Since it is often encouraged by airlines, I have adopted the habit of checking in online for flights, even if I am planning on taking suitcases with me.

How does this benefit me? If travelling with hand luggage only, one can often skip the check-in counters and proceed directly to security (an obvious timesaver), so let us assume that I will check bags.

  • I have seen very few airports with dedicated bag drop counters for the passengers who have already checked in at home, so I will have to queue just like those who didn't make use of online check-in. (However at the airports I've been at with such counters, the amount of time saved has been significant, sometimes with nobody waiting at the bag drop counter and dozens at the regular check-in counter.)
  • Unless travelling on an ultra low cost carrier, airport check-in does not cost more.

How does it benefit the airline? There must be a reason they always send those reminder e-mails 24h before departure?

  • I don't think they are saving a lot of money on employees, since they still have to man the bag drop counters.
  • Agents usually reprint my boarding pass without asking if I actually need one (I don't because I already have it), so printing costs are not reduced either.
  • If everyone checked in at the airport and a passenger was delayed for boarding, it would be easier to decide if they should be waited for because they are already at the airport (i. e. checked in) or if the flight should just leave because they didn't even make it to the airport yet (i. e. not checked in).
  • 2
    If you fly Southwest (and maybe other low cost carriers), order of check-in is how you get your boarding position.
    – user662852
    Sep 20, 2017 at 17:24
  • 1
    You answered your own question - If travelling with hand luggage only, one can often skip the check-in counters and proceed directly to security. One advantage for the airline is that the sooner everyone is checked in, the sooner they can tell whether an overbooked flight is going to require bumping people or not (and take appropriate action if so). I've often found at the moment I check in, the airline already knows they're overbooked because of how many other passengers have already checked in before me, and they can start soliciting volunteers for other routes immediately.
    – CactusCake
    Sep 20, 2017 at 19:06
  • Also see What is the purpose of check-in before flying?
    – choster
    Sep 20, 2017 at 19:16
  • @JonathanReez: I somehow disagree with closing this question as a duplicate. The other question asks explicitly for benefits from online check-in, whereas this question juxtaposes benefits for the passengers and benefits for the airline. Maybe I'm being too careful here, but while I think my answer summarizing my pretty negative experiences with online check-in is a good fit for this question, it would be a non-answer in the other question (maybe prompting a response like "I asked for my benefits, not for what's wrong with the concept!"). Sep 20, 2017 at 20:53
  • @ORMapper feel free to cast a reopen vote. Personally I think this topic has been discussed in depth already in the two linked questions.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 20, 2017 at 21:13

6 Answers 6


First, don't over think it. It's called 'Check In' because that's what it's always been called.

However, for the majority of passengers, 'Check In' effectively means 'Get A Boarding Pass'. This is why you still have to interact with the airline before your flight.

Some points:

  • For many passengers, it kicks off some pre-flight routines that are unnecessary for no-shows such as seat assignment. In some cases, the earlier you check in, the 'better' seat you get.
  • It gives some airlines the opportunity to upsell again for things like upgrades, pre-assigned seats, auto check-in or discount bag check.
  • For US passengers, it can be good to know ahead of time if you get TSA PreCheck.
  • If you don't check in, many airlines will release your seat at or just before boarding time. If you're checked in, the Agent will usually wait until boarding is complete before releasing your seat.

There is no regulatory requirement for a 'Check In' process (no, not even for APIS) so airlines can handle the issuing of Boarding Passes however it suites them. There are a couple of airlines that either just send you a boarding pass or allow you to 'Check In' ~90 days ahead. If there's a problem with you booking, you just won't get the Boarding Pass until the day of flight.

  • 1
    For IATA airlines, the check in process is actually part of the way the money moves between the ticketing carrier and the operating carrier. The e-ticket coupon, which represents the monetary value of the flight, is "uplifted" from the ticket at this time, and moves under the control of the operating airline. This is part of a financial audit trail. In the case that the ticket was left "open" (not assigned to any specific flight or airline) it is the proof that the carrier actually rendered transportation and is entitled to be paid. So for the network airlines, check in is actually essential.
    – Calchas
    Sep 20, 2017 at 19:17
  • That happens after the flight during the settlement process. The coupon can be reassigned even after check-in. But it shouldn't matter to the passenger how 'check-in' is initiated. Is there a rule that disallows auto check-in?
    – DTRT
    Sep 20, 2017 at 20:35
  • There’s no rule against auto check in, although some countries require API to be actively confirmed prior to boarding pass issue. Some TAs probably would be unhappy about losing ownership of their coupons prematurely, although probably not many. AF, CO, and UA had short trials with auto check in—you had to opt in—but only with their own paper. They all dropped it. AY still does it on certain routes.
    – Calchas
    Sep 20, 2017 at 22:56

I check-in as early as possible because I can sometimes score an upgrade at a price that I'm willing to pay, pay baggage fees in advance, and make it more likely that I'll get a seat that I want.

