I am intimately familiar with the Nashville Airport (BNA). I'm a Nashville resident who moved to the USA when I was 28. I've traveled internationally, back and forth, from Australia through Nashville. If I never see the inside of a 15-hour flight over the Pacific again, it will be too soon. I've also traveled to most parts of the US with kids.
Nashville is booming and believe it or not, the Nashville International Airport expects to see 30 million passengers per year by 2041. Prepare for areas to be under construction as they are currently completing a 1 billion dollar upgrade that is expected to finish in September, 2023.
I know every detail about BNA. Parking, buses, TSA, and drop-offs. You've in the right place to answer the question:
How Early Should I Get to Nashville Airport?
On a typical day, if you are flying domestically without kids or unusual weather, and you are being dropped off, the latest you should get to the Nashville Airport is one hour before your flight. If you don't have any checked luggage and you have a TSA PreCheck, you might even be able lesson that time.
To be comfortable, you should arrive 90 minutes early, especially if you tend to get anxious. If you have an international connecting flight, you should allow an extra 10-15 minutes because you need to show a passport. During peak hours, as explained below, it can get a bit crazy. If you don't mind waiting and you are really anxious, 3 hours ahead of your flight would be the absolute maximum I would arrive.
Factors to Consider When Determining Arrival Time
When my wife and I travel with our kids, we try to get dropped off at least 90 minutes before the flight time. Unfortunately, TSA was so slow on one particular day that we missed our flight. We had to stand at the gate as our plane was pushed away. Don't be like us. Consider the following when arriving at BNA:
- Short Term Parking. If you are parking in the short-term parking, it's alright. The parking garage is within easy walking distance of the terminal. BNA has recently added a new garage with lots of space, elevators, and a bridge. I would add an extra 15-20 mins to allow for getting a ticket, parking, and walking over to the terminal.
- Long-Term Parking at BNA. This requires parking further away than it is feasible to walk. You must park and wait for a bus ride up to the terminal. The buses come by every 15 minutes. Allow an extra 30 mins if parking in long-term parking.
- Long-Term Parking Outside BNA. If you are using a long-term parking lot that is not located at the airport, it will be a longer shuttle ride. They are about 2 miles from the airport. You'll be required to park and wait for a shuttle. Allow an extra 30 – 45 mins.
- TSA – How long does it take to get through Nashville airport security? According to TSA Wait Times, the average wait at TSA is between 9-11 minutes. Peak TSA wait times in Nashville are between 10 am – 11 am and 1 pm – 4 pm, where the average is 20 mins. That's average, however. I missed a Southwest flight once because TSA took way longer than that. Depending on which airline you are flying with, it can be up to a 10-minute walk from the ticket counter to the gate.
- Did you know that you can purchase a TSA Pre Check from Staples so that you avoid all the lines? Check it out here.
- Commute to the Airport. Have you heard how terrible Nashville traffic is? It's awful. That being said, during non-peak hours, such a random Tuesday at 2 p.m., the commute from downtown Nashville is approx. 15-20mins. You should allow 30-45 mins during rush hour. Rush hour in Nashville starts between 6 am – 8 am and 4 pm – 6:30 pm.
- Peak Hour at BNA. You should also consider when you are being dropped off/arriving at the airport. The busiest times are between 6 am – 8 am and 7 pm – 10 pm. Getting to your airline drop-off can be a long, slow line.
Does BNA Have Food?
Yes, there are lots of places to eat at BNA. You will find not just chain restaurants but a lot of local, genuinely good food and live music. If you need to stay at the airport for an extended period, you'll be spoiled for choice. Most of the food locations are only available after you have gone through security. There is a Starbucks in the main ticketing area.
You'll find a large selection of coffee shops, breweries, vegetarian, juicers, wine, and gourmet food. For a complete guide, check out this page.
Is Nashville Airport Easy?
Yes, Nashville Airport is easy to navigate. Despite being busy you'll find the airport to have good signage. Music City Airport is the major airport serving the Nashville area. The main terminal has three concourses, A,B, and C with 42 gates. There will be another concourse open in September, 2023 with six new gates.
There are three floors. Ground transportation is on the first floor. That includes buses, rideshare, and rental cars. Passenger drop-off, concourse, ticketing and TSA are on the third level.
Why is it Called BNA Airport?
Originally named Berry Field, the Nashville International Airport was built in 1937 and is named after Col. Harry Berry. The “B” in BNA stands for Berry. The NA stands for Nashville. Col. Berry led the Tennessee Works Progress Administration when the airport was being built.
Less than 200,000 passengers came through in the first year. The airport has had 3-4 significant upgrades. It reinvented itself during World War Two, the 1960s, late 1980s. It's going through a considerable transformation again now.
So if you're traveling without kids, domestically and during non-peak times, the earliest I would arrive is 30mins – 1 hour before your flight.
If you are checking luggage, flying during airport busy times, with kids, or are dropping off a rental car or parking in the garage, allow 1.5 – 2 hours.
If you're a dad like me, you'll probably want to get there 4 hours early. Just kidding 😉