Once upon a time, travelers received their printed airline tickets in the mail and then lined up at the airport a few hours prior to boarding time to be manually checked into their flights by airline agents. Those days are long gone. Now, checking in for your flight can be done online, on an app, and 24 hours in advance of your flight. But, you can still print a boarding pass at the airport and sometimes you need to see an airline agent to have your passport verified for international travel. Multiple ticket options were designed to make check-in streamlined and efficient, but honestly, the system is now just sort of confusing. And whether you go the electronic or in-person route, you can still run into technical difficulties, human errors, and miscommunications that can cause delays...or a missed flight. Here's how to tackle the overly confusing world of airline check-in procedures so you can make it to your flight on time.
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1. Download Airline Apps
You have a smartphone, right? Then take an hour or two to download the apps of all of the major airlines (United, Delta, American, Southwest, Virgin, JetBlue) and any others that you have a frequent flyer loyalty program affiliation with. The apps are free and will make your airport travel life so much easier. Not only can you check-in for your flights and access your electronic boarding pass using the apps, you can also easily keep track of your frequent flyer miles, update your profile information, and check the status of flights. The American Airlines app has a handy countdown clock to boarding — it’s an easy reference if you like to wander around the airport terminal shops or hide out in the lounge. It also tracks your bags and allows you to pre-order food from some airport terminals. More importantly, you can watch FREE movies and entertainment in-flight using most major airline carrier apps. Do yourself a favor, download airline apps ASAP.
2. Check in Online or on the App 24 Hours in Advance
Now that your airline apps are easily accessed with a few swipes on your smartphone, you can and should, easily check-in for your flight 24 hours before it takes off. You’ll likely get an emailed reminder from the airline, alerting you that the check-in window is open. Of course, you can check-in on the airline’s website, or use their mobile app. Why check-in online 24 hours prior to take off? To keep your seats, see if there are delays, and to pre-pay for any checked or carry-on luggage. Some airlines (like Spirit) charge passengers extra for bringing bags on the day of departure, so it pays to check in and get baggage sorted and paid for ahead of time. After checking in, you’ll also get an option to have your boarding pass emailed or texted to you, to save in your mobile wallet and use as an electronic boarding pass. We think an electronic boarding pass is a smart idea to have as a back-up to you printed boarding pass — in case you lose your printed boarding pass. If you have TSA pre-check, you’ll also want to check in to your flight early to ensure your number was properly assigned. If not, now there’s time to call the airline and have it added to your reservation.
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2. Check and Change Your Seat Assignments
Depending on your airline and ticket type, you may or may not be able to pick your seat when you book your flight. For Southwest Airlines’ open seating policy, the sooner you check in to your flight, the higher your number is for lining up and boarding the flight first to pick aisle and window seats. Dilly-dally about checking in, and find yourself in the dreaded D group (and sitting in a middle seat at the rear of the plane, by the bathrooms). Other airlines allow you to choose your seat, within your economy class, 24 hours before departure time. So, get online or on the app, and see what seats are available. Even if you already chose your seat, there might be a better option open now.You may be able to score a window seat next to an unclaimed middle seat, or shuffle your family around so you can all sit together. You can also pay to upgrade, and see if status brought you a bump to business class.
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4. Make Sure You Have an Updated Identification Card (Requirements are Changing)
You’ve checked in, picked your seat, and paid for your bags. But if you don’t have the right I.D., you’re not going anywhere. Starting October 1, 2020, every traveler must present aREAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of identification, such as a valid passport or birth certificate, to fly within the U.S. You may have to plan a visit to the DMV well before you go to the airport this year.
5. Print your Boarding Pass (at the Airport)
Okay, so you have your boarding pass saved to your phone, and that’s smart! But please also take a minute to stop by the airline’s self-service kiosk and print out your boarding pass. It’s free, fast, and might even save you time. There have been multiple cases where mobile scanners go down, cell reception doesn’t work, or you just have technical phone difficulties at TSA or the boarding gate (the two times when you have to flash your boarding pass). Smart travelers print their boarding pass at the airport. Don’t waste precious printer ink at home (and if the ink isn’t strong enough, your boarding pass might not scan — when’s the last time you refilled your toner cartridge?) and have a back-up on their mobile device.
Printing your boarding pass is doubly important if you’re traveling with your family. Every person needs to be accounted for with a ticket in hand at security and at the boarding gate, and that’s just easier done with a piece of paper than on an app.
