Are you thinking about arriving at the airport extra early or perhaps even staying at the airport overnight but wondering if the airport will remain open?
Airport hours are not as straightforward as you might think due to all of the different facilities and services that are offered.
In this article, we will try to clear up some of the confusion and tell you everything you need to know about what time airports open.
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What time does the airport open?
Most major US airports are open 24 hours. However, this doesn’t mean that you can roam freely throughout the airport at all hours of the night and take advantage of all of the facilities. Instead, different facilities have a range of operating hours and certain portions of the airport may even be inaccessible. Keep reading below to find out more!
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What does it really mean when an airport is “open 24 hours?”
Most of the large and well-known airports in the US are open 24 hours. This means that in theory you should be able to enter the check-in area of the airport at any hour of the night or morning.
This doesn’t mean that there will be any staff or crew at the check-in desks. It just means that you can probably access the general area of the airport where you find the check-in desks and baggage drop off.
Once agents do set up for check-in, airlines are usually pretty flexible with allowing you to check in for your flight several hours before departure but that’s assuming you are not checking any luggage.
As for when you can drop off your luggage, that’s usually 3 to 4 hours prior to departure depending on if you are flying domestic or international (sometimes an airline may make an exception).
Airport police and maybe a few shops or restaurants are probably the only services that will be available at all hours of the night.
There are some reports online of airports stating they are open 24 hours but still locking the doors during the late hours.
It’s possible that this could be more common when an airport has smaller terminals that remain less active (open) than their main terminals.
But for the most part you should be able to walk in through the main doors of the terminal in the wee hours of the night like 2am.
This does NOT mean that you will be able to walk freely about the airport though.
First, as you’ll see below, security checkpoints typically are not open 24 hours a day so you won’t be able to get through to the gates.
Second, if you are already airside (past security) a common practice that airports have is that when all of the flights are done for the night, they clear out the gate areas.
This means that if you were hanging out in the gate area late at night you would be ushered to the pre-security check-in area for the night. In other words, you are forced to remain landside.
You could remain there and then you would need to go through security when it opens up in the morning if you were trying to get back to the gates.
This is the same situation you would find yourself in if you arrived at the airport very late at night/super early in the morning.
Spending a few hours landside may sound doable in theory but speaking from experience, it’s usually not a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.
Landside areas of the airport can be very uncomfortable places to get rest as they can be dirty, loud, exposed to the public, etc. Also, due to the pandemic it’s not so easy to find seating anymore.
It would be much better to find a nearby airport hotel for the night than trying to rest or sleep landside in most cases. The hotels usually offer shuttles to the airport that begin running very early in the morning.
TSA security does not operate 24 hours a day in the vast majority of cases. Instead, the security checkpoints will be open based on when flights begin and end.
This usually means that the checkpoints begin to open at around 3:30am to 4am and then shut down around 30 minutes prior to the last flight which is when check-in usually ends for the flight.
Some TSA agents will remain near the sterile area of the airport to corral traffic from late incoming flights but they only allow for one way traffic heading out the airport at that point.
Each terminal may have its own unique security checkpoint hours so be sure to verify the hours for the particular terminal you’ll be arriving at (see links below).
In some cases, you may be able to hop over to a different terminal in order to get through security earlier.
I’ve done this a number of times and while sometimes a TSA agent looks at me funny or tells me that I’m going to have to switch terminals, they usually let me slide through.
If you have TSA Pre-Check, be aware that sometimes the Pre-Check lines do not open up until a little bit later.
I’m guessing this is done just because lines are less of an issue super early in the morning but when that occurs sometimes you can get TSA Pre-Check “Lite” which grants you some of the Pre-Check perks but requires you to go through the standard security line.
You can find reports of TSA sometimes shutting down a little bit early and giving passengers very little breathing room when it comes to running late for flights. For that reason, you should really try to avoid running late when you are taking one of the last flights out of the airport.
Also, it helps if you check-in online so that the airline will not shut down the check-in area before giving you all of the time you have (including the grace period) to check in.
Restaurants and shops
Just like security checkpoints, the restaurants and shops within the airport will have a range of operating hours.
At big airports, you can find a small number of restaurants and stores that will be open 24 hours. For example, I’ve seen Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway restaurants open 24 hours a day. It’s also not uncommon for some of those newsstand stores to remain open 24 hours.
For the most part, the venues open 24 hours will be located in the largest and most active terminals of the airport.
Coffee shops like Starbucks and Pete’s coffee may open up pretty early such as around 5am as do some restaurants.
However, a lot of times the restaurants and stores will not open until a little bit later such as around 7am to 8am. Some may not even open until lunchtime.
So if you are arriving extra early to the airport you may want to grab some food before you arrive at the airport because your dining options could be very slim.
If the restaurant is open until the evening then sometimes they might remain open until about 8pm or 30 minutes prior to the last flight.
So if you are cutting it close and arriving at the airport for one of the last flights of the night, you also might want to get food ahead of time.
And if you need to use one of those currency exchange kiosks, those usually don’t open until the morning around 7am.
If you’re wondering what time your airport lounge will open and close you’re going to have to check with that specific lounge because open hours for airport lounges can vary pretty dramatically.
This is the case even whenever you are dealing with the same airline and the same terminal, such as with United at IAH Terminal C.
Occasionally, you can find an airport lounge that remains open 24 hours but this is usually pretty rare in the US.
A lot of airport lounges open up between 5am and 7am. For example, a lot of American Express Centurion Lounges do not open until 7am.
Legacy carrier airline lounges like Admirals Clubs and United Clubs, usually open earlier such as around 5am to 6am and sometimes even earlier. For example, quite a few Delta Sky Clubs open at around 4am or 4:45am.
Sometimes if you are flying out of a terminal dedicated to an airline and home to a lounge for that airline they will sync up the hours so that they open up extra early for the first flights.
Of course, if you arrive at an airport lounge very early you can expect for certain facilities to be closed such as the bar, food made to order, or perhaps other services like the spa.
You can expect the airport lounges to start shutting down around 7pm to 8pm although some remain open closer to midnight.
If you are at one of the airline lounges closing earlier than others, but you still would like to spend some more time in a lounge, ask the agents at the front desk if there are other lounges for that airline remaining open and they should be able to direct you there.
I’ve definitely bounced around between two and three airport lounges in a single night before.
Parking areas, especially those garages or lots connected to the airports, will remain open 24 hours.
But if you are doing offsite parking you may need to check on the hours because they may not always be running shuttle buses throughout the night.
Breakdown of main airports in the US
Here’s a breakdown of some of the main airports in the US with links to the security hours and store hours. For airport hours, we found them online and also called and verified their 24 hour status over the phone.
|Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Denver International Airport (DEN)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|O’Hare International Airport (ORD)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Orlando International Airport (MCO)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Miami International Airport (MIA)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|San Francisco International Airport (SFO)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Tampa International Airport (TPA)||24 hrs||Open around 4am||Store Hours|
|San Diego International Airport (SAN)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
|Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)||24 hrs||Checkpoint Hours||Store Hours|
As you can tell most of the major airports in the US claim to be open 24 hours. This means that you should be able to access the check-in area at just about any time. However, during after hours some portions of the airport such as the gates may be closed off, security will likely not be open, and you will also have very slim to nonexistent options for restaurants and shopping.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.