If your flight departs early in the morning, it might make sense to arrive late the previous night and spend the night at the airport. Or maybe you just want to drop off your checked bag at the airport and spend a few hours walking around the city without having to lug your checked bags. Whatever the reason, checking in your bags early makes sense.
In this article, we’ll tell you what are the policies for most airports and airlines for checking in your luggage early.
What’s the Earliest Time You can Check Your Luggage at the Airport?
Most commonly, the earliest time that you can check in your bags at the airport is 2-3 hours for domestic flights and 3-6 hours for international ones, depending on the airport and airline you’re flying with. Either way, your airline will notify you before the flight of their suggested arrival times. They are reluctant to allow earlier check-ins because they need to pay for extended storage of your bags, keep the check-in desks open for longer hours, and they fear potential security threats.
Most airports and airlines within North America (USA, Canada, and Mexico) allow dropping off your checked bag 2-6 hours prior to your flight. That said, some travelers have managed to check in their bags earlier, even 12 hours prior to the flight. This is sometimes allowed in major hub airports, where the check-in desks are open during the whole day, but it depends on the employee at the check-in desk, and they allow dropping off luggage only for same-day flights.
In Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the vast majority of airlines and airports allow checking in luggage 2-4 hours before the flight. However, some premium airlines allow dropping off baggage up to 24 hours before the flight. For some airlines, it’s a free service, and for some, it’s a paid one. We’ve covered the rules for major airlines further down in this article.
What’s the Latest Time You Can Check Your Luggage at the Airport?
Airlines need to suspend accepting more checked bags within a certain timeframe before the flight because they need to give the baggage handlers enough time to load everything onto the plane. This time is usually longer for international destinations, and shorter for domestic ones.
Although the checked baggage cut-off times are different for each airline, they’re usually somewhere within these timeframes:
- For flights within the EU: 40 minutes before the departure
- For domestic flights: 40-60 minutes before the departure
- For international flights: 60-90 minutes before the departure
Read next: 12 Benefits of Online Check-In
Which Airlines Offer Early Baggage Drop Off Services
Early baggage drop-off is an extremely rare service, and only a few airlines offer it in a few select airports. Usually, it’s only offered by more expensive airlines, and only in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. We didn’t find a single US airline that would offer early baggage drop-off services, most likely due to increased security requirements from the FAA.
Here are the major airlines that offer early baggage drop-off:
- British Airways: At London Heathrow airport terminals 3 and 5, you can drop off bags between 16:00-22:00 for next-day flights before 10:00. At London Gatwick airport, you can drop off bags between 18:00-21:00 for next-day flights before 13:00.
- Air France: At Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, you’ll be able to drop off checked bags the day before between 16:00-20:00 in Terminal 2E, for flights up to 24 hours before departure.
- EasyJet: At London Gatwick airport, you can drop off checked luggage between 19:00-22:00 for next-day flights departing before 08:00. At Bristol airport, you can drop off checked baggage between 18:00-21:00 for next-day flights departing before 08:30. At Berlin airport, you can drop off checked luggage between 18:00-21:00 for next-day flights departing before 09:30. At Manchester airport, you can drop off checked baggage between 18:00-21:00 for next-day flights departing before 08:30.
- Lufthansa: At almost all airports, business and first-class passengers will be allowed to check in their bags up to 23 hours before departure, except for flights originating from the USA, Canada, or Mexico.
- Singapore Airlines: At flights originating from Singapore Changi airport terminal 3 and Jewel Changi airport, you can drop off checked baggage up to 24 hours before the flight.
- Swiss Air Lines: At Zurich airport, you can drop off bags up to 23 hours before departure.
- Emirates: Passengers departing from Dubai airport can drop off bags up to 24 hours before departure, except for ones traveling to the US, where the drop-off time is a bit shorter – 12 hours before the flight.
Which Airlines Don’t Offer Early Baggage Drop Off
Unfortunately, most airlines don’t offer early checked baggage drop-off services, especially within North America (the US, Canada, and Mexico). Usually, they’ll allow checking in up to 4 hours before the departure, and only on the same day of the flight. That said, for some airlines, the limit is shorter or longer, ranging between 2-6 hours.
