43

Assume seat selection has already been done, the flight is an international one so the airline may want to see documents, and the passenger is going to check a suitcase.

Is there any advantage to checking in on-line and printing a boarding pass?

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    @Dandy she said in the question we're assuming "seat selection has already been done". – Mark Mayo Dec 15 '16 at 7:29
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    @MarkMayo Yes, but it asked the advantages. I'm just listing them as even when your seats selected, some online check-in processes allow you to change this (in cases where you were already assigned a seat) – Dandy Dec 15 '16 at 7:31
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    From own experience, seat assignment is not final until you are checked in. I often lose my pre-booked seat as I cannot check in online, and when I finally come to the counter, my seat is taken by someone else. That might depend on the airline, though. – Aganju Dec 15 '16 at 12:47
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    @Dandy, perhaps your answer should not be posted as a comment? – user1717828 Dec 15 '16 at 13:43
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    @phoog: that's true, but it doesn't mean that a "reservation" seat carries the same weight as a "check-in" seat. – Martin Argerami Dec 15 '16 at 15:20

12 Answers 12

41

Well, it'll depend, but yes, there are certainly advantages.

Often airlines have bag drop only, if you've checked in online. They'll still check your ID, but it saves you lining up with all the others who still need to go through the check in process.

By checking in early, you're less likely to be bumped - flights oversell regularly, on the assumption a certain percentage won't make it. As a result, if you really want to make sure you get on the flight, you check in ASAP.

If you've got status, it gives you more time in the lounges, to eat, drink and relax. It also gives you time to shop, if that floats your boat.

On some carriers (less these days as many charge), by checking in early you have the opportunity to ask nicely for an exit-row seat - usually you can't check in to these online as they have to make sure you're fit and able to comply with the crew in an emergency, so they give them to people in person at bag-drop/checkin.

Some airlines use checkin time as a tie-breaker for upgrades. Generally these days they're stingy and only give it to people with status, but all things being equal, if you checked in first, you may get it. But perhaps the most important - for international flights - things go wrong. Your taxi doesn't turn up, there's a failure on the train line, you forget something at home and have to go back - all of these have happened to me. By doing things ahead of time, it's one less moment of stress at the airport, and gives you that extra time you might need. And importantly, if check in has closed when you get there, it's too late to check in, but if you've checked in ahead of time, you have a boarding pass in your hand and can still go through security and try to make your flight.

  • 19
    I'm not sure bag drop actually "saves you lining up with all the others" -- in my unscientific experience what usually happens is that it's extremely fast to check in at an automated kiosk in the airport, but then everyone has to wait in line for the bag drop for tens of minutes, no matter whether they checked in from home or at the kiosk. Calling the line something different doesn't really make it any different. – Henning Makholm Dec 15 '16 at 9:07
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    @HenningMakholm In my experience there are automated bag-drop stations in some airports. In others, you may skip the line if you are already checked in. I once checked in online while in the queue and it saved me twenty minutes by using the bag-drop only counter, which had a separate prioritized queue. – toni Dec 15 '16 at 9:34
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    "If you've got status" What does this mean? – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 15 '16 at 12:51
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    Most airlines have a frequent flyer program. If you earn enough miles, you get certain status levels, which allow you to access lounges and other benefits. – dunni Dec 15 '16 at 13:23
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    Most North American carriers don't bump based on check-in time but rather the date on which you purchased your ticket. – sixtyfootersdude Dec 15 '16 at 17:04
13

For several airlines it is cheaper to check-in online. For example airport check-in fee at the counter for Ryanair is 15 € and for airBaltic 30 €.

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    A fee for checking in at the counter??? This is why I never fly budget airlines. – David K Dec 16 '16 at 12:55
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    @DavidK £15 flights is why I always try to flight budget. – josh Dec 16 '16 at 21:16
  • @DavidK - £15 for the flight and £15 to check in is still only a £30 flight, and that's not terrible... Knowing that there may be an on-site check in fee is good info to have in general, though... – FreeMan Dec 17 '16 at 15:25
  • You know it's not that hard to use free Wi-Fi at the airport to check in online through your phone/tablet/laptop – Nayuki Dec 18 '16 at 6:44
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    @Nayuki depends on the country/airport. I have been in a few airports where there is no free Wi-Fi. Not to mention airports where there is a language barrier, or you need to have a phone number you can receive an access code by SMS on. – Amani Kilumanga Dec 18 '16 at 10:48
10

Some airlines, like Southwest, have a different seating policy according to checkin. Since the seating is modeled as a "sit wherever you like, as long as there is space", you can sit anywhere you want, but your choice really depends on how early in the queue you get.

