There’s Nothing Irresponsible About Missing A Flight

If you’ve never missed a flight you’re spending too much time in airports, although admittedly there are flights where arriving late has real consequences – either because of the importance of a meeting on arrival, or because of limited connecting options. Contra this fast-spreading claim on social media, there’s nothing inherently irresponsible about missing a flight.

The Onion once parodied early airport arrivals, “Dad Suggests Arriving At Airport 14 Hours Early.” Surely your time – and your life – are worth too much to do that. The occasional backup in the airport garage, leading up to the terminal, or at the security checkpoint isn’t enough of a reason to be less productive or enjoy your life less.

A regular weekly traveler spending an extra half hour at the airport in each direction will spend 52 extra hours at the airport each year or more than 2 days each year unnecessarily waiting. That’s 3 months of your life over 45 years.

It is not worth giving up 3 months of your life to ensure you never miss a flight. That’s simply too high a price to pay, even if – like I do – you do your best to make the most of your time at the airport. I try to be as productive as I can be, and you’ll usually find me working from the lounge before a flight.

My default is to leave home 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to departure. That puts me at the curb of the Austin airport 50 minutes out. In Austin PreCheck and CLEAR are right inside the main doors of the airport. Even if security takes me 10 minutes to clear, I’ve still got a few minutes to reach the gate before boarding even begins. And the truth is I don’t need to board first! I just need to not board last, so I’m not stuck gate checking a bag. I follow a similar routine leaving my Arlington, Virginia office for National airport.

If it matters in some sort of existential way that I not miss a flight and travel later I will build in more of a buffer – both for airport arrival but also traveling earlier to ensure there are backup flights and backup connections if applicable, so that weather and mechanicals and air traffic control doesn’t get in my way.

That’s not most trips, though, so there’s nothing irresponsible about following a routine that makes for efficient use of your time and works in the modal case.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Gary – you do whatever you want but I, after 8 million air miles over 40 years, still like to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Even though I rarely check a bag (unless taking my golf clubs) and have Pre Check I anticipate there could be delays. Also, unlike you, I don’t consider the time at the airport to be “wasted”. I typically go to the lounge, relax and catch up on things I would be doing if I was sitting at home. If lounge is packed (rarely the case since I have a couple of options) I just use the airport wifi. Bottom line is people do what they feel are best for them. For you to have a mantra like “if you haven’t missed a flight you are spending too much time in airports” is frankly stupid and not reasonable for most people.

    Again – you be you but any of us that have read you for a while know you have a lot of strange quirks that come out over time. Must be a slow day and you have to get a blog article out since this one says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and is a repeat of things you posted before. PLEASE keep the personal opinions on when to get to the airport, shared hotel dispensers, etc to yourself and only write articles about actual REAL travel related issues or news.

  2. I agree (mostly) with what AC says. I make good time at the airport, grabbing a coffee at the lounge and doing work. I may be weird, but being an aviation geek, I also love watching airplanes take off and land. So I definitely am in the camp of “too much time at the airport”, but I kind of like it.

  3. I have said this before. I get to the airport at the recommended times: 2 hours for domestic and 3 for international. I get something to eat and drink and look at my phone. I’d rather be a little early than late. I had a plane leave me one time but it wasn’t my fault. It was due to the weather. We got put on the next flight out.

  4. There was a time that I got to the airport at the last moment. I was often the last or nearly the last person to board. One United flight forgot to close the jetway door and was about to retract the jetway but let me board. Another Northwest Airlink flight opened the door again for me and also the door to the tarmac. They don’t do that anymore.

    Now there is so much variability in security, even some variability with PreCheck. As a result, I try to be at the airport about 75-90 minutes before the flight. That allows some delay in transit or being dropped off. Large city airports, like JFK or LAX, is less predictable so it might be wise to plan to get there 100-120 minutes before.

    However, checking in 120 minutes before the flight is not wasted. In these modern days with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, it’s possible to do some work while sitting. I can answer e-mails or think of legal or work strategies or do work related reading. I might even enjoy watching a few planes.

    In the old days, going to the airport early meant reading magazines or the newspaper or watching CNN Airport Network.

  5. So, when there is only one flight per night overseas I get to the airport in plenty of time so as not to go a day later and not spend money on a night I won’t use. I am thinking you are having a slow day.

  6. In over a million miles over the last 10 years with Delta I have never missed a flight. But I am also fairly lackadaisical about my airport arrival. My home airport, TPA, has a 30 minute bag cut off and I have broken that once with a 28 minute check but since they know me and my status they late checked it for me. I normally arrive at the check-in counter between 45 minutes and an hour of my flight. Yes, I pretty much always have to check a bag due to tools and equipment. I also have very little work that I can accomplish at the airport and even though I am a pilot and love aviation I still don’t like sitting around the terminal for too long. Several of my co-workers on the other hand love to be 2 hours early. And it is often a back and forth ending with arriving an hour to an hour and a half early. Delta does have a handful of airports with longer bag check in times but I usually just add that difference to my normal arrival time.

