Three hours too early for domestic leg of international flight?
July 2, 2015 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it really necessary to arrive three hours early when checking in for a domestic leg of an international flight?

I'm departing for a trip to Iceland tomorrow, and the first leg of my fight is Milwaukee to Boston. I have a 4-hour layover in Boston, and then continue on to Reykjavik. This makes my Milwaukee-Boston leg part of an international trip, and the airline is advising me to arrive at the Milwaukee airport three hours early. That's 4:05 am for a 7:05 am flight. This seems excessive to me. If I were taking the same flight and my final destination had been Boston, the advice would be to arrive two hours early. What extra stuff am I going to have to go through that might take an hour? Isn't the only difference that they will need to see my passport when I check in?

In short, I am looking for opinions as to whether it's really necessary to arrive three hours early for this flight.
posted by crLLC to Travel & Transportation around Milwaukee, WI (16 answers total)
In my opinion, no, it's not necessarily. You can arrive two hours ahead of time. That's never been a problem for me in all of my international travelling.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 8:55 AM on July 2, 2015

Depending on the airline and the size of the airport, you might not even be able to check in that early! So I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by lunasol at 8:57 AM on July 2, 2015

They won't actually cancel the ticket and you are correct that nothing else is required of you but showing your passport. On the off chance that you get caught up in a TSA hold, if you check-in early it will happen at your first airport and not leave you stranded in Boston. If you are really concerned about that, you can just check in online as much as 24 hours before your first flight.

I take many international flights that start with a domestic leg and I just show up an hour early, as ever.
posted by Lame_username at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I fly out of a podunk airport, but I never treat that first leg any different than if my desitination were domestic. If everyone has to show passports and so forth at check-in, maybe it takes significantly longer. But going from BFE to ORD or DTW, I've never had and issues.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:00 AM on July 2, 2015

Just saw that BFE is an actual airport in Germany... Not at what I'm talking about.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:02 AM on July 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

(I just asked a question about Iceland! Have fun!!)

Two hours is fine, really. They'll check your passport at the Boston gate, the domestic leg would be the same.
posted by inevitability at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2015

I have had gate agents check my passport on the domestic leg of my international travel. so YMMV than those above (they don't want you getting on a plane to Boston without being able to leave Boston for the rest of your trip).

Three hours is excessive though, I usually shoot for 1.5 hours ahead of time for all my flights - (half hour to get through security, an hour to go to the club, use the restroom, charge appliances, get some breakfast, amble to the gate, etc etc) , regardless of domestic/international nature. Data point - I basically live in PHL.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2015

Best answer: Out of Milwaukee? Three hours early? No way! I've taken a whole bunch of multi-leg international flights that start out from MKE and have never, not once, arrived at the airport more than ~90 minutes before boarding. Usually closer to 60, to be honest.

Have fun on your trip! I hear Iceland is awesome.
posted by divined by radio at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2015

Kinda depends, the other day there was insane traffic but the terminal and security was empty. Spooky empty like no cars and no people. If you do get there late let them know, people get line jumped all the time to make a flight. But three hours seems overkill.

In Boston there's a really nice park on the harbor walking distance. Piers Park, walking out of the airport can be tricky but doable. A shuttle to the subway stop would work.
posted by sammyo at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2015

I think two hours will be fine, but definitely no less than that.

I once was flying to China , and the first of 3 legs was a domestic connection. Guess which leg got cancelled?? I got re-routed on the first 2 flights entirely, because they couldn't get me to Leg2 City in time for Leg2 flight to depart.

So you definitely want to give them enough time to figure out where to put you if your Milwaukee-Boston flight gets cancelled, and they can't get you to Boston in time for your Iceland flight. If you're there early, they can potentially put you on an earlier itinerary.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agree with dbr that 3 hours is ridic for a flight out of Milwaukee. 60-90 minutes sounds fine for that time of day. Unfortunately for you, the used bookstore won't be open yet.
posted by desjardins at 9:45 AM on July 2, 2015

The first flights out aren't until ~545, so I bet TSA doesn't even open until close to 5. If you get there at 4, you'd just sit there in an empty airport waiting for the employees to get in. If it were me, I'd give myself 90 minutes to be on the safe side.
posted by MarkAnd at 10:27 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input, everyone!
posted by crLLC at 11:23 AM on July 2, 2015

I treat it pretty much like any other flight. But... generally you can't check in online for a flight that goes international on any leg. And if you check luggage, that will take a little longer.

But it doesn't take any longer to go through security, and if it's a domestic leg to start with, the gate won't be in some distant terminal. I'm leaving on a flight to Europe next month, and I start in a secondary airport (not big, not small). I know the security is pretty fast, never more than 15 minutes.
However, I have stood in security line for an hour or more in Houston and Denver-- really depends on the airport. It doesn't take any longer, it's just that the penalty of missing a flight before an international flight is worse! It's not like there are three flights to Istanbul in the next two hours if you miss one-- you'll end up waiting all night.

For me, an hour and a half never fails-- I get to the gate with about an hour to wait usually.
posted by pippin at 6:52 PM on July 2, 2015

Response by poster: Just in case anyone is curious: It took ten minutes between the time I arrived at the airport and reached my gate. I checked in online, and the only difference was having to show a passport. So two hours was more than fine.
posted by crLLC at 3:34 AM on July 3, 2015

generally you can't check in online for a flight that goes international on any leg
I have checked in for international Delta flights online several times.
posted by soelo at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2015

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