If you check-in early, obviously you will be placed at an earlier boarding position, and thus have more choice as to the seat you want, whereas if you check-in late or a few hours before the flight, you will most likely be restricted to sitting in the back or between people (due to the "good" seating being taken up)

5

Depends in part on where you are traveling from, but in general No.

In the US, boarding passes need notation that documents have been checked. So even if you have printed boarding passes at home, the check in counter person will likely print out new ones with your document status noted. If just a single flight they may hand write on your home printed pass.

As more and more people check in online, the lines at the bag drop counter are getting longer and at the check in counters getting shorter. And for international travel the bag drop person performs almost the same computer entries as the check in person, so no real time saved at the counter.

Occasionally check in time figures into decision making process for both involuntary bumps and upgrades. But it is, as Mark point out in his upgrade mention, primarily used as a tie breaker.

On the plus side would be peace of mind, as you would have confirmed that you got your seat of choice. Have a heads up on any situations you might face the next day, since airlines often ask for volunteers at check in if they are facing an oversold situation. Maybe an earlier opportunity to purchase a gate upgrade.

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    "confirmed that you got your seat of choice": I have had my seat assignment changed after checking in. It's probably less common than having it changed before checking in, but it does happen. – phoog Dec 15 '16 at 13:50
  • @ phoog You would still have peace of mind until on that one in a thousand day when they called you to the counter 10 minutes before boarding and changed your seat. – user13044 Dec 16 '16 at 1:10
  • @phoog Seat changes after checkin tend to be due to last-minute equipment changes in IROPS. – reirab Dec 16 '16 at 6:05
5

Depending on airline, you can also do baggage drop-off the day before once you are checked in. So if you don't want to leave your car at the airport, you bring your suitcase by car (cheap short-term parking near the terminal), and then use public transport on the next day to get to the airport.

Other than that, not much difference.

5

Overhead Bin Space

The availability of space in the overhead bins for carry-on luggage is a pretty big one on some airlines. Many airlines determine boarding order at least in part due to time of check-in. This is especially true on Southwest Airlines where you are assigned an actual position in the boarding queue based on time of check-in (and a couple of other factors.) However, it is also true to a lesser extent on some of the other airlines (such as Delta) where those who check-in earlier tend to be in earlier boarding zones than those who check-in later (though still behind everyone who has 'priority' boarding, which seems to be about half the plane in the case of Delta.)

Since overhead bin space in economy is typically first-come, first-serve, if you check in late and, thus, board late, all of the overhead bin space may be used before you get onboard, resulting it your bag being checked and placed in the cargo hold instead of riding with you in the cabin. If you didn't previously have any checked baggage, this means that you'll now have to wait around for your bag once you arrive at your destination airport. It can also mean being separated from fragile/valuable/etc. things that you'd rather not have ride in the cargo hold as well as the possibility of it being delayed or lost, as happens sometimes with checked baggage.

Seating Assignment

Of course, as another answer has mentioned, in the case of airlines like Southwest where seating is also first-come, first-serve, checking in late also frequently means getting stuck in a middle seat, and, if traveling with someone else, your party being separated. Even some airlines that do assign seating don't do so until check-in, so waiting until later to check in will also frequently mean not getting the seats you want on those airlines, too. This was the case with an Air France medium-haul flight that I was on recently, for example, though I think they assign seats at booking for longer flights. If I remember correctly, this was also the case with Swiss, except that they gave you the option of paying a small fee to select your seat at booking instead.

  • Aren't gate-checked bags usually put on the plane last and usually retrieved and handed over at the destination gate? I've always seen that with people who have strollers, car seats and the like, though I've personally never had a bag be checked due to lack of bin space. I've had to pack my bag near the rear of the plane while sitting near the front (or vice-versa), but never had it checked except on a little puddle-jumper with no bin space at all. – FreeMan Dec 16 '16 at 13:52
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    @FreeMan No, they're typically checked through to the final destination. Strollers, wheelchairs, etc. are generally kept separately and returned in the jet bridge because they're needed in the airports. On smaller regional jets where normal-sized carry-on bags don't fit in the overhead, they do take those up in the jet bridge and return them there on the other side, but when a plane's overhead bins are full, they typically just start checking everyone's carry-on to the final destination. – reirab Dec 16 '16 at 16:38
4

There is a major advantage particularly if you have a complicated air ticket. Completing the check in and obtaining a boarding pass proves (in almost all circumstances) that your eticket is valid for the flight segment that the boarding pass covers.