  7. I’m with Carol. 2 hours before domestic,3 before international.

    International can be the worse since you have to show all kinds of “paperwork” for your destination. During covid, even flying BC, we had 30 minutes worth of paperwork to prove before we could get our boarding ticket.

    NOT risking missing a flight for a few extra minutes. I can read my kindle, surf the web, people watch. I don’t even need a lounge.

  8. Gary makes it sound like if you’re waiting at the airport for more than 1 1/2 – 2 hours you’re wasting your life away. It’s almost as if he “thinks” the extra 50 minutes at home will be spent curing cancer or developing a viable flying car. Most people would spend that time sitting around the house twiddling their thumbs. So what’s the difference where you do it?

    P.S. “…know you have a lot of strange quirks that come out over time.”

  9. 100% agree, Gary. It depends a lot on your airport, and a lot on your airline/status rebooking policies, but at SFO T3 with United, I feel like I’ve planned properly if I get the boarding notification while I’m still in the Uber and a few minutes out from the curb.

    Haven’t missed one yet! But if I ever do, it will have been worth it for all the hours not spent at the airport.

  10. (I _have_ rebooked to a later flight from the Car, a few times, when things really went south. Also not that tragic, really.)

  11. I’ve traveled for work for 30 years and recently retired. My wife is annoyed at having to get to the airport 2 hours before take-off (my requirement), but I often find that you’re just wasting time at home or at the hotel before going to the airport anyway, so why not just waste the time in a lounge? The only exception to this was racing to the airport when working when the meeting went late or trying to catch an earlier flight, but I was always a nervous wreck – so I’m not doing that anymore as a retiree!

  12. I also don’t consider time sitting in a nice lounge “wasted”, compared to sitting around the house or the office. I can get a lot of work done in the lounge. And getting there early makes travel stress free. I used to be one of those people running through the airport, and I don’t regret stopping that. Third, a lot of my flights are to places I really want to get to for something on a particular day, like meetings and family events. I’ve known people who miss weddings and funerals by cutting it close, and I don’t want to do that. Finally, if you are flying WAS to AUS, there are so many flights it is like a shuttle. Usually no big deal if you miss one.

    By the way, I think the Bee had one on a dad who took his family to the airport early before it was built.

  13. Book girl

    He’s most likely never been thru JFK when they shut down their PreCheck lines at the crack of dusk.

  14. You do you, Gary. As long as you’re willing to pony up for another ticket out of your own pocket for not arriving when the airline says and you miss your flight, props to you for making this work most of the time.

  15. I have never missed a flight.

    When I fly, one of the following is almost always true:
    1. I am indeed going to a conference and want or need to arrive by a certain time.
    2. I am going on a vacation where I will lose out on something I paid for if I don’t arrive on time, including potentially the entire trip.
    3. It’s a transatlantic flight and there is only one.

    If you’re flying a route that has plenty of options, then I can see not sweating missing a flight, but that’s typically not me. And I was once flying DCA to ATL with flights one hour apart and a flight time of 9am. Our flight got canceled by a mechanical. Every other flight was full. We were, fortunately, going through Atlanta not to it…I’m pretty sure some of the people on that flight didn’t make it to Atlanta that day. With flights every hour. With an early flight. We eventually made it to our actual destination in STL…and it was technically the same calendar day…but even there being plenty of flights does not guarantee easy rebooking.

    You do you, but I’m going to continue to make dang sure I don’t miss any flights. (Also, it sounds like you have your local airport down to the point where you can cut it finer than most…)

  16. Gary, I don’t see an email for you, but your confirm follow page is giving the error “Service Worker context closed” (WebKitInternal:0) in Safari…this error hasn’t popped up before, so it’s probably a plugin glitch. I THINK I was able to subscribe in Chrome.

  17. “A regular weekly traveler spending an extra half our at the airport in each direction will spend 52 extra hours at the airport each year or more than 2 days each year unnecessarily waiting. That’s 3 months of your life over 45 years.”

    And you can say the something similar about commuting if you live somewhere like NYC, DC, LA, or Chicago.

    I know it’s predicted that business travel will be back up to pre-pandemic levels within the next year – see the GBTA’s Travel Index Forecast for that data – but my husband and everyone else we know who travels for business are doing much less of that these days…if any travel at all. (My husband works for an international company with offices scattered across the globe – they have decided they are fine with much less business travel and invested in making a more robust telework platform.)

    If you travel weekly and like to cut it close about when you arrive to the airport- and you don’t take a personal financial hit for missing a flight – then I suppose this is the stance you take. For most people though, for which flying is costly and is something that has to be budgeted for, missing a flight can seem irresponsible.

  18. obviously this entire thread is situation dependent. if you are on a 9am in Y from LGA to BOS and don’t have anything pressing until dinner, then it makes no difference whether you get on the 9am or the 10am (or the 8am or the 11am), perhaps unless there are truly bad irregular ops or weather. But, if you are flying JFK to Singapore in F and have a very important meeting 4 hours after you land, then you better be 99.9% sure you make that flight, and plan accordingly.

