An airport kiosk counting down the time, with arrows point to the words
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

When you’ve voted, donated, volunteered, and screamed into the void, what’s left? Leading up to Election Day, Slate is offering a series of Low-Stakes Debates as brief respites for your all-consuming anxiety.

This time: How early must you be at the gate for a domestic flight?  

Jeffrey Bloomer: I will begin with my opinion on this, which is: If I approach the gate and the flight is not already boarding, or if there is still a line at the gate, I think, “Hmm, I guess I should go get a beer.” If I am at the gate more than 30 minutes before takeoff, I feel like I’ve done something wrong.

Susan Matthews: There is a difference between “What time do you get to the airport?” and “What time do you get to the gate?” It is definitely better to be one of the last people to board the plane, perhaps particularly because they usually end up dealing with your suitcase for you. But I get there between one and three hours early. Longer for international flights. I will admit that sometimes I just get to the airport early and hang out, do work, etc., from a terrible airport restaurant. I’d argue that the time you get to spend wandering the airport before you go to the gate is one of the REASONS to get to the airport early.

Jeffrey: Oh, no, Susan.

Rebecca Onion: I try to have 45 minutes at the gate and the reason is, there is so much chaos in flying and I don’t really understand how it works, and if my flight has been rescheduled or delayed, I want to be able to get in the line and talk to a person about it. I have no idea if “talking to the person at the gate” is actually better than other ways you can be put on a different flight, but I’ve been terrorized by enough different delay situations that I like to have the human option.

Jeffrey: No one should WANT to spend time in the airport.

Susan: Disagree! Airports are fun. I think this is a lasting result of me never flying for any reason other than fun for many years, and I still basically rarely fly for “work,” or anything that isn’t explicitly pleasure. But airports are basically where vacation starts.

Rebecca: I used to like killing time in airports, but now that I have a kid, I do NOT. And if you miss a flight, having a child with you is the difference between “just killing time with my laptop” and complete hell.

Susan: I don’t have ground to stand on regarding the kid thing, but the one time I flew with my niece it was really fun. We looked at planes! She loves planes. But I understand kids change things.

Derreck Johnson: My aversion to arriving early for flights is probably an extension of my anxiety of flying. I’m not SCARED of flying, but I also don’t love it. So if I get there like an hour before the flight starts boarding, sure … I’m heading right to the bar. But it’s just adding time for my anxiety to build. If I arrive like five to 10 minutes before boarding begins, or even as they’re boarding, and I can generally walk right onto the plane, my time to think and dwell about things…


Read More: How early should you arrive for a domestic flight? A debate on both extremes.

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