and have food and drinks while I get work done. Sure beats staying in a hotel room……

  5. you never know how long it will take to get through check in and security…especially if you don’t have fast track access

  6. El Al always has had top security at LAX (and I presume throughout the rest of the US). They’re planes are always heavily guarded with machine guns, and as you saw, so is their presence within the airport. I’m not sure of any additional security by El Al in light of the recent events.

  7. Traveling with the Mrs, she just doesn’t know what to expect and is ALWAYS early for everything. Tough to travel with her and sit in the airport for 2 hrs before departure. Doesn’t matter that I travel every week, she’s crazy if we leave when I normally do (90 minutes prior).

  8. “Why do people get to the airport so darn early?”

    Are they hurting you?

    I guess if I was one of those people I would ask why you care?

  9. You can never tell about traffic. Car problems are always possible. There could be security delays at the airport.

    The question is why it matters to you?

    Your trip reports are somewhat interesting, although you never really see anything except lounges and hotels. But your elitist, entitled attitude grows tiresome. Here’s hoping you grow up soon.

  10. While I praise your knowledge about air travel, elite status, mileage redemption strategies, etc., I do sometimes wonder why you say things like this on a public blog, which I am sure, nowadays, a lot of people follow.

    Majority of travelers are infrequent travelers and often do not know ins and outs of airline operations, check-in formalities, etc. When they make reservation, it says arrive at least 2-3 hours early prior to departure. So, people take that for granted because they rather not miss the flight. Furthermore, as someone already said above, do they offend you in anyway? On the contrary, the way you framed your question may come off as being a bit snobby about being elite frequent traveler in premium cabin and if one of those who arrived 4 hours early read this post, he/she might be offended (of course depends on their personalities).

    Anyway, enjoy your trip. I am definitely looking forward to the pictures and the trip report!

  11. I get there 4 hours early regardless of lounge access. I love traveling around Airports with my DSLR!

  12. Can someone explain gate lice? So you have your confirmed F… Now it’s a race to who boards first? I always try to be the last on board… Yes I like to make an entrance

  13. Eh, people leave early for the airport in case something like traffic or public transit delays comes up but if there aren’t any delays, they have extra time to kill. Also, that 100 person line probably took quite awhile to check in, without the benefit of priority check in. And it probably took them a little while to get through security, without elite access there. And those infrequent travelers want to make sure that their checked bag ends up in the right place. And they might want to peruse the duty free or have a chance to buy a sandwich before boarding their flight, where they don’t get the first class meal treatment.

  14. Pretty much every international carrier recommends checking in at least 3 hours prior to scheduled departure.

    I flew on an Emirates flight this week that departed at 530pm, but check-in ran from 11am to 3pm. If you arrive later than 3pm and have not yet OLCI, you run the risk of being denied boarding. I went to the airport at 1pm, checked in and went back to the office – but I was #158 out of 213 to check in — and this was almost 5 hours before the flight.

    In my last job, I did a lot of studies of checkin profiles and demand curves for desk allocation and the universal trend around the world is that the largest demand for checkin is about 3-5 hours prior to a flight, declines slightly between 2-3 hours prior, goes up again at around 90-120 minutes prior and then decays back down to zero from 90 minutes to closure.

  15. I am getting to DTW several hours early to: go around the DL loungers to haul as many 300 MR point vouchers as I can, stay in one to use the wifi and do some work and have some coffee and then be at the gate when the GA opens it up so I can volunteer myself and be first on the bump list:-)

  16. Lucky — I’m pretty sure the people who are asking, “Why do you care?” are the people who are lining at for Economy check-in four hours early. These are otherwise known as “freaks.”

  17. Some asian carriers like KAL doesn’t assign you a seat until check-in if you didn’t purchase from their website directly, have some elite status or know someone. While I’m sure for some it’s a cultural thing to be early, for others, it’s a matter of not riding in the middle last row on a 747 šŸ™‚ I guess the trick around showing up so early is to either spend more money or get elite status, but elite status still won’t help if other family members you’re traveling with are “plain.”

  18. My wife points out to me every time we travel together, most people are not expert travelers.

  19. In college I used to get to the airport many hours before a flight in order to secure an exit row seat. That was back when the exit rows weren’t handed out until 24 hours before the flight. Now it makes no difference.

  20. No, there’s absolutely no irony at all in either of these comments below…

    “I guess if I was one of those people I would ask why you care?”

    Why do you care that he cares?

    “…your elitist, entitled attitude grows tiresome. Hereā€™s hoping you grow up soon.”

    You do realize that you countered perceived condescension with condescension of your own, right?

  21. I never usually get to the airport really early. However in January I did arrive at JFK 16 hours early. Purely because I had come in on a flight the night before my next scheduled flight and did not want to pay for hotel room. Plus, JFK T5 has free wi-fi anyway, so it worked out nicelu

  22. Thanks for the feedback, folks. Clearly some of you misinterpreted the intent of my post. I wasn’t saying “shame on them,” “how dare they,” or looking down on them, but rather I was asking a question I’m genuinely curious about. Y’all are a lot smarter than I am, and frankly, I learn a lot more from the comments section on the blog than y’all could ever learn from what I post. I hadn’t considered that many airlines, including Singapore, don’t preassign coach seats. That may very well play a large role, and makes perfect sense. Thanks for the insight!

  23. Think a few folks here need to take a chill pill anyway. But I will say my Mom and my Sis are exactly like this. Even flying a short hop domestic in the US they will go the airport like 3 hours in advance. It cracks me up. For international they will be there easily 4-5 hours in advance just because they are paranoid

    I on the other hand have mastered the art of showing up at the aiport with just enough time. I have no idea why people bother with domestic clubs. Why on earth would I go to the airport an hour in advance so I can sit in some crappy Sky Club or Admirals Club or some other god-forsaken place where I can get a cup of really bad coffee with peanuts? I generally arrive at airports 30-45 minutes out so I just go to the gate shortly before boarding. I leave extra time if it is some bad security place like ATL

    On internationals with great lounges I get it though and will happily show up early to enjoy the entertainment of the lounge. As for the rest though it’s like sitting in traffic

  24. Every time I did a tour group, we arrived at the airport hours before. This may be the reason if they are of Japanese or Singaporean descent?

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