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When Is The Earliest You Should Book Your Flight Home After Your Cruise?

When Is The Earliest You Should Book Your Flight Home After Your Cruise?

If you are flying home after your cruise, you’ll need to decide when to book your flight home. Making the earliest flight booking after a cruise may be tempting, but we recommend pausing to work out just how long you’ll need to get to the airport in time.

In our guide below, we share best practices for flight booking after a cruise. We explore what you need to be aware of surrounding your fly-cruise disembarkation process, how long after your cruise you should book your flight and how potential cruise disruptions could impact your flights.

When is the best time to book your return flight after a cruise?

When booking your fly-cruise return flight, you need to make an informed judgement that best uses your time. 

If you book your cruise return flights too early, you risk being stressed about standing in long queues, rushing through customs and making your flight on time. At best, it’s not a nice way to finish your cruise holiday when so much effort has gone into relaxing! But, at worst, you could miss your flight home.

At the opposite end of the scale, allow lots of time to make your fly-cruise return flights, and you could end up waiting around in the airport for hours; equally not a particularly great way to finish your holiday!

So, what is the suggested time to book a flight after a cruise? The answer to this question can depend on several elements involved in your cruise disembarkation, which we’ll go into in more detail below. It also depends on the distance between your port and the airport and the time you’ll need to make the transfer.

A sensible guideline is to book an afternoon flight, allowing around five hours from when your cruise ship arrives at port. 

Cruise ships tend to return to their home port early in the morning, around 6-7 am, but that’s not when you’ll get off. You’ll be given your allocated disembarkation the day before, and remember it takes time to get thousands of passengers and their luggage off the ship.

Booking a cruise return flight no earlier than the afternoon should allow sufficient time.

However, if your airport is not nearby, remember to factor in this journey time on top of the disembarkation process when working out when is the best time to book your return flight after a cruise.

What to expect on cruise disembarkation day

When your cruise ship arrives at the port, it has to obtain clearance from the port authorities before the cruise line can start allowing passengers to disembark. When leaving your cruise ship, you have a couple of options; self-assist disembarkation or standard ‘crew-assisted’ disembarkation.

Self-assist disembarkation

Self-assist disembarkation means that you carry all your luggage off the ship. Most of the leading cruise lines have this option now. It can be quicker, as you can get off the ship as soon as the cruise line has clearance from the port authorities, and you also won’t have to wait around at luggage collection.

However, there are two disadvantages. Firstly, the distance and time you’ll need to carry your luggage can be more lengthy than you might expect. This option could be cumbersome if you’ve acquired extra items or had a lot to start.

It’s also very challenging if you have a young family or people that struggle with mobility.

The second potential disadvantage is the growing popularity of self-assist disembarkation. With more and more people choosing to carry their own luggage, the queues are getting longer, meaning it is not always the speedy option you might hope for!

‘Crew-assisted disembarkation’

Blur motion of passengers walking at airport in blue color filte

If you’d like assistance getting your luggage off the ship and into the terminal, you need to get your bags packed, ready and left outside your cabin the night before. You’ll also be provided with a colour-coded tag, which you need to attach to your luggage.

The crew will then store your bags overnight and take them off the ship, placing them in the area in the luggage claim corresponding with your colour code.

The disadvantage of this process is having to pack everything the night before, except, of course, your passport, paperwork and any overnight items that you can put in your hand luggage.

You’ll also have to wait to disembark the ship at your allocated time. Although this may mean you’ll be onboard longer, the disembarkation process is usually relatively smooth when it happens.

Other things during fly-cruise disembarkation that can impact your flights


Once you’ve queued to get off the ship, there are other things to bear in mind that could delay getting to your cruise return flights.

Luggage reclaim

If the crew have transported your luggage off the ship, your first task will be retrieving it at your colour-coded area. You’ll then need to take it through customs.

If you need help with this, porters are typically available to assist, but you may need to wait.

Immigration and Customs

Going through immigration and customs is unpredictable. Depending on the country, the technology available (some use the faster facial recognition process now) and the items you are carrying, it could be seamless. Alternatively, it could delay getting to your cruise return flights. 

With thousands of people getting off the ship, you’ll likely experience queues here too, which could cause further disruptions in getting to your cruise flights.

Airport travel and security

We’ve already mentioned factoring in getting to the airport when working out the earliest flight booking after a cruise, but don’t forget about the security process here too.

Therefore, make sure you also allow for plenty of time at the airport when deciding the best time to book your return flight after a cruise.



Weather is another unpredictable factor that can impact your cruise disembarkation and getting to your flights. Bad weather can delay your ship’s arrival in port and then have a knock-on effect on cruise disembarkation and flights.

When deciding how to book return flights after a cruise, there are various factors to consider. Unfortunately, the time needed for most of these is not easy to estimate.

Therefore, the best practice for making flight bookings after a cruise is to allow around half a day. 

The other option is to extend your holiday a little and take away the stress by booking your cruise return flights the next day. That way, you can relax in the port destination at the end of your cruise and avoid almost any risk of missing your fly-cruise return flights.

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