If flying domestically in the US, I can also confirm that I have Precheck listed on the boarding pass.


 Checking in is the best way to confirm your ticket is valid.

In the case of traditional network airlines, who all have to conform to the worldwide IATA ticketing standards agreed in the 1970s, you will only be able to check in for a flight if your flight coupon for that flight is valid and is in an "open" state ready to be uplifted by the operating carrier.

If you have made any changes to your ticket, and these changes have not been re-ticketed properly, check-in may be the first time you find out. Obviously the earlier you find that out the better, particularly if the ticket was issued by a different carrier to the next operating carrier. At the airport, if your ticketing carrier has no presence, it may simply not be possible for the ticket to be re-issued in time for your reserved travel.

As an example, a friend of mine recently had to buy a walk up full economy fare at just over €1000 on a oneway flight from Helsinki to London because his airline had not processed a change properly and had failed to re-issue his ticket. He had a reservation on the flight, everything appeared fine, but he was unable to check in. The operating carrier was a different airline to the one who issued the ticket, and had no control over the e-ticket, and the ticketing airline was not available in time to remedy the problem. The only option, if he wanted to be on time for work, was to purchase a new ticket there and then. [His money was refunded in full by the ticketing carrier later that week as they accepted it was their fault, but still could be annoying.]

This situation can also happen even when there were no changes, but your ticket required some manual intervention to be issued. There are also concerns over "passive sectors" where the link between the ticketing airline and another airline failed at time reservations were made and instead the PNR was manually adjusted to include those flight segments.

Some airlines process upgrades and offloads prioritized by check-in time.

British Airways for instance, in the event of an oversold cabin, prioritizes the last person to check-in for an offload and the first person to check in for an upgrade, if necessary. Other factors do come in to play, for instance their evaluation of the passenger's commercial importance. But, all things being equal, being among the first checked in with a seat assignment is the best place to be.

  • 1
    Yes. It is easy now with internet, but in the old days, I would always "confirm my booking" with the local airline agency, several days before. Sep 20, 2017 at 19:46

Airlines always overbooked their flights to maximized the seats. And even sell seats on the last hour of the flights. They do this because there are a lot of scenarios where passenger didn't show up on their flights for many reasons like connecting flights delayed, passengers offloaded due to visa issues, group travel cancellation, etc.

With that said, checking in the passenger online gives them a clear picture of how many passengers are really flying on that specific time. It gives them opportunity to sell tickets or increase/decrease the price of it based on the number of seats available. It will also give the staff a rough idea if they can still get the airline discount tickets for that flight as staff tickets usually have the lowest priority in terms of getting a seat.


Regarding your second question, it does save the airlines money in many situations. As simple as that. Of course, they still need some staff but it's a game of numbers and we can talk all we want about the baggage drop, it still makes a sizable difference.

Online check-in means far fewer passengers to process, possibly 50% or more on short-haul low-cost flights in Europe. And for the passengers who still require assistance, the ground handling agents have fewer things to do and can go faster. Besides, many airlines now push passengers to take only hand luggage (by charging extra for hold luggage) and automate both the check-in at the airport or the baggage drop itself so that the only staff left are “helpers” standing around (maybe 1 for 3 or 4 automated stations) and you don't have any option but to check-in at a machine.

In that case, you might as well do it online.


How does this benefit me?

My impression is that it doesn't. As with many automated systems of that kind (actually, this applies both to online check-in and to the automated check-in), it is inherently connected to a couple of problems:

  • For a start, you have to supply the equipment. While that is usually not a problem at home, I rarely have more than a smartphone with me while traveling, and using web-pages designed for use on a PC monitor rather than on a smartphone is usually a pain.
  • On a fair number of occasions, the service will not work as intended.
  • If that happens, the hassle of solving it is upon you, rather than the airport staff.
  • Furthermore, it is primarily upon you alone, because even contacting someone to ask for help is yet another effort to make.
  • Even if it does work, the latter point applies, as anything that is unclear will have to remain subject to speculation, as you cannot simply ask the check-in agent.

Maybe checking in online gives you an edge when it comes to getting a specific seat, or a larger number of adjacent seats. On the other hand, I have rarely encountered a problem with the latter requirement; check-in agents almost always seemed to be able to somehow find or clear a sufficient set of adjacent seats.

Therefore, I suspect airlines only pretend it is a great feature for passengers, while the primary motivation is ...

How does it benefit the airline?

It probably saves loads of money. As with any aspect of customer service that can be abandoned, airlines can save on service staff. Dropping one's bag typically only takes a fraction of the time that the full check-in process does (unless one exceeds weight limits or similar), so I do think manning the bag drop counter is much less of an effort. Possibly, beside the net working time on the activity of checking in, some customers are even deterred from asking some other questions that they would otherwise direct at the check-in agent, thus saving even more time and employees.

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