The terminal doors slowly rumble open as you rush up, breathless. You glance at your watch: it’s 9:31am. Your eyes dart up and down rapidly as you scan the departures board for your flight – phew there it is, in the bottom-right corner. QF445 from Sydney to Melbourne is still on-track to depart at 1pm. All is well…


Sound familiar? Or do you prefer the slick approach: hand-luggage in tow as your bypass the check-in counters, saunter through security and head straight to the gate with your mobile boarding pass ready for scanning.

If the stereotypes can be believed, we all fit somewhere in the ‘fabulously early’ or ‘chronically late’ basket. Seasoned business travellers are perhaps more likely to cut it fine, whereas a family jetting off for a relaxing holiday to Queenstown might decide to park a bit earlier and allow for delays.

Here are the recommended check-in times from the airlines themselves, plus some reasons why you might want to rock up a bit earlier, or minimise your time in the terminal.

When should I arrive at the airport?

  • Qantas: Last check-in at 30 minutes before departure for domestic flights, 90 minutes for international Economy and 60 minutes for international Business and First
  • Virgin Australia: Check-in closes at 30 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights. You are advised to be check-in within 90 minutes of departure for international flights.
  • Jetstar: Last check-in at 30 minutes before departure for domestic flights, 60 minutes for Boeing 787 international flights and 45 minutes for Airbus A320/A321 international flights
  • Rex: Counters stop accepting customers at 60 minutes before departure at Burketown Airport, 30 minutes before departure at major city and other QLD airports, and 20 minutes before departure at other reginal airports

Arriving with plenty of time to spare

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to arrive well in advance of the check-in cut-off, and some of them might surprise you

  • When you’re unfamiliar with the airport or city (particularly overseas)
  • Travelling with people who require extra assistance (e.g. young, elderly, with a disability)
  • When you want to maximise lounge access, particularly before international flights
  • If you want to try hop onto an earlier flight that same day (known as Fly Ahead or fly forward), which is offered by some airlines to certain elite members and ticketholders
  • When you are parking a car off-site/in long-term carparks, or returning a rental during busy periods and want the vehicle inspected and cleared before you leave
  • You’re taking public transport to the airport
  • To allow for document checks, such as passports and visas
  • To make a GST refund on goods through the Tourist Refund Scheme
  • You have an inability to just walk straight through Duty-Free
  • For peace of mind against avoiding unexpected hold-ups
Sydney International Airport
Flashback to the days where you’d browse duty free before a flight.

Minimising your time at the airport

Conversely, there are some arguments on why you’d want to spend less time at the terminal.

  • If you’re travelling with only hand luggage and can receive a boarding pass online
  • You can whiz through Premium Entry or priority screening
  • You commute often on domestic flights and don’t always visit the lounge
  • You’re flying from a smaller regional airport with less traffic overall
  • You’re flying during off-peak periods
  • You generally live life on the edge and wouldn’t have it any other way
Qantas Lounge entry
Premium Entry can be a great timesaver for frequent flyers.
Should you arrive early or late at the airport? was last modified: July 6th, 2021 by Brandon Loo