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Check In and Prepare for Your Flight

Definitions

Checking in

Checking in for a flight is the process whereby a person announces their arrival at the airport. The check-in process at airports enables passengers to confirm they will be on the correct flight, obtain a boarding pass, possibly select their seat (if hasn’t happened already and is allowed by airline), and check in luggage onto a plane, if desired.

Boarding pass

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, airlines accept either paper or electronic boarding passes (on phone or tablet).

Three Ways to Check In

In-person at a staffed check-in counter at airport 

Items needed for check-in counter:

  1. Passport (when traveling internationally)
  2. Flight information
    • Paper ticket (less and less common), OR
    • E-ticket with 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 

If using a kiosk, you can select a seat (if hasn’t happened already or allowed by airline), enter the number of bags to be checked (if desired), and print boarding passes. You will then need to bring your luggage to a staffed counter or checked luggage station. Airline staff will need to check your passport either at the time of check-in or at your gate.

To check in at a kiosk you will need one of the following:


Check in online before arriving to airport

You can usually check in online starting 24 hours before departure. If checking luggage, you will need to bring your luggage to a staffed counter or checked luggage station once you arrive at the airport.

Benefits of online check-in:

Check-In & Boarding Timelines

Most airlines list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline's website for details.

Check-in deadlines

Boarding timelines

Flight Preparation

Airports are busy places with lots of intense activity happening in tight quarters. It helps to know ahead of time what to expect.

Check your flight status

On the day before your flight and again a few hours before you leave your house on the day of your flight, check the status of your flight online on your airline's website. On their homepage, look for a "flight status" link. If your flight is delayed, you can adjust your timing accordingly. If your flight is canceled, you should contact your airline to make other arrangements.

Make sure you have all of your essentials

Before leaving the house, double-check that you have your passport, your wallet, and either your plane tickets, or your reservation/confirmation number.

Leave with more than enough time to get to the airport

For international travel, a good rule is to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to your flight.