It seems to take an inordinate amount of time for them to select my name from a list of people who have booked the flight and press enter. Surely it can't be any more complicated than that can it?
Normally they don't "select my name from a list", they enter the data you give them: your name, destination, flight number (any or all) and the system looks up your booking. The counter agent then reviews your booking, checking destination, special requests, booking notes. And then they start to check you in. Seat preselected? Save some time. Not preselected? Then the agent has to look up what is available and assign one. How many bags? Any special handling (fragile, oversized, over weight)? More data to be entered. Traveling internationally? Check Timatic, then check for needed documents.
There can be a lot that needs doing. Of course if you aren't checking bags, picked your seat ahead of time online and are flying domestically, then check in can be quick and painless. Or you can check in online and simply go to the bag drop line.
Back in the good old days you would arrive at the airport, walk directly from the parking lot to the aircraft, the co-pilot would heave your bags into the hold, the steward would take your ticket and you climb up the stairs.
Then air travel became popular. Cancellations, rebookings, overbookings etc. meant the pre-departure arrival time had to increase. Airports grew to the size of small towns so now it takes 20 minutes to walk to your gate. The rest should be obvious.
If you are talking strictly counter time rather than total car-park-to-pushback time, my experiences have been it takes just long enough to scan my boarding pass and put the tag on my suitcase. I cannot picture any way it could be faster without my complaining about being rushed.
Two things you can do to cut the counter time down:
- use the airline's online check-in service the day before. This also reduces your chances of being bumped. If you don't have any checked bags you can bypass the checkin counter completely
- buy a better ticket. First class passengers have dedicated counters and at some airports dedicated buildings / security / passport control / private car to the gate.
The exact steps vary based on the type of flight (international, domestic), but the agent has to check the following:
- Your ID matches who you are.
- Your flight is actually opened for booking.
- Your reservation is still valid.
- The conditions of your fare.
- Are you authorized to travel? (visa check, passport expiry check, ID validity check)
- If you are checking bags, the bags have to be checked for physical condition, dimension, weight.
- Baggage tags have to be printed and assigned to you, attached to the bags.
- If you have selected a particular seat, the agent has to make sure the same seat is available for you or not.
- Print your boarding pass.
- Explain your gate and your boarding window.
- Thank you
All the above assume you don't have any last minute requests like an upgrade or to have your travel partner be seated next to you or request an isle or window seat, excess baggage, etc.
Considering all the above, I say we should cut them a break and that they do a remarkable job trying to make this process a little less frustrating.