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6. Make Sure It’s Your Boarding Pass
We once printed our boarding pass at the airport kiosk, got to TSA, and were…turned away for having someone else’s boarding pass! A passenger ahead of us had printed their boarding pass and left it in the kiosk, so we grabbed it and accidentally presented it at security as our own. Luckily, there was ample time to return to the kiosk and print the correct boarding pass before boarding. This is why you always go to the airport early and prepared.
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Why do I have to print my boarding pass at the airport? ›
Printing your boarding pass is doubly important if you're traveling with your family. Every person needs to be accounted for with a ticket in hand at security and at the boarding gate, and that's just easier done with a piece of paper than on an app. Got kids and grandparents in tow?Is it better to print your boarding pass at home or at the airport? ›
According to Sophie-Claire Hoeller at Insider, printing your boarding pass may have more benefits than mobile ticketing. In Hoeller's op-ed, she posits that having a paper ticket and chatting with gate and check-in agents when necessary is the best way to ensure a good flight.Do I really need to print my boarding pass? ›
Do all airlines require you to check in online and print out your boarding pass? No. You do have the option of a paper boarding pass when you check in at the counter. You can request paper.What happens if I don't print my boarding pass? ›
Yes, you can use screenshot of your boarding pass. All airlines offer the option of a mobile boarding pass as an alternative to printing yours or picking up a paper copy at the airport. In case you lost you phone or paper boarding pass it always works in that time.Can you check-in online and not print boarding pass? ›
Just display your boarding pass barcode on the screen of your device at the security checkpoint and when boarding your flight, and you're on your way. Check-in is available starting 24 hours before your scheduled departure.Can I print my boarding pass and have it on my phone? ›
Do I Need to Print My Boarding Pass? You shouldn't need to print your boarding pass out on paper as all of the needed information is available within the mobile version of the code, the airline's app, and the various emails they've sent you.How soon before a flight should I print my boarding pass? ›
When flying, print your boarding pass as early as possible. Checking in early saves your seat and prevents getting bumped to a different flight. About 24 hours prior to your flight, your airline will email you saying that it's time to check in. Don't ignore this email.Do I need to print my boarding pass if I have a QR code? ›
If you have the mobile version with the QR code, you don't need to print the boarding pass. Just have it ready on your smartphone or tablet.Is a screenshot of a boarding pass good enough? ›
in case you're wondering, it works perfectly for getting through security and boarding the plane. Taking a screenshot is an easy, low-grade way of retrieving a mobile pass.Do I need to check in at the airport if I checked in online? ›
In most cases, you will only need to go to check-in when you have checked-in online if you need to drop off an item of hold baggage. Please ensure that you are aware of the hand baggage requirements for your specific airline before you travel.
Is it better to check-in online or at the airport? ›
Is it better to check in online or at airport? It's always better to check it online, just in case you're running late and missed the checkin deadline at the airport. Nothing precludes you from getting a paper boarding pass when you arrive at the airport if you want one.Is printing a boarding pass the same as checking in? ›
If you do available online check in for traditional airline, you don't need to print it but you do need to have it in your mobile. If you do check in at the airport, the desk clerk will hand you a paper boarding pass. Be sure to keep it as you need the document to board the plane (with your passport of course).Can they print my boarding pass at the gate? ›
You can print your passes from a personal computer in advance, or at a self-service kiosk when you get to the airport. If you need some assistance, agents can generate passes at the check-in counter as well as the departure gate.Can boarding pass be printed again? ›
You can order a new boarding pass before travel by logging in to the check-in system again. Boarding pass can be printed or sent as an email or an SMS.What happens if you don t check-in 24 hours before your flight? ›
If you don't check in, you won't receive a boarding pass that allows you to board the plane, and your seat might be given up to a standby passenger. The check-in process also confirms your traveler details like your passport information and frequent flyer number.What are the disadvantages of online check-in? ›
One disadvantage is certainly that many people have poor time management and arrive too late at the airport if they check in online. For some, this can lead to unwanted time pressure. On the other hand, those who still have to check in at the airport itself usually arrive early enough and are therefore over-punctual.What do I do at the airport if I checked in online? ›
When using the digital check-in, once at the airport, all you have to do is drop your luggage which you have already checked-in citing the weight and dimensions of your bags. This saves you more than 40 minutes in queues and waiting – also you don't have to print your boarding pass and have it with you.Why do they scan boarding pass at security? ›
Screening officers scan boarding passes, including electronic boarding passes, to validate information quickly. The scanner captures information such as your name, flight number, flight date and gate number. At some airports, the validation of your boarding pass will be done automatically by a scanner.Is it safe to share boarding pass? ›
“And you should definitely never be posting it on social media.” These might seem like standard data protection guidelines to follow, but even the most savvy travellers have tripped up when it comes to boarding pass protection.Can you have two peoples boarding pass on one phone? ›
Previously, each person had to each carry their own smartphone to show their mobile boarding pass to go through security or board a flight. But now up to eight individual mobile boarding passes can be viewed on one phone, providing everyone travelling together is on the same booking reference number.
