Want a Smooth Travel Experience at the Airport? Book an Early-Morning Flight to Avoid the Hustle and Bustle

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

INSIDER SECRET: Even if the airport you’re flying out of is busier than usual, access to expedited security lines with Global Entry or TSA PreCheck helps ensure a smooth, relaxing experience at the airport.

For those who are looking for a smooth travel experience, book a flight that leaves early in the morning. The simple reason? Airports are typically less busy in the morning.

Of course, there are exceptions, but I’ve found that even LAX (the fourth busiest commercial airport in the world in 2018, according to NBC Los Angeles), was not very busy when I was there around 6am back in November and January.

Arriving early means that you’ll be able to find parking more easily, avoid traffic, get through security more quickly and find your gate more easily without feeling rushed by others.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you need early-morning transportation to the airport, as well as the perks of an early flight.

Make it to your flight on time and stress-free. Book an early-morning flight to avoid traffic. (Photo by ddisq/Shutterstock)

Many Options for an Early-Morning Ride to the Airport

Thanks to technology and ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, you have plenty of options for getting to the airport, if you’re not calling a cab, driving yourself or getting a ride from a friend or family member.

Make sure these services are available in the morning — and this vary, depending on the city.

For instance, you can probably find an Uber at any time of the day or night in a busy place like New York City, but that might not be the case in a rural area.

Uber or Lyft apps allow you to schedule a ride in advance. You can specify a time, date and location for a driver to pick you up.

If you are driving yourself, you can reap the benefits of light traffic in the early morning, and find parking more easily.

As an added bonus, your shuttle from the parking area to your terminal at the airport should be less crowded.

Speed Through Security With TSA PreCheck

It’s simple math. Arrive at the airport early in the morning. Fewer people allows you to breeze through security because the lines will be shorter.

That said, it’s not a guarantee. Lines will depend on the airport and time of year you travel. For instance, when I flew out of Seattle last November, the airport was already packed at 6am, and it took others about 30 minutes to get through the regular security lines.

Fortunately, I was eligible for expedited security thanks to my membership in TSA PreCheck, and was through security in under 10 minutes.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck is usually a guaranteed time saver. Of the passengers with these memberships, 92% waited less than five minutes, according to TSA data compiled in June 2019.

And the best part is you can get the application fee reimbursed with one of the top credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.

Enhance Your Airport Experience With Lounge Access

If you happen to have spare time before your flight, airport lounge access through Priority Pass can further enhance your airport experience.

Airport lounges are a great place to relax before a flight. Depending on the location, you can also enjoy food, snacks, beverages and even a place to shower. So if you left your house early and didn’t quite get a chance to freshen up, you can do this once you arrive at the airport.

You can get complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge access on some of the best credit cards with airport lounge access. Purchased separately on the Priority Pass website, a pass that provides unlimited access costs a whopping $429. My advice? Pick up a credit card that offers this as a perk because you’ll save a ton of money.

Board the Plane Sooner with Priority Boarding

To complete the smooth travel experience at the airport, look into priority boarding for your flight. You’ll have a chance to settle into your seat without feeling rushed by others, and you can have peace of mind that, as one of the first groups to board the plane, you’ll be able to find overhead cabin space for your luggage.

Many credit cards offer priority boarding as a perk just for being a cardholder. And, although specific airline policies differ, members of the military should also be eligible for early boarding, as well as those who have booked seats in business or first class.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a smooth travel experience, consider booking a flight early in the morning. Most airports aren’t busy at this time, so you’ll be able to more easily find parking and speed through security lines on your way to your flight.

Even if you won’t be driving yourself to the airport, you can always get a lift to the airport through ride-share services like Uber and Lyft. Once you arrive at the airport, you can speed through security quickly with TSA PreCheck, and have time to relax in comfort in an airport lounge.

Let us know how you feel about booking early-morning flights in the comments below.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

Join the Discussion!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Ha ha, so much for ‘early bird’. I recently took a 5:40 am flight from MUC to CFU on Condor. I was rental car #3 to arrive, the airport was completely empty, but the check-in line was 200 people long and moving extremely slowly. Same with the TSA line, no ‘Pre’, same with the only kiosk serving coffee and snacks beyond security. I guess Germans really like lines.

Reply to  Andrew Wan
1 year ago

they tell you to be there 3 hours before the flight…for a 2 hour inter-europe flight, but the first person at the counter was there 2 hours before, followed by a few more counters 1.5 hours before.

1 year ago

Commented below.

1 year ago

Ha !! Apparently the author has never taken an early morning flight out of Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD). Crowded Chaos is NOT an oxymoron here.

Even early Sunday morning is a mess.

Best to leave on a late evening overnight flight as commented above.

Steven M
1 year ago

Early-morning flights can be nice but in my view nothing beats those late-night red-eye departures. Why? I like empty airports but even more I like quiet long-haul flights. If people are asleep they are obviously more likely to keep quiet, and 11pm departures ensure almost everyone is exhausted after boarding.

1 year ago

If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, do NOT get complacent about going through security. I almost missed an early morning flight out of EWR because I lined up “only” 30 minutes ahead of boarding time. The line itself didn’t look very long (barely out of the “tunnel”), but they only had one lane open that early in the morning, and there were a lot of seemingly first-time travelers slowing the whole process down.

1 year ago

Great tips! I might add that I’ve found the most accurate determination of airport crazy-level is determined by when most flights leave.

Dublin, Ireland at 4:30am is a zoo because of the flights all trying to get to the European continent before all of the continent’s first flights. Crazy!

Also, I’ve had a few hiccups with early flights that are worth considering: like arriving before security even opens (5am, and actually nothing at the airport opened early) so that was a waste of my sleep, and public transportation in my city (Atlanta) doesn’t start until later, particularly on weekends, which left me with surge Uber pricing because everyone else was also required to hire cars to go the airport with no MARTA option.

I’m a fan, instead of very early flights, of noon-ish flights. It’s easy timing for me, flights are not backed up yet, no thunderstorms until afternoon, rush hour business travelers are through… and I can enjoy a Mimosa in the lounge by then! 🙂

I will also add that CLEAR with TSA pre-check is, to us in Atlanta, worth every penny. I have never had to wait even 5 minutes to get through security at the world’s busiest airport! And it now works in many airports through which we travel including Boston in Terminal A, Denver, etc. Worth every penny!

Reply to  TDHill
1 year ago

+1 on the mid-day flights. More comfortable for us night owls, and I’ve never found airports to be excessively crowded or understaffed that time of day.