26

Most airlines these days offer online checkin, complete with digital boarding passes downloaded to your phone. However, on international flights, you're often -- but not always -- required to go to airport check-in anyway, so they can scan/sight/confirm your passport and any necessary visas. This is separate from the final ticket vs ID check at the gate, and if you try to skip it, frantic paging before boarding starts will ensue.

So simple question: How do I know whether I need to detour to get my passport checked?

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    When I check in online, if I need documents checked, I don't get a boarding pass— I get a notice that my documents need to be checked. Is your experience different? – choster Feb 26 at 5:08
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    @choster Yes, on several occasions, most recently Singapore Airlines yesterday, I've received a boarding pass but still needed to go to the counter. – jpatokal Feb 26 at 5:24
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    If you've received a boarding pass then why do you believe you need to go to the check-in counter? – Doc Feb 26 at 5:37
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    I've had this exact thing with delta a few times when flying from UK-US. I got my boarding pass on my phone, and only was told I would need my passport checked and approved when I went to drop off my luggage. – Uciebila Feb 26 at 10:15
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    I've seen non-EU citizens denied boarding at the gate for a budget European airline before because although they had a boarding pass they hadn't been to the check in desk to have their visas checked. By the time they were at the gate it was too late for them to go back to the check in desk. I'm not sure how they were meant to know - probably buried in the airlines T&Cs somewhere. – Nick Edwards Feb 26 at 20:53
16

In my experience it varies a lot how is it organized.

The patterns I experienced so far were:

  1. Online check–in not available.
  2. Online check–in doesn't issue boarding pass.
  3. Online check–in issues boarding pass and instruction to visit airport check-in.
  4. Person checks boarding pass before entry to security area and asks to visit check-in.
  5. Gate announces for my name some time before boarding and checks passport.
  6. Person checks my passport during boarding (separate step from boarding procedure itself).

In a nutshell if you need your passport checked then it will happen at some point, but there is a lot of variety in how it can be set up, depending on airline and airport.

So unless you are already familiar with specific airline/airport procedure you probably can't guess how is it going to be.

If airline had issued you a boarding pass and hadn't explicitly informed you they would prefer you to still visit ariport check–in, that’s their problem.

  • 1
    I once checked in online for United Airlines and the website proceeded normally and asked me to print out my boarding pass, but the actual document it served me had written in big letters, "YOU ARE NOT CHECKED IN, THIS IS NOT A BOARDING PASS". – gparyani Feb 26 at 19:07
  • @gparyani this is most annoying in Canadian airports with CBP preclearance. I'm going to see a US immigration right there in the airport - why on Earth do your employees need to check my docs... – JonathanReez Feb 27 at 0:36
  • @JonathanReez: It's a CYA thing. If someone somehow manages to get on the plane without a visa/passport, and the airline somehow gets busted for it, they want to be able to say "Yes, we checked everyone's passports, and CBP did too. John Doe showed us a fake." If only CBP does the check, then they have to give a much lamer explanation: "No, we didn't check Doe's passport, because we thought the CBP officer did. We tried asking them who cleared Doe, but they wouldn't return our phone calls. So, um, please don't fine us?" – Kevin Feb 27 at 5:54
  • @Kevin this cannot be an issue since preclearence flights don't go through immigration in the US. – JonathanReez Feb 27 at 6:01
  • @JonathanReez: It should not be an issue since preclearance flights are not supposed to go through immigration in the US. But imagine, for example: "Hey, Delta, the US government is shut down and we can't pay CBP officers. Also, Canada told us to stop making them work for nothing. So please reroute all your flights from YYZ to international arrivals terminals, starting right now." (I have no idea if that actually happened last time the government was shut down. But something like that could happen, theoretically.) – Kevin Feb 27 at 6:27
21

If you have a boarding pass (whether that was obtained via online check-in or via a kiosk at the airport), then you can skip the check-in counter completely and head straight to security/immigration.

If there is a need for them to sight your passport (eg, to check you have the required visas) then one of two things will happen :

1) You will not be allowed to check-in online, or you will be allow check-in, but you will not be issued with a boarding pass. In these cases you'll need to go via the check-in counter at the airport before you can head to security/immigration.

2) They will check your passport/documents at or near the gate. This could occur either as you approach the gate area, before boarding commences by them calling you by name to the podium, or as you are boarding the flight.

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    Ryanair will happily issue you a boarding pass but still require that you validate your passport before the flight, if you're not an EU citizen. – JonathanReez Feb 26 at 5:47
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    @phoog You can get your documents checked at the gate anywhere. Even within the EU. I had mine checked for the flight from Vienna to London. They even asked when I plan to return when they did not like my national ID. I didn't plan to return as I worked there and was returning from a conference and the guy did not smile too much. – Vladimir F Feb 26 at 7:52
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    And before a flight to any non-EU country I would be very surprised if they didn't check the documents at the gate. They have passengers coming from transfers from other flights and they did not see them at the check-in. – Vladimir F Feb 26 at 7:58
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    @JonathanReez They do tell you this on the boarding pass itself though, in my (limited) experience. – NotThatGuy Feb 26 at 9:24
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    As a South African travelling occasionally between the USA and UK, I'm so used to #2 that I don't even wait for them to call me anymore. I am always able to check in online & get a boarding pass, but once I get to the boarding gate I just go straight to the podium with my passport because I know they're going to call me up soon any way. – brhans Feb 26 at 12:40
0

When I check in online my boarding pass (Delta) usually says "INTL - Verify PASSPORT" at the top if the passport needs checking, or DOCS-OK if not. They will frequently give me a replacement boarding pass with DOCS-OK once it is checked, but I also have one with a "Checked" stamp across it instead.

Checking in with my passport and boarding card when I get to the gate counter has always worked, but yes, they will page you to visit the gate counter agent prior to starting boarding if you don't do it yourself. On the other hand, if my boarding pass doesn't have either statement (other airlines) I've never had a problem with just approaching the gate agent and asking "do you need to check my passport?" - but do be sensitive to how busy they are.

-2

You don't.

If flying to an APIS destination, and you are issued a boarding pass, you will not have to check-in again because you are already checked-in.

The boarding pass will get you all the way to the gate where the spot check of your passport will occur as usual.

In rare cases, you might be issued a gate pass to get you through screening but unless you're OK to board, no one wants you actually in the terminal.

I imagine it's possible for some uncommon nexus where it's easier to issue a BP and check at the gate.

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    This is not correct. On several occasions I have checked in online and proceeded to the gate, only to be paged and told the airline needs to see my passport, separately from the usual ID check on boarding. – jpatokal Feb 26 at 22:13
  • @jpatokal Then you either did not get a Boarding Pass or the authorities reversed a provisional OK. Meaning, in a way, there is no way to know because CPB/BF can change their mind. Sorry, that's just how it works. You can read the guides. – Johns-305 Feb 27 at 13:50
  • @jpatokal Realized I may be too focused on the technical aspect, ie, this is how APIS works. Without know a specific O/D and Passport, there is no way to know. – Johns-305 Feb 27 at 14:06
  • I provided APIS data on checkin, and rest assured I received an actual boarding pass. The issue is (apparently) that they need to validate whether I actually have the passport I claim to have. – jpatokal Feb 27 at 15:49
  • More broadly, you seem to be assuming this is all intentional and the system is working as intended, while it seems far more likely that it's just broken and nobody cares... – jpatokal Feb 27 at 15:50

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