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A New Study Reveals How Early You Need to Arrive to Catch Your Flight Across 50 U.S. Airports

A New Study Reveals How Early You Need to Arrive to Catch Your Flight Across 50 U.S. Airports

There’s no place like home for the holidays, but a missed flight could make that journey back impossible. If you’re flying through a major airport this week, avoid Christmas chaos and get to your gate with time to spare using this ranking of the most important airports to arrive at early, including suggested preflight arrival times for each airport.

Upgraded Points released the findings from its latest holiday travel study, ranking 50 major U.S. airports by how early you need to arrive to catch your flight, from just one hour to over three hours. They analyzed 15 ranking factors across airports including airport acres, terminals, gates, and parking decks, as well as the number of delayed and on-time departures, and more. A variety of other factors, such as TSA wait time, car traffic volume, and airport shops, were considered to give travelers a comprehensive understanding of how to budget time for a flight before heading home for the holidays.

“Preplanning is always key to a smooth travel experience” said Alex Miller, Upgraded Points founder. “But as we all know, things happen when it comes to travel - especially around the holidays. By knowing which airports are busier and why, you can preplan for any delays and ensure your timing sets you up for success.”  For more details visit

Arriving Early: Study Methodology
Upgraded Points analyzed 50 of the largest U.S. airports on 15 ranking factors, assigning each one a weighted score of 0 to 10. The study then determined each airport’s total score out of 50 from the total of its individual factor scores, which were weighted according to their impact on missing a domestic flight. Higher scores indicate airports with a greater need to arrive early. The airport size for each airport (in square miles) was calculated by subtracting the mileage of runways from the total land area. Each airport’s total acreage, runway length, and wait times were all compiled using data from individual airport websites and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Plan to Arrive 2 to 3+ Hours Early – Especially at These Airports


Passengers need to arrive 3+ hours ahead of time at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) due to passenger congestion, airport staffing, size, wait time, and more. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) round out the top five most important airports to arrive early.
John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) falls at the bottom of the ranking, meaning passengers don’t need to arrive at this airport as early as they would at other higher-traffic airports – arriving just 1 hour before their flight should have you home for the holidays.
Multiple Delays: Airport Size, TSA Wait Times, Number of Bars and Eateries

“Many factors can cause passengers to be late for their flights, even if they reach the airport on time,” said Alex Miller. “Generally speaking, airport security lines are the biggest delaying factor within the airport itself, since going through security is mandatory. Wait times can top 18 minutes or more in airports like PIT in Pittsburgh and MSY in New Orleans. And that’s if the line is running smoothly. But there are other delaying factors in play too.”

Other factors include airport size and the number of eateries/bars. Forcing travelers to walk long distances, the largest airport is currently Denver International Airport (DIA) at 33,531 acres – though DFW easily spans 17,000+ acres too. And two airports that know how to wine-and-dine their travelers with tasty temptations include LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Ronald Reagan International Airport (DCA). LGA boasts nearly 62 restaurants/bars per square mile, while DCA has over 45.

To see the study’s complete methodology, suggested preflight arrival times for all 50 U.S. airports, and detailed ranking factors, please visit the full study