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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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The case for cutting your airport arrival time dangerously close

Hear this one out, #TeamEarly

(Min Heo/Illustration for The Washington Post)

Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s new series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.

We’ve heard it a million times: Arrive for your domestic flight two hours before departure. For international, make it three.

If you’re departing during peak times, airlines say, you should allow even more time. Many might look at this and say, “Well, obviously!” I, on the other hand, see some sort of twisted joke.

Listen to your dad: Get up early on vacation

The primary objective for me when flying out of my home airport is to get in the cab or ride-share as close to my departure time as physics — and prevailing traffic patterns — will allow. I live about five miles from Los Angeles International Airport, and if my scheduled domestic flight is at, say, 9 a.m., I’m comfortable entering an Uber up until 8:32 a.m.

It’s a mad-dash ritual that requires expeditiousness by way of TSA PreCheck as well as Clear. And it hasn’t let me down yet.

But why risk it, you ask?

As a travel writer, I spend hours in airports. Trust me when I tell you: They’re not that great. Even the newest, glitziest and most glamorous among them are nothing more than malls with departure gates. The Jewel at Changi Airport in Singapore, probably the most impressive airport on the planet, is just a crowded shopping center that happens to hold an indoor waterfall. I don’t like malls, but I do love traveling. So I tolerate walking through them when what’s on the other side is the boarding ramp to my next adventure.

How to cut your airport time down

What I can’t tolerate, however, is wasting away minutes in that loathsome in-between: playing human Plinko in chaotic crowds, fighting for precious electrical socket space, avoiding fast-food options cynically repackaged as the brainchild of some celebrity chef. To make matters worse, my go-to hubs have doubled as active construction zones.

Scary stuff, indeed. And even scarier when you consider the potential aggregate cost at stake. Let’s say I’m departing my home airport 60 times in a given year (a conservative estimate for someone in this profession). If I’m arriving two hours early, I’ve surrendered five days of my life to LAX. That’s five days a year of unfettered device-charging and enjoying home-cooked fresh fare while basking in the privacy of my own bed.

How to survive 12 hours in an airport

Now, obviously, this airport … um, strategy, let’s call it, isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, it gives my partner immeasurable anxiety. Perhaps it instills the same in you just by reading about it. And trust me: There have been some thrillingly close calls. Yet there is a method to my madness. I reserve the exercise exclusively for when I’m traveling solo, domestic and in surroundings with which I’m eminently well-versed. It’s wholly contingent on express security lanes. And checked luggage is clearly a non-starter — but that’s a topic for a different day.

In the meantime, for those who like to hurry up and wait, the TSA’s two-hour policy remains a reasonable one. I’m into hurry up and go, however. So I’ll continue to read it less like suggestion and more like satire — until the day I run up to a closed gate. Then the joke’s on me.