If you plan on flying, then before boarding the plane you will need to first complete the check-in process. What this process exactly is, what happens in the background and what you need to know is what this Basics post is all about.

What exactly is the check-in process?

The check-in process starts after the booking and shortly before the scheduled flight. Every flight. Prior to reaching the security area at the airport, you need to get your boarding passes and drop off any luggage that may be going into the hold. This encompasses the initial steps of the check-in process.

Every airline has it’s own designated check-in counters at an airport and typically if you are checking-in via the counter you can do so roughly three hours ahead of your scheduled departure time. If you are traveling within the business or first classes of a flight, then you’ll find the counters for the check-in right next to the economy class. This is due to waiting times and if you are traveling (hence paying more) for your ticket, the service is scaled up accordingly.

The check-in process as of this point has changed significantly over the years, and we will touch on those below, however, to keep it in a logical sequence once you are up in line at the check-in counter make sure to have your identity ready (passport, national ID, etc.). The check-in agent will then retrieve your ticket from the airline booking system and recheck all the information you provided upon purchase as well as your itinerary. If there are any problems, such as an incomplete payment or error in the booking, it will be corrected here. Should everything be fine, which it usually is, the process will then continue.

Once the above step is complete, should you have any luggage to put in the hold, then now you’ll be able to put these on the conveyor belt where it will be weighed and tagged accordingly. Should you have excess baggage, then you will either need to readjust your luggage by removing items or pay extra at an additional counter, then returning to complete the luggage drop off process.

It is here where, should you not have done it online (see below alternatives), where you will be assigned or reassigned a seat. Then you will receive your boarding pass for the flight along with the baggage receipts typically tagged to the back of your ticket. Should flight information be available then the check-in agent will note the gate and boarding time on your printed boarding pass.

After this, you have completed the check-in process (congratulations!) and the next phase of the flight is the security check.

What other types of check-in are there?

In addition to the check-in being done at the airport, many airlines are looking for an alternative, faster, and safer ways to move passengers through this process. Thanks to the advances made in technology there are also several other ways with which passengers can conveniently check-in to obtain your boarding pass. The only commonality that passengers have regardless of check-in method is that if you have luggage that needs to go into the hold of the plane, then you will have to visit the counter at the airport. However, even in the case that you do need to drop off luggage, many airlines have specific counters labeled “baggage drop off only” so as to expedite the check-in process for your baggage since you already have a ticket.

Check-in at the airport kiosk

This is a self-service kiosk and method for passengers at airports to check themselves in. Many airlines will require you do this first even if you need to visit the counter for baggage drop off, etc. They are distributed throughout the terminal and typically located in front of the specific airline counters. You can either enter your ticket number, booking code or scan your ID (such as your passport) to automatically be forwarded to your booking on the screen. There you are able to choose your seats and ultimately print your boarding passes.

This method of check-in means you will have a paper printed (physical) boarding pass. It is similar to the traditional check-in method only that there is no airline staff servicing you. Should you have any problems there will often be a staff of the airline nearby to help. This is especially true during rush hour traffic. Should there not be any help available and you continue to face errors, then simply head to the normal check-in counter to clear up any problems.

Note that if you are flying to or from the U.S. and have been selected with an additional screening process (SSSS), then you will receive an error message.

Check-in Online

This method of checking in to your flight allows you to do so via an app or the website of the airline. You are able to select your seats and have your boarding passes issued before even leaving your home. The check-in process online typically opens up to 72 hours prior to your flights’ departure. This will vary depending on the airline. Typically, online check-ins are fast and easy. Once complete, you can load the boarding pass in digital form onto an app of your choice or as a PDF file on your mobile device. Alternatively, you can also print the boarding passes in the phsyical form via your printer.

The advantage of online check-ins is that you do not have to wait in long queues at the airport, and if you only have carry-on luggage then you can head straight to the security checkpoint without having to go through the counter check-in process, as you already have your boarding pass.

Do note that with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair or Wizzair you must check-in online regardless of circumstances. Should you not do so, then you’ll have to pay an additional fee of roughly 30-50 Euros at the airport in order for the airline to print your ticket for you.

Automatic Check-in

Many airports have begun self-serving the entire check-in process, meaning that upon arrival you may head straight to the check-in counter which consists of a fully automated baggage and check-in counter with no agent. You’ll follow the onscreen instructions to print your boarding pass, print your own baggage tags and attach them to your luggage and put your luggage onto the conveyor belt to be sent through to the luggage hold. This type of check-in is still not very frequent, but it does exist as airlines are utilizing more technology to cut staff and operational costs.

Things to consider during check-in

There are a few things you should keep in mind to help make your life easier when it comes to checking in. Not only will it ease the stress of the whole process, but allows agents to fulfill their jobs quicker and smoothens out the whole travel process for you and/or your family.

  • If you are checking in at the counter and queuing in line at the airport, make sure to have your travel documents ready so that you can show them to the agent as soon as it is your turn. Use the time efficiently rather than fumbling around for your documents once you get to the counter. It delays your time, the agents time and your fellow travelers time. If you are traveling as a family, have one member have all the passports to show them all together.
  • Should you have baggage that you are putting in the hold, the best thing is to weigh your suitcase up front to know if you are roughly within the limits. Often times you’ll also find scales at the airport so weigh your luggage before you begin queuing to drop it off. This also comes down to the same points above. It reduces the stress you have when traveling, it saves time and no one wants to open their suitcase in front of everyone while scattering things across the floor. Make sure you know the baggage guidelines up front and should you know that it is too heavy, be prepared to pay for the additional weight.
  • Tip: At the check-in counter you may ask for upgrades and see if any are available. If there are free seats in higher travel classes, there is a chance that the airline may be trying to sell them off and the agent will be able to give you prices immediately. Then you can decide whether or not you want to upgrade to the next higher flying class.

In closing

The check-in process is a vital part of traveling. From making sure all your travel data is correct all the way through your documentation on international flights being up to date. The process in and of itself is becoming more automated and easier to do, saving a lot of waiting time at the airport especially if you are traveling with carry-on luggage or no luggage only. Should you be flying with a cheaper airline, make sure you note whether or not you are obliged to check-in online prior to arriving at the airport, otherwise you’ll pay a hefty fee.

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