    I do remember days at the old shuttle terminal at LGA when I would show up at 4pm for a 430pm shuttle, and on occasion there would be someone with a ticket on the 630pm shuttle … Hilariously, they were going to sit and wait inside that dreadful terminal seeing the 430pm and 530pm shuttles take off, in part because they did not realize they could ask to get on 430pm. This for a terminal that typically had a 3 min line at security.

  19. If nobody is counting on you, go ahead and roll the dice, if you hate spending time in airports. I personally love being in the airport, especially with lounge access. But it absolutely is irresponsible to miss your flight if you have a boss, work responsibilities, etc. The cost of time coming early is much cheaper than the costs if you miss the flight.

  20. Some airports have wildly unpredictable security lines, even for Clear and Pre-Check. DEN, for example…

  21. I’d rather look at my airplane through the window at the gate than through my windshield as I sit in traffic due to a road accident, construction, or something else out of my control.

  22. Gary, you forgot to include a “lost opportunity” calculation for how much time you will waste if you miss a flight. It can easily be 24 hours of your life in additional travel time because many flights are full and some are only scheduled once a day at non-hub airports. Plus there’s the $$ or points you end up wasting for that night’s hotel reservation because you can no longer cancel it within 24 hours of arrival. And you’re not going to get the same seats, or even cabin class. We plan our trips and book months in advance and don’t mind relaxing in a lounge ahead of our flight in order to ensure that our time spent planning is not wasted.

  23. As a carry-on-only traveler, I would typically leave my home about 35-60 minutes before my flights out of DCA and be at the gates on time without issue. Then 9/11 hit. And ever since since then the passenger ID checking nonsense that started up for me even as a carry-on-only passenger on domestic trips and things have never been the same.

  24. Both extreme positions are dumb because not all flights are created equal; they are not a fungible commodity. If I am flying the former US Shuttle out of DCA that goes out every hour for some standard boring week of work travel, then sure I can be more laid back and if I miss that specific one it is not the end of the world. But if I am heading out on an international trip that I have looked forward to for months I am not going to try to show off my frequent flyer macho status by cutting it as close as possible. And different travelers will have different mixes of these types of flights. So making a blanket statement is not helpful.

    Agree with others that this looks like the product of a slow news day…I don’t think anyone would blame you – and in fact, you’d be role modeling good behavior – if you just posted a note saying you’d be taking Labor Day weekend off…

  25. Gary, you aren’t the typical traveler with your many layers of status, deep knowledge of managing the systems, and thorough familiarity with most of the airports you visit. Most people don’t have that, “I’ll figure something out and it will all be OK” mentality concerning missing a flight.

    I recognize that recommended “get there early” times are for people with bags and without pre-check and don’t need to be adhered to by me. At my home airport I can get from curb to gate in under five minutes almost always, and will cut it a lot closer than at airports where I am more unfamiliar with what to expect.

  26. The vast majority of opinions here in the comments mirror mine, so I won’t repeat. I’ve also flown over 4 mm (butt in seat) and have never missed a flight due arriving at the airport late. I don’t know if ‘irresponsible” is the right word, though. What do you call someone who shows up late to a meeting due to traffic, or simply not being able to manage their own daily agenda? What do you call someone who shows up late to a dinner party? What do you call someone who shows up late for the curtain at the theatre? It’s all the same. People who either cannot, or simply will not, plan for unexpected contingencies.

  27. We check bags always because we do not like being burdened when boarding. All we bring is our backpacks which go under the seat, so we are not fighting the road warriors for bin space. And our home airport has long security lines (not for us – we have PreCheck) and long walks to the gates – and in some cases requires an underground train ride too. Plus, we often have to take a fair amount of time finding parking. So we are among those who don’t fly out of a small hometown airport and can get there at the last minute. (And yes our bags have always been there when we arrived.)

    Last year we flew Seattle to London via San Francisco on United. We were given a 85 minute connection. We considered that far too close given the importance of not missing the SFO-LHR flight. So we rebooked to an earlier flight out of Seattle with a four hour connection. It was on time, as it turned out, and that just meant more time in the fine Polaris lounge at SFO.

    When I lived in the Northeast flying made no sense; I took the train and enjoyed the time on board reading.

  28. Recently got left behind by Frontier Air in Atlanta going via Frontier to Las Vegas. We sat on the tarmac for over 1 hour waiting for a ramp to get off. Our luggage went to Vegas but we did not.. Mass confusion as to which departure gate. One full day in Atlanta to fly out the next night. No help from Frontier. I guess you get what you pay for. There were 6 people in the same situation.

  29. I’m also a 2-hr before flyer. For my own peace of mind (traffic problems?) but also because it is one of the few times I get a block of time to sit and read. It is not wasted time at all.

  30. Missing a flight itself isn’t necessarily irresponsible.

    What shows irresponsibility and entitlement is when missing said flight, expecting an aircraft with the other 179 people who managed to get there on time to wait for you and throwing a tantrum when the flight departs on time without you.

  31. I assume he’s not a route flyer out of HNL, where they routinely close TSA Checkpoints and you have to walk to the next one 10 minutes away and totally backed up due to your TSA checkpoint being closed. Then walk 20 minutes to your gate.

Comments are closed.