How Early Do You Have to Arrive at DIA?

How Early Do You Have to Arrive at DIA?

Security checkpoint at DIA

The rule of thumb is to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight is scheduled to take off. However, that doesn’t work in every situation. Here are some things to consider before you pack up and head to Denver International Airport.

First things first: Check in early!

If possible, check in on your computer or your phone. You can usually do this about 24 hours in advance. It will save you a lot of time waiting in line, especially if you’re checking bags and can print out luggage tags at home ahead of time.

If you can’t check in beforehand, you’ll want to factor in some extra time to do this at the airport. If you’re traveling at a peak time, figure on at least an extra 30 minutes.

**Before you leave for the airport, reconfirm your departure time to make sure nothing has been delayed or canceled (or moved up — it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen!).


If you drive to DIA, you’ll need to account for the time it takes to find a spot, park, and get from your car to the terminal. There are plenty of options for parking at DIA, both onsite and at nearby private lots. Depending on the time of day and how far the parking lot is from the airport, you may need to allow anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes extra. Be sure to check the shuttle schedule, especially if you’re on a red-eye.

To expedite the parking process, reserve your spot in advance so you don’t have to worry about the lot being full when you arrive.


Security is always the biggest unknown. It could take 5 minutes, or it could take 50. The DIA Security page provides estimated transit times for each of the airport’s three security checkpoints.

When you fly is the number one factor to consider when carving out time to go through security. Major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can cause considerable backups, as many holiday travelers don’t go through security on a regular basis so they may require extra guidance. In this case, you’ll want to budget at least an extra half hour.

If you’re traveling mid-week or during an off-season, you should be okay sticking to the two-hour rule. To make getting through security a breeze, have your laptop, iPad, and liquids ready to take out of your carry-on. Bonus points for wearing slip-on shoes and an elastic waistband.

Traveling within the airport

Denver International Airport is easy to navigate, but it can still takes time to get to your gate. If you’re flying out of an A gate, it’s an easy walk from the terminal. For B and C gates, you’ll need a few minutes to take the train. Also, gate changes happen, so make sure you arrive at the gate before your scheduled boarding time, just in case your United flight out of Gate B11 actually goes out from Gate B95, which is more than half a mile away.

Click here for a map of airline locations at DIA.


Traveling can work up quite the appetite, which is great news for DIA visitors. There are dozens of places to eat, so if you’re not satisfied with in-flight treats, consider factoring in an extra 15 minutes or so to grab a burger or salad. Since you’re already through security at that point, you can enjoy your meal without having to worry about any more lines. Just need a caffeine fix? Don’t forget to check out the best places to get coffee at DIA.

Traveling with kids

If you’re bringing kiddos along for the flight, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and arrive early. If you have a stroller or car seat in tow, you may have to check them before you make your way through security. Also, depending on the age of the children, plan on taking extra detours to the bathroom and making multiple trips to the vending machines. Getting through security might take a little longer, too.

Running a little late? No worries. Pull into ParkDIA and be on your way in just a few minutes!  

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