You’re about to go on a trip for the very first time. You’ve packed everything you could need in your bags. You’ve booked your accommodations. You’ve spent hours pouring over the internet and looking for the best tourist spots and travel itineraries.
You’re excited and the only thing left is to go to the airport, check-in your luggage, and board the plane, but your flight isn’t until a few hours. Should you go and have an early start? How early is too early to be at the airport to drop off your luggage?
For travelers wondering how early you can drop off your luggage at the airport, this article is for you. Here you’ll be able to learn the earliest and latest time you can drop off your luggage at the airport, depending on where you are. You’ll also learn if you can drop your luggage off the night before and what to do if you happen to arrive too early to check in.
Each Airport and Country Has a Different Timeframe for Dropping Off Luggage
The time you can drop off your luggage at the airport varies, depending on the airport you’re in, the country you’re in, and sometimes, the airlines you’re flying with. In case you want to check in early, it’s best to check with the airport, the country, and the airlines before you make your way to the airport.
You don’t want to assume that you can drop off your luggage any time only to find that you have to tote your luggage as you go around the airport and wait for the baggage counter of your flight to open.
Some airports also offer special services for dropping off your luggage. Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, is one such example. They are a retail dining and shopping airport adjacent to Changi Airport, Singapore’s international airport. For certain airlines that are part of the Jewel Changi Airport (and depending on where you’re going), you can opt to drop off your luggage up to 24 hours in advance and then spend the rest of the time exploring the airport.
What’s the Earliest Time You Can Drop Off Your Luggage at the Airport?
Drop-off times for your luggage vary, depending on the airport and country you’re flying from. In some cases, you’ll even find that it will also vary, depending on the airlines you’re taking. You’ll find that some check-in and baggage counters open relatively early, allowing you to arrive at the airport early, drop off your luggage, and then grab a quick meal or do some shopping before your flight.
Other airports and countries have stricter guidelines, however, and won’t allow you to check-in unless it is at least 2 hours before your flight. Here’s an estimate of the earliest time you can drop off your luggage, depending on where you’re flying from:
- Europe: The earliest time you can drop off your luggage is at least 2 hours before if you’re flying to other European countries.
- North America: You can drop off your luggage as early as 2 hours before your flight if you’re traveling within North America.
- Other Intercontinental destinations: Most airports open their drop-off counters as early as 3 hours before the flight, although there are some exceptions to the rule. Depending on where you’re going, some airports will open their drop-off counters up to 5 hours before the scheduled departure.
Important tip: If you’re flying with a budget airline or if you’re traveling during the Pandemic, try to arrive at the airport and get in line for the baggage drop-off as early as you can. Budget airlines usually have only a few counters open, so realistically, if you get in line 2 hours before the flight, you might spend one hour in the line and make it to your gate just 15 minutes before boarding. Also, during the pandemic, usually, everyone has to wait in the check-in line, even people who don’t have any checked bags because the airlines need to check if you have all the required documents to enter the country.
What’s the Latest Time You Can Drop Off Your Luggage at the Airport?
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself stuck in a meeting or traffic and realize that you won’t make it on time for when the luggage drop-off counter opens. Before you panic and start running as fast as you can towards the airport, remember that luggage drop-off counters will stay open until a certain time.
Here’s an estimate of the latest time you can drop off your luggage at the airport, depending on where you’re flying from:
- Europe: The latest time you can drop off your luggage at the airport is 40 minutes if you’re traveling to other European countries.
- North America: The latest you can drop off your luggage, regardless of where you’re going is 1 hour.
Other Intercontinental destinations: Most airports will require you to drop off your luggage at least 1 hour before your flight.
- Nevertheless, some airports these days advise travelers to drop off their luggage at least 3 hours before their flight, especially for intercontinental flights. This factors in processing time, but it’s best to check with the airport you’re flying from.
Can You Drop Off Your Luggage at the Airport the Night Before?
It depends. While most airports and airlines have a set, specific time that their drop-off counters open—usually a couple of hours or so before the flight—there are some airlines and airports that have a special service. This is called the “evening before check-in” or the “late-night check-in”.
If the airline you’re flying with allows for this special service, you can bring in your bags the night before, check in your baggage at the check-in counter, choose your seat, and get your boarding pass. The next day, you can just proceed directly to the departure gate of your flight.
This “late-night check-in” is especially helpful if you have an early morning flight and don’t want to have to think about all your luggage. It’s also helpful if you’re traveling with kids so you can just focus on getting your kids to the airport.
It’s important to remember, though, that not all airlines offer this special service, and sometimes, not all airports have them, even if you are traveling from an airline that offers it. Just to be sure, it’s always best to check before you go to the airport so you can be prepared and you won’t end up going there the night before, finding that they don’t offer the service, and having to lug all your baggage back.
Why Can’t You Drop Off Your Luggage at Airports Earlier?
Most airports don’t allow you to drop off your luggage earlier than your flight (unless they have special arrangements or off the “late-night check-in” service. There are several reasons for this.
First, if they were to accommodate everyone dropping off their luggage at random times, they would have no place to store everyone’s luggage. They might even end up switching luggage around, especially during busier hours.
Second, there usually isn’t a single drop-off counter for all airlines. Usually, each flight has a specific drop-off counter that will be operated by the airlines. This is where you can check in your luggage, choose your seat, and get your ticket. It is usually the airline that dictates the schedule when they will open and the time they will close before the flight.
What Can You Do with Your Luggage If You Arrive Too Early at the Airport and Don’t Want to Have to Bring It Around?
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in the airport even if your flight isn’t for several hours. Some travelers check out of their hotel early and because they have nowhere else to go and don’t want to bring their luggage around the city end up going straight to the airport. Other travelers want to beat the traffic or want to explore the airport before flying out.
In case you arrive at the airport and it is still too early and the luggage drop-off counter is not yet open, you can always opt to leave your luggage in what they call the “left luggage facility” of an airport. You are then free to go around as you wish. Some airports also have self-storage lockers when you can leave your belongings.
It’s important to remember, however, that this does not apply to all airports, as not all airports have such a service or even self-storage lockers. You might arrive at an airport to find that they are unable to store your luggage, so you will still have to bring it with you wherever you go. But whatever you do, make sure to not leave your luggage unattended, as it can get you in serious trouble.
Also, if you do plan to use a luggage storage service, remember to pick up your luggage ahead of time as the lines can get long if a lot of people are using the luggage storage. You might accidentally end up missing your flight if you get caught in the traffic of claiming your luggage.
Traveling isn’t as complicated as it sometimes tends to appear. Where luggage is concerned, always remember that, when in doubt, check first. Fortunately, you can always do a quick search or call the airport or airline you’re flying with directly.
As a general rule, remember that it’s better to be at the airport earlier to give allowance for traffic, processing of papers, security checks, and other unexpected incidents. That way, you’re there with all your things instead of finding yourself rushing to get to the airport, drop off your bags, and check-in.