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How Early Can You Check Bags for a Flight?

By Elisha Baba


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You can drop off your checked bags at airport check-in desks or automatic self-service kiosks. Using kiosks is preferable because it’s faster and they’re open all day. But not all airlines and airports have them. So most commonly, you’ll have to use the check-in desks. They’re usually open all day in large airports but in smaller ones, they’ll open only 2-3 hours before the flight.

On most flights departing from the US, Canada, and Mexico, airlines won’t accept checked bags earlier than 4 hours before the flight, with a few exceptions. And they most certainly won’t accept them on the previous day. Airport Security is stricter in North America, so they’re concerned with potential security risks.

In Europe, most airlines accept checked bags only 2-3 hours before the flight. There are a few airlines that accept checked bags the previous evening. But this is only in a few airports in the UK, Netherlands, and Germany, and only for early morning flights.

In reality, the earliest check-in times are vastly different among airlines. Even within the same airline, the times may differ between airports. So to know for sure, you should reach out to your airline with the specific flight details.

You May Be Able to Drop-off Your Bags Earlier

Airlines are hesitant to accept your checked bags very early. That’s because they’ll have to store your bag somewhere for a long period of time, which includes extra logistics and costs.

Some passengers try their luck at the check-in desks and successfully drop off their bags earlier than 4 hours before the flight. Sometimes even 6-12 hours before. This happens because the airline employee was feeling generous or because they didn’t know the airline rules.

But we don’t advise doing this because it increases the chances of your luggage getting lost. When accepted very early, your bag goes to the holding area. There’s a higher chance that it will be forgotten there and won’t be transferred to the right airplane. If you want to decrease the chances of that happening, always drop off your bags 2-4 hours before the flight.

Earliest Luggage Drop-off Times for Different Airlines

Down below, we’ve compiled the earliest checked baggage drop-off times for the most popular airlines. But keep in mind, that these times may differ between airports.

  • Southwest Airlines: 4 hours before departure or when the check-in desks open for early flights.
  • Delta: 4 hours before the flight.
  • United Airlines: 4 hours before departure, but it may vary between different airports.
  • American Airlines: You can’t check in your bags earlier than 4 hours when flying from Charleston, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Kahului, Kansas, Las Vegas, Ontario, Orlando, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Tampa. In other airports, earlier check-in is allowed as long as it’s on the same day of the flight.
  • Frontier: No official cutoff times, but they recommend arriving at the airport at least 2 hours before departure. Some passengers on Twitter reported that dropping their bags 4 hours before departure was allowed. But in smaller airports, their check-in counters open only 2 hours before departure.
  • Allegiant Air: 2 hours before the flight
  • JetBlue: Depends on the airport, but usually 2-6 hours before the flight.
  • Spirit: 4 hours before the flight.
  • Alaska Airlines: 4 hours before the flight. When flying from Vancouver Airport, it’s accepted up to 3 hours before the flight, and when from Calgary 2 hours.
  • Air Canada: 4 hours for flights departing from the US or Canada, and 3 hours from everywhere else.
  • Emirates: 4-24 hours before the flight.
  • British Airways: Most commonly 3 hours before the flight. But in London Heathrow Terminal 5, London Gatwick, and London City airports, they offer bag drop points. First, Club World, Club Europe, and Executive Club Gold, Silver, and Bronze members can drop off their bags on the same day of the flight at any time starting at 3:30 AM. Other classes can only use them 3 hours before the flight.
  • Lufthansa: There is no official time when checked bags are accepted. Passengers on Twitter reported that they’ll accept bags at any time, as long as the check-in desks are open. In airports that have bag drop kiosks, you can drop off your checked bags no earlier than 23 hours before the flight.

Which Airlines Allow Checking In Your Bags on the Previous Day

Only a few airlines in Europe and the Middle East allow checking in your bags on the previous day. And usually, this isn’t allowed for flights that are heading to the US, Canada, or Mexico.

