Going to the airport is often a daunting task. Between long security lines and the crowds in the terminal, giving yourself enough time to make it to your gate is essential.

In a 2022 study, the travel experts at Upgraded Points analyzed 15 factors at 50 major U.S. airports to find the ones where it’s most important for passengers to arrive early for domestic flights.

  • number of enplanements
  • number of passengers
  • airport size
  • average TSA wait time
  • number of terminals
  • number of gates
  • number of airport employees
  • number of airport lounges
  • number of restaurants/bars
  • number of shops
  • number of parking lots/decks
  • percentage of on-time departures
  • percentage of delayed departures
  • car traffic volume
  • car traffic index

The study found that the airports where passengers need the most time before boarding are Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

The airport where passengers don’t need to arrive as early and ranked at the bottom of the list was John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) in Columbus, Ohio.

The 15 U.S. airports where you need to arrive the earliest

  1. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD): 3 hrs 4 mins
  2. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): 2 hrs 59 mins
  3. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): 2 hrs 58 mins
  4. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 2 hrs 55 mins
  5. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 2 hrs 50 mins
  6. Miami International Airport (MIA): 2 hrs 48 mins
  7. San Francisco International Airport (SFO): 2 hrs 45 mins
  8. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT): 2 hrs 45 mins
  9. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): 2 hrs 44 mins
  10. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): 2 hrs 41 mins
  11. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA): 2 hrs 39 mins
  12. Orlando International Airport (MCO): 2 hrs 36 mins
  13. Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): 2 hrs 33 mins
  14. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): 2 hrs 31 mins
  15. Denver International Airport (DEN): 2 hrs 30 mins

Upgraded Points’ study found that flying out of the Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) requires passengers to arrive 3 hours and 4 minutes early to board smoothly.

In 2021, the airport recorded a whopping 54,020,399 passengers. ORD also has 193 gates, more than any other airport included in the study. Upgraded Points also found that the airport is understaffed, with 3,606 badged airport employees per square mile, which is 9% below the national average. 

The following two airports nearly tied for second and third place: LAX and JFK. Based on the ranking, passengers should arrive at LAX 2 hours and 59 minutes before their scheduled departure. With over eight terminals, 146 gates, and an overwhelming number of car traffic outside the airport, it’s no wonder people need extra time to get to their designated boarding areas.

JFK was a close third, with passengers expected to arrive 2 hours and 58 minutes before their scheduled departure. The average TSA wait time at the NYC airport is 16.40 minutes, and in 2021, the airport reported it had over 30 million passengers.

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