Here are the earliest checked baggage drop-off times for the most popular airlines:
- Spirit Airlines: 4 hours before departure
- Frontier Airlines: 2 hours before departure
- Southwest Airlines: 4 hours before departure
- Delta Air Lines: 6 hours before departure
- American Airlines: 4 hours before departure
- United Airlines: 4 hours before departure
- JetBlue: 6 hours before departure
- Ryanair: 2 hours before departure
- Allegiant Air: 2 hours before departure
- Alaska Airlines: 4 hours before departure
- Air Canada: 4 hours before departure
- Sun Country Airlines: 3 hours before departure
- Flair Airlines: 3 hours before departure
- Swoop: 3 hours before departure
- Virgin Atlantic: 4 hours before departure
- Qatar Airways: 3 hours before departure
- Turkish Airlines: 2 hours before departure
What to Do if You Want to Check-In Early
1. If You Want to Check-in on the Same Day of the Flight, but Early
Although most airlines allow checking-in only 2-6 hours before the flight, you can try your luck and try to drop off your bags earlier. Airlines that operate a lot of flights will usually have the check-in desks open during the whole day in major airports, so you can try to go to the check-in desks, and ask if you can drop off baggage earlier. It depends on the rules of the airport, and the airline employee, but some travelers have reported that they’ve managed to check in their bags even 12 hours before the flight by doing this.
If not, you can look for luggage lockers, which are offered in most major airports. You can put your luggage there for a few hours and go explore the city. Alternatively, you can just kill your time in the waiting area.
2. If You’re Looking To Stay in the Airport Overnight
Most airports allow travelers to sleep overnight in the common waiting area of the airport (before the security checkpoint). They’ll usually have enough benches there and some shops, which will be closed for the night. For a comfortable experience, you should get a travel pillow and a travel blanket, because often the waiting area can be quite cold. The check-in desks usually open early in the morning, 2 hours before the first flight, so you’ll be able to check in then and head to the designated gate. There is a really useful website for this, sleepinginairports.net, where you can search for any airport, and find out their policies for passengers who want to sleep overnight.
Read Next: How Long Can You Stay In an Airport?
Frequently Asked Questions About Dropping off Luggage at the Airport
What time does baggage drop open (check-in)?
Typically, check-in desks open 2-3 hours before the flight, depending on the destination and the airline. However, some airlines that operate a lot of flights have check-in desks open all day long in major airports. That said, they usually don’t accept checked bags for upcoming flights that are more than 3-6 hours away.
Can I check my bags the night before my flight (12-24 hours)?
Most commonly, you won’t be allowed to drop off your bags at the airport on the previous day of your upcoming flight. That’s because most airports don’t allow it for security reasons.
However, there are a few airlines that allow checking-in bags up to 24 hours before the flight, but it’s just a few airlines and only in a few airports. These include British Airways, Air France, EasyJet, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss Airlines, and Emirates.
No airline allows checking-in bags not on the same date as the flight within the USA, Canada, and Mexico, due to federal laws.
How early can I go through security?
Typically, the airport security checkpoint doesn’t have as strict timeframes as dropping off checked luggage. Although some airports allow going through security only 2-5 hours before the flight, most will allow all passengers that depart on the same date as the flight.
Within the US, TSA usually follows these rules for letting people through security:
1) Passengers who depart on the same date before 24:00 are allowed through the security checkpoint as soon as the security checkpoint opens (04:00-6:00).
2) Passengers who depart after 24:00, but before the security opens back up in the morning (04:00-06:00), are allowed to go through security on the previous day after 16:30.
3) Passengers who have a flight departing the next morning, two hours after the security checkpoint opens (06:00-08:00), aren’t allowed through security on the previous day.
Read Next: You’ve Checked In Online. Now What? (Guide)
Can I sleep in the common area of the airport? (before security)
Most airports allow passengers to sleep in the common area overnight, before the security checkpoint. However, during the pandemic, most airports close for the night, and all passengers that haven’t gone through security are forced to exit. You can check the policies for each airport on this website.
Can I leave the airport after checking in?
After checking in your bags, you’re free to leave the airport. In fact, you’re also allowed to leave the airport and come back in even after going through security. So if you drop off your checked bags early enough and you still have some time, you can leave the airport and do something within the city. Just remember to come back in time to not miss your flight.