It cannot be to increase the amount of people to actually take the flight.

Checking in at a manned terminal is so fast today that going somewhere to just drop off the luggage takes almost the same time to my experience.

The online-systems must be very expensive to setup initially and I cannot imagine that they have a good return on investment.

While a lot of the checkin is automated in the USA, Europe and Asia still do much more manual and still have the online systems.

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    I don't buy the “online systems” must be very expensive thinking. Employees are really expensive in many developed countries, I don't see why the ROI wouldn't be good, even if the time required is almost as long. Also, at least some travelers will have no luggage. – Relaxed Apr 17 '14 at 7:30
  • @Annoyed I would assume that having an online system if you cannot reduce your staff at the counter does by default not have any ROI. Good point on the no-luggage argument, though. – uncovery Apr 17 '14 at 8:25
  • Everything is in the almost. If you absolutely positively cannot reduce the staff then yes, it must be something else like customer service or future plans to automate the drop-off. But I still don't buy the idea that it takes exactly the same time, on average, even without considering passengers with only cabin luggage (and the fact that many airlines push for that by introducing separate charges for any checked bag). – Relaxed Apr 17 '14 at 8:29

The most obvious answer is that not everyone checks luggage. I go to the counter maybe 10% of the time that I fly, as I very rarely have bags to check.

Even if you are checking bags, the online check-in system allows much of the process to be completed before you arrive to drop off your bags. Depending on the airline and the flight, that could include everything from picking the seats you want, entering details of passports and visas that may be required, right up to paying for the baggage that you will be checking in advance.

For many airlines, all that is required during bag drop is to scan the pre-printed boarding pass, print off the baggage tags and attach them - far less than would be required if the passenger had not checked in already.

If nothing else, online check-in is a feature that is now pretty much considered mandatory by passengers. Personally if an airline didn't offer online check-in, I would hesitate before booking, and potentially book with another airline as a result.

As far as return on investment, the simple fact is that almost every airline in the world now days has online check-in. If it was not a net benefit to the airline - either from a cost perspective or from a potential lost business due to customer satisfaction - then this would not be the case.

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