Checking In For Your Flight
Checking in is the process whereby a person communicates with the airline that they intend to travel as planned. The check-in process enables passengers to confirm they will be on the respective flight, obtain a boarding pass, possibly select their seat (if hasn’t happened already or allowed by airline), and check-in luggage onto a plane, if desired. This can be done in person at the in-airport check-in counter, or through an airline-specific website or mobile app.
A boarding pass is a document provided by an airline during check-in, giving a passenger permission to board the airplane for a particular flight. At a minimum, it identifies the passenger, the flight number, and the date and scheduled time for departure. Boarding Passes are always required to board a flight. Often times airlines accept paper or electronic boarding passes (on phone or tablet).
Three Ways to Check-In
In-person at a staffed check-in counter at airport
Checking-in in-person allows you to check in your baggage, if checking luggage, at the same time as checking in for your flight.
Items needed for check-in counter check-in
- Passport when traveling internationally
- Paper ticket (less and less common),
- or a confirmation number-- usually sent via email if ticket is purchased online or through a travel agency,
- or printed itinerary with a confirmation number
In-person at airport using a self-check-in kiosk
At this time, passengers can select a seat (if it hasn't happened already or allowed by airline), enter the number of bags to be checked (if desired), and print boarding passes. Passengers will then need to submit luggage to a staffed counter or checked luggage stations. Airline staff will need to check your passport either at the time of check-in or at the gate.
Items needed for kiosk check-in
- Confirmation number (usually sent via email if the ticket is purchased online or through a travel agency),
- or the credit card used for payment of the ticket,
Check-in online before arriving to airport
Passengers can usually check-in online starting 24 before departure. Passengers will need to submit luggage to a staffed counter or checked luggage stations if checking luggage at the airport.
Benefits of online check-in
- Avoid potential check-in lines at airport
- Print boarding pass at home or obtain boarding pass electronically (can also wait to reprint at self-service kiosk at the airport)
- Select seat assignment(s) before others (if applicable)
- Choose to get updates of possible changes to departure times leading up to the flight
Check-in and Boarding Timelines
Many airlines have a deadline for passengers to check-in before each flight. Check-in deadlines are usually between 30 to 60 minutes before boarding, and you are often not able to check-in after those times (meaning you cannot go on your flight). Check-in deadlines allow airlines to load luggage unto the plane, offer potential unclaimed seats to stand-by passengers, and to finalize documentation for take-off.
- Boarding times are usually between 30 minutes to an hour before scheduled take-off.
- Your boarding pass will list the time the flight will start boarding.
- Flights tend to board in shifts–they might call by rows or by groups. Your boarding pass will indicate your row or group.
- Timeline considerations for boarding: be sure to take into account the time it takes to get through the check-in line, to pass security and then to walk or ride (tram, bus) from the check-in area to your boarding area (your terminal and gate--listed on your boarding pass).
- On international flights, you will need to account for more time to clear immigration and customs.
- For international travel, a good rule is to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure and 2 hours for domestic travel. International flights often start boarding 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to departure time.
- Most airlines will list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline's website for details.