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6 Things You Should Never Do in an Airport

By Rachel Gresh
Read time: 6 minutes

With hordes of travelers, long lines at check-in, and rising prices for just about everything, you might be wondering: How can I make my time at the airport more enjoyable? Of course, the simplest way to make your travel day smoother is to follow airport guidelines and rules, especially those designated by the TSA (or other international security agencies). But we all know there is much more to trouble-free air travel than simply following the rules. From the time you arrive at the ticket counter until you board your plane at the gate, here are the top six mistakes to avoid at the airport.

You Don’t Know the Check-In Cutoff Times

Travelers running with luggage outside of airport
Credit: Imgorthand/ iStock

In general, airlines and airports alike recommend arriving at least two hours before the departure of a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. While this might sound like too much time at some airports, having time to relax is decidedly better than sprinting through the airport to find your gate.

If you find yourself running behind schedule, though, it’s crucial to know the absolute latest time you can arrive and still make your flight. Most airlines have minimum check-in time requirements and checked baggage cutoff times, especially for international flights, and these are posted on the airline’s website. Delta Air Lines, for example, has a minimum check-in time of 40 to 45 minutes for domestic flights and one hour for international flights. Of note, the times may vary at some airports, so be sure to check the requirements carefully. Arriving later than this risks your ability to check-in or drop off your checked luggage, and you’ll likely have to pay a hefty sum to change to a later flight. 

If you still don’t want to get there too early, you can also use technology to gain a better sense of when you should ideally arrive. To see how crowded any U.S. airport might be during your date and time of travel (including estimated wait times and the busiest times of day at that airport), try using the MyTSA App.

You Arrive Too Early

Travelers standing in line at airport
Credit: Pressmaster/ Shutterstock

It doesn’t just pose an inconvenience — it actually is possible to arrive too early for your flight, particularly if you plan to check bags. Many airports have limits to how early you can check a bag. Over a dozen U.S. airports — including heavily trafficked airports such as Denver, Las Vegas, and Seattle — have a maximum bag check time of four hours before flight departure, and most U.S. airports have a six-hour maximum limit. This means that if you attempt to give airline agents your bags more than four hours before your flight departs, they will deny you and you will have to wait at the ticket counter or bag drop until the four-hour mark.

You Check in for Your Flight in Person

Passenger handing over passport and showing boarding pass on mobile phone to airport check-in agent
Credit: Ground Picture/ Shutterstock

Avoid lengthy lines at the ticket counter by checking in online up to 24 hours before your flight (for most airlines). This way, you’ll already have your boarding pass on your phone, or you can print it at home before you leave and you can head straight to the security line at the airport, as long as you don’t have bags to check. Simply log in to the airline via the website or mobile app and follow the check-in prompts. 

If you are traveling with checked luggage, you will need to take it to the luggage drop-off area by the ticket counter. Fortunately, in most airports, there are separate lines for bag drop-off when you’ve already checked in online, and they usually move much faster than the ticket counter lines. This also keeps regular ticket counters open for passengers with special requests, travel issues, and other scenarios that require an agent’s help. Remember: Online check-in closes 45 to 90 minutes before departure (depending on the airline). 

You Wander Too Far From Your Gate

Woman with suitcase looking at airplane out of airport terminal window
Credit: Maridav/ Shutterstock

Delays and gate changes can happen at any time, so stick close enough to the gate to hear important announcements about your flight. In 2023, an estimated 78% of domestic flights arrived on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This means that nearly one-quarter of flights experienced delays due to maintenance, security, weather, technological issues, and other factors. If you’re too far away from your gate, you might get the memo too late — and your gate change, delay, or cancellation can cause even more headaches and, possibly, a missed flight. 

Boarding too late is also a concern, even if you stay near your gate. On domestic flights, most boarding ends 15 to 20 minutes before departure time (and even longer before an international flight). If the doors close and you are not on board, your seat can be reassigned to someone on standby. 

Aside from the departure monitors inside the airport, downloading the airline’s app is an excellent way to stay informed and ensure you are at your gate on time. Opt-in for real-time text notifications about your flight if you plan on waiting in an airport lounge or another location further away from the gate. Other apps, such as FlightAware, provide similar services.

You Purchase Bottled Water

Person using water fountain to fill refillable water bottle
Credit: myboys.me/ Shutterstock

It’s not just your imagination: Airport prices are sky-high, typically 10% to 15% higher than street prices. You can easily avoid paying a premium for bottled water by taking your own empty water bottle with you and filling it up for free at drinking fountains. You might also opt for a collapsible water bottle that takes up less room in your carry-on. Tap has refillable water stations at many major U.S. airports, offering passengers free filtered water in seconds. Another option is to ask for a water cup when purchasing food from one of the airport’s restaurants or fast-food stands. 

You Leave Your Luggage Unattended

Unattended carry-on bag and backpack in airport terminal
Credit: Ralf Geithe/ iStock

Not only are you at risk for pickpocketing and theft, but leaving luggage unattended can trigger a security alert in the airport. Travelers worldwide are encouraged to report unattended luggage to security. If you leave your carry-on at the gate while you visit a gift shop or use the restroom, another traveler or airport staff might inform security. Airport officials confiscate your bag, and you may be subject to further security screenings. If airport staff cannot locate you to return your bag, it will be sent to lost and found after it is deemed safe by security — so the moral of the story is to always keep an eye on your belongings. 

Note: All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. Daily Passport may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.

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