  • Emirates: In Dubai, you can drop off checked bags up to 24 hours before the flight by using their DUBZ home check-in service or by going to their Check-In and Travel Store at ICD Brookfield Place in DIFC. In Emirates, they also offer a 24-hour check-in service at the Ajman Central Bus Terminal.
  • British Airways: For early morning flights before 10:00 from London Heathrow Terminals 3 and 5, you can drop off your bags between 16:00-22:00. This service is also present in the London Gatwick South Terminal, but the times are different. It applies to flights before 13:00 the next day, and you can drop off your bags between 18:00-21:00.
  • Aer Lingus: Between April and September, Aer Lingus allows dropping off bags the previous evening for early morning flights from Dublin and Cork airports. In Dublin, you can drop off your checked bags between 17:00-19:45 for flights between 05:30-08:00. At Cork, you can drop off your bags between 16:30-19:30 for flights that leave between 06:00-08:00.
  • EasyJet: For early morning flights departing between 08:00-12:00, you can check in your baggage between 16:00-22:00 in London Gatwick, Bristol, Berlin, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.
  • Jet2: If your flight leaves before 12:00, you can check in between 16:30-21:00 the night before in some UK airports, including Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, London Stansted, Manchester, and Newcastle airports.
  • Lufthansa: On any Lufthansa flight, you can check in your luggage 23 hours before the departure, except for the following airports: Dortmund, Dresden, Erfurt, Friedrichshafen, Rostock-Laage, Heringsdorf, Saarbrucken, Westerland Sylt, Nuremberg, Paderborn Lippstadt, Munster-Osnabruck, Leipzig Halle and Stuttgart.
  • TUI Airlines: Previous-night baggage drops are allowed for passengers who leave before 12:00 the next day in Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick North Terminal, and Manchester airports.
  • Austrian Airlines, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Condor, Eurowings Discover, and SWISS Airlines

Can You Check In Your Bags and Then Leave the Airport?

Checked luggage drop off point

Yes, you’re allowed to drop off your bags at the check-in desks or the self-service kiosks and then leave the airport. That’s because you have to go through security only after checking in your bags.

A lot of people like to take advantage of this. They try checking in earlier at the check-in desks, and if they succeed, they head back out to the city without having to carry their luggage around. But it’s only worth it if you are staying very close to the airport or in an airport hotel.

Where to Store Your Luggage if Early Check-in Isn’t Allowed

Storing passengers’ luggage inside a busy airport is a security risk, which is why only a few airports offer luggage storage services.

The good news is that a lot of hotels offer luggage storage services. You can go up to any large hotel or hostel, and ask if you can store your luggage there for a few hours. But keep in mind that this will be a paid service.

In large cities, you can find dedicated companies that offer luggage storage services. Some popular companies that do this are StowYourBags, LuggageHero, RadicalStorage, Bounce, Nannybag, Stasher, and Vertoe. They usually cost 1-8$ per day. Google “luggage storage + your city” to find relevant companies that do this. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Drop Off My Checked Luggage Before the Check-in Time?

If you’re flying with Lufthansa, British Airways, Emirates, EasyJet, Jet2, or Aer Lingus, you may be able to drop off your bags the previous night for very early flights. Most other airlines ask you to drop off your checked bags no earlier than 2-4 hours before the flight. You may be able to drop them off earlier if the check-in desks are open for other flights, but it depends on the airline employee sitting at the check-in desk.

What’s the Latest Time I Can Check In My Bags?

It depends on the airport and airline you’ll be flying with. For domestic flights, the check-in desks stop accepting checked bags 40-60 minutes before take-off. On international ones, this may be even earlier – possibly even 60-90 minutes before the flight.

Can I Go Through Security Before Checking in My Luggage?

You can only carry carry-on luggage and personal items when going through security. Checked bags need to be handed off before the security checkpoint. This means that you can’t go through security before checking in your luggage.

Final Words

If you want to spend a long time at the airport before your flight, let’s say 6-9 hours, you may be able to do that if you have a checked bag. Go to any open check-in desk for your airline, and ask if you can check in your bag earlier. Most likely you’ll be turned down, but sometimes this works.

But doing this increases the chances of the airline losing your checked bag. So a better option would be to use paid luggage locker services inside the city center and spend your time there working from a cafe. This allows you to go to the airport 2-4 hours before the flight.

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