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To make a long story short I had an international flight this morning (Toronto -> Newark -> Caribbean). I had no checked bags so I arrived 2 hours before the flight. The kiosks could not complete the check-in, so I was told I need to wait in line. I waited for 2 hours to reach the front. The agent said they were short on staff because their employees typically call in sick on Sunday mornings (I heard this repeated multiple times). It was basically chaos as everyone was missing their flights. They gave me the option of putting me on a flight 24 hours later, or on a flight this evening with an overnight stop in Chicago. They said because I was not in line 3 hours before the flight I was at fault and not entitled to any compensation. For example, they wouldn't be able to pay for a hotel in Chicago, a taxi, etc. So, they put me on the flight tomorrow and gave me a meal voucher.

Is this right? If I don't arrive 3 hours before an international flight in Canada I'm automatically at fault?

Edit: My booking confirmation email says check-in times vary per airport and to view the guidelines on their website. These guidelines say to ensure I check-in at least one hour before the flight. When I attempted to check-in the night before United Airlines sent this email. It said my passport information needed to be verified, and if I don't have checked bags I should use a kiosk to print my boarding pass at least one hour prior to the flight. I was standing at that kiosk 2 hours before the flight.

The only reference I see to 3 hours is a brief mention to the TSA advising passengers at US airports to arrive 3 hours before international flights. This wasn't a US airport, and this wasn't any type of agreement between myself and United Airlines.

Does the general TSA advisory absolve all US airlines from any responsibility to check-in passengers that do not arrive 3 hours before an international flight?

Or United Airlines can simply ask passengers to leave themselves enough time to check-in, and that means they are never at fault for not checking in passengers regardless of when they arrive at the airport?

  • Not helpful to your exact question, but next time, try choosing Canadian or US citizenship to force an online check in. – JonathanReez Feb 3 at 8:02
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TL, DR: Yes, it is (your fault).

If you check your booking (or the airlines website), it will typically state the advance time you need to be at the airport. Whenever I checked, it said 3 hours for international flight, and 2 hours for national flights (but your airline might differ, check it).

Most people ignore that, and arrive a lot later, and most of the time that works quite well. However, if you run in trouble as you described, you are out of luck, as you didn't follow the directions - technically, you are late. Typically, the airline doesn't care that you are late, if you still make the flight, but if you miss it because of the wait in line, there is little they can do - the flight left, and you were not on it. You can actually be thankful that they offer anything at all - they could have said "too bad, your problem, buy a new ticket".

I except a lot of people will strongly disagree with that, but - read up on the airlines sites, it is clearly stated.
Do not mix it up with the times they state for when you have to be checked in, and when you have to have dropped of your luggage - these talk about when you have to be at the front of the line and be done with it, not when you line up, and the line is your problem (unless you followed the three hour limit) It doesn't come into play very often, but when it does, you have 'missed your flight' by not following instructions, like it or not.

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    The "three hours" thing is (as far as I can tell) not in United's Contract of Carriage. They simply give the minimum time in advance you must be checked in (which is 1 hour for most international flights) and then say, "[i]t is the Passenger’s responsibility to arrive at the airport with enough time to complete any ticketing, check-in, baggage and security screening processes, and boarding requirements within these minimum time limits." (Rule 5E) – Michael Seifert Feb 2 at 23:03
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    In other words, even if you were five hours in advance and still didn't get to the front of the line in time, they could argue that you weren't there in "enough time" to check in. – Michael Seifert Feb 2 at 23:04
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    The 2 or 3 hours are nearly always guidelines or recommendations, definitely not rules. The only rule is the check-in deadline. So, no, technically, anyone arriving later than that is not late. – jcaron Feb 3 at 0:34
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    I disagree and I edited my original post with further information. There is no mention in any of the agreements I needed to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight. – Guest908123 Feb 3 at 1:15
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    are you saying they could just close counters and it would be still not their fault? – RiaD Feb 3 at 3:11

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