If you are making a lot of changes to your ticket, or if you have many different flights operated by different airlines on the same ticket, the ticket can actually become out of sync with the reservations and the PNR, and this is unfortunately quite hard to detect. Around the world tickets are particularly bad for this because of the degree of manual intervention required.

When you try to check in, this is a good test that the ticket is valid, although online check in can fail for many other reasons. Checking in early gives you more time to resolve any problems with the ticket.

4

Yes!

If you're late arriving at the airport, the check-in desk and self-check-in kiosks for many airlines will not let you check in, even if you still have enough time to make it through security and board. If you're already checked-in online, they have no way of knowing what time you actually arrived at the airport, and thus no way of enforcing arrival time cutoffs.

3

There can be an adventage in checking early.

From experience:

  • If the flight is overbooked, it is possible that you will be upgraded to business if there is no seats available in economy.
  • I had a flight where the airline seated everyone packed at the back. By being VERY late, they gave me a nice seat in an empty row.

This is pure gamble tho.

  • 1
    Or if the flight is overbooked, they might find you a decent flight about the same time and you might get some extra cash. – Paul92 Dec 15 '16 at 10:25
  • Did you mean "advantage"? I can't relate your opening sentence with the examples you given. – Andrew T. Dec 15 '16 at 16:06
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    The examples he gives are advantages to checking in later. – stannius Dec 15 '16 at 16:30
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    BA's upgrade system slightly favours people who checked in earlier. I don't think it is generally true that upgrades are allocated to those not yet checked in. – Calchas Dec 15 '16 at 18:05
  • @Paul92 Or if the flight is overbooked and it's late in the day, they find you a flight the next day instead, though they'd still give you some extra cash. At least in my experience, though, involuntary 'bumping' seems to be pretty rare these days, at least in the U.S. In an overbook situation, someone usually takes them up on a compensated voluntary flight change before it gets to the point of involuntarily bumping people and time of check-in is kind of irrelevant with voluntary denied boarding. – reirab Dec 16 '16 at 6:27
0

An advantage not yet mentioned is that it may provide one advance notice if the flight is going to be delayed or canceled. While it would be good to speak with an actual human to find out the earliest time before which the flight could not possibly leave, being able to spend extra time with friends or relatives at a restaurant near the airport rather than spending it alone at the gate may be desirable.

Further, if an airline can't carry a passenger at the planned time, it may sometimes be more than happy to offer a passenger a choice of alternative flights. While airlines will by default try to get passengers to their destination as soon as possible, it may sometimes be better for all concerned to have the passenger travel on the next day. The sooner one can find out about a delay or cancellation, the more effectively one will be able to exploit any opportunities it might present.

0

Many airlines charge extra for well-located seats, even in economy. Most of the time, if there are any well-located seats left, there is no extra charge to change your seat to them during check in. Even if I have a clerk check me in at the airport, I always ask if there are better seats, unless I'm late.

My mom tried to check in guests that didn't really know how to use a computer. It turns out that since they booked the flight 6 months ago, the flight date had changed, and instead of trying to check in 24h in advance, they had to rush to the airport just to be on time. Unless you have a good reason, always check in early.

-3

Yes! The airline may fly you out earlier! On a different and earlier flight! Then, you can get to where you are going EARLIER. Done deal. Bam.

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    If you check in online and print your own boarding pass you are probably not at the airport. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 15 '16 at 19:48
  • That has never happened to me and I almost always check in 24 hours early. Even when I've gotten to the airport super early and asked if I could get on an early flight, they've always told me that I'd have to call reservations or go to the ticket office and buy a new ticket. Admittedly, I'm not a super frequent flyer, I usually fly 6 - 10 times a year. – Johnny Dec 16 '16 at 20:57
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    @Johnny I've asked once at the airport and gotten onto an earlier flight (EasyJet in Europe has this policy that you can), but it's not really a benefit of checking in early, