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Check In and Prepare for Your Flight

Definitions

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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:

  • Confirmation number (usually sent via email if ticket is purchased online or through a travel agency)
  • Credit card used for payment of the ticket
  • Passport

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:

  • Avoid potential check-in lines at airport
  • Print boarding pass at home (can also wait or 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 flight

Check-In & Boarding Timelines

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

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  • Many airlines have a deadline for passengers to check in before each flight. Check-in deadlines are usually between 60 to 30 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 to load luggage onto the plane, offer potential unclaimed seats to stand-by passengers, and to finalize documentation for take-off.

Boarding timelines

  • International flights often start boarding 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to the departure time.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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).
  • Getting through the airport can take several hours at some airports or during busy travel times of the year. On international flights, you will need to account for more time to clear immigration and customs.