Running Late To The Airport? Here's How Much Time You Have Before The Gate Doors Close

When it comes to heading to the airport, it's almost always a matter of how early you can be and not how late you can arrive. After all, the golden rule of flying is that you must be at the airport as early as reasonably possible. TSA recommends giving yourself ample time to park your car, check in, retrieve your boarding pass, and go through security, each of which can take a considerable amount of time depending on how busy the airport is on the day of your flight. Meanwhile, the four biggest airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, and United, recommend arriving at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.

In terms of lateness, however, you have to hope that the boarding gate isn't closed once you get there, as it's unlikely for the agent to let you board after that point. But sometimes, being late can be out of your control. Factors like traffic congestion, alarm malfunction (it happens), or inclement weather can lead to tardiness. You could also be a passenger on a flight that has been delayed, which may cause you to run for your life in the airport once you land to get to your connecting flight.

Whatever the reason for your lateness is, there's apparently an unwritten rule that you have to be at the gate at least ten minutes before the plane takes off, or you risk missing your flight.

The rule can sometimes be confusing

Different airlines have different rules when it comes to how early or late they close the boarding gates. Take American Airlines, for example. Its website states that boarding comes to a halt 15 minutes before takeoff, and if you're not there, they may give your seat to someone else. Delta Airlines also has a similar rule, and so does United. Even Southwest Airlines, known to be pretty lenient with boarding rules, suggests arriving at the gate 30 minutes before your scheduled flight. But if the staff finds you're not present around the 10-minute mark, they reserve the right to cancel your seat altogether without offering compensation.

Generally speaking, though, airlines appear to follow Southwest's footsteps and choose to close the gate approximately 10 minutes before departure. This is, of course, to avoid flight delays. Then again, Delta spokesperson Drake CastaƱeda said that the gate agents have the final say. "The gate agent uses their discretion," he told The Washington Post, noting that the airline staff uses the 10-minute window to follow a certain process for "closing out the flight."

While the rule can be wishy-washy, and you're technically at the mercy of the agents at the gate, you should try to get in line with the rules of your airline. Even if you're flying Delta and know they allow passengers to board 10 minutes before takeoff, perhaps it's still best to follow their original 30-minute rule.

What to do if you miss your flight

Now, if the universe conspired against you and made you miss your flight, don't fret. You may still have a chance to catch the next flight as a standby passenger without paying anything. Or if there is, the amount is usually minimal. This is thanks to some airlines having a "flat tire policy" that caters to passengers who have missed their flights beyond their control, as per The Points Guy.

American Airlines, for example, may let you be a standby passenger on the next flight, provided you are in the airport at least two hours before the plane takes off. Southwest's rule is nearly the same, except you'd have to pay for the fare difference. Meanwhile, United permits travelers to rebook flights without penalty, provided they reach out to the airline half an hour before takeoff. Delta, on the other hand, leaves it up to its agents whether or not they'll allow passengers to rebook for free, so you have to be prepared to provide an explanation as to why you were late.

As always, it's best to check the rules of your airline to have your bases covered. The worst-case scenario is having to shell out money on a different flight. Luckily, you can always fly with a budget airline.