What to do first when arriving at airport? ›
Once you enter the airport, the first thing you should do is check in (if you haven't done so already online). Many airlines allow you to check in online 24 hours before your flight.
Online check in is especially crucial if you've booked a domestic flight without a seat allocation. It will let you pick your seat to make sure you're not in the very last row. Overall, the whole process gives you a few less things to stress about at the airport, especially these days.Do I need to go through check-in if I only have hand luggage? ›
If you have baggage, you can take it to a bag drop or if you only have hand baggage you can proceed straight to security control.When should I arrive at the airport if I check-in online? ›
The airport itself generally recommends that you allow two hours to go through security after check in, but following your airline's guidelines here will see you through safely.What is the fastest way to check in at the airport? ›
- Take Public Transportation To & From the Airport.
- Use Your Airline's App to Check In.
- Don't Check a Bag.
- CLEAR or TSA PreCheck.
- Global Entry.
Generally speaking, most airlines advise that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to a domestic flight, and at least 3 hours prior to an international flight.Do I need a boarding pass if I have an e-ticket? ›
No. A boarding pass is a document (either paper or electronic) that shows a gate agent that you're allowed to board a plane for a particular flight. An e-ticket has a bunch of information that the gate agent doesn't need—including what you paid for the ticket and where you bought it.Can I enter airport without boarding pass? ›
Can you go through airport security without a ticket? No, you cannot pass through airport security without an airline ticket or a boarding pass.Does your boarding pass Have your gate number? ›
Your gate is written on your boarding pass and you need to find the section written "gate" with the codes consisting of letters and numbers. This code is your gate number. To be able to locate your gate, you can follow the signs or screens at the airport.Do you get a better seat if you check-in early? ›
As an EarlyBird Check-In Customer, you'll have the benefit of an earlier boarding position, a better opportunity to select your preferred available seat, and earlier access to overhead bin storage for your carryon luggage. How much does EarlyBird Check-In cost?
Is there an advantage to check-in early for flight? ›
Beyond ensuring you can get on the plane, Keyes also notes there are other goodies to be had by checking in as early as you can on an airline's website or app. "Sometimes airlines allow seat selection after check-in or at least have first pick compared to folks who check-in later," he says.Is 2 hours before flight OK? ›
"The two-hour recommendation is fairly standard across the industry," says Heather Lissner, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport spokesperson. "We recommend the two hours so that travelers have enough time to get dropped off or park their cars, check their bags and get through security to their gates."Can I just take a picture of my boarding pass? ›
In fact, even American's boarding pass instructs travelers to take a screenshot of the boarding pass for easy retrieval. Remember to turn the phone on to full brightness — no one likes swiping a MetroCard 400 times.Do I need to check-in at the airport if I checked in online? ›
In most cases, you will only need to go to check-in when you have checked-in online if you need to drop off an item of hold baggage. Please ensure that you are aware of the hand baggage requirements for your specific airline before you travel.Do I need to check-in at the gate if I have my boarding pass? ›
If you're traveling with just a carry-on bag, you can head to the security check as soon as you arrive at the airport, rather than making a first stop at the check-in desk, since you already have your printed boarding pass, or, better yet, you e-ticket.Do I need to show my boarding pass at the gate? ›
Only reason you'd have to get a boarding pass at the gate is when they have a change in flight or aircraft which might have different seating.Is a screenshot of my boarding pass OK? ›
Yes, you can use screenshot of your boarding pass. All airlines offer the option of a mobile boarding pass as an alternative to printing yours or picking up a paper copy at the airport. In case you lost you phone or paper boarding pass it always works in that time.Why do airports have tight security? ›
As such, airport security serves several purposes: To protect the airport and country from any threatening events, to reassure the traveling public that they are safe and to protect the country and their people.Can I go through security if checked in online? ›
Travelling hand luggage only? Then bypass check-in and go straight to security as normal. If you are checking bags in you can go straight to the bag drop off points for your airline. Some airlines are now making this self-service where you print your own tags and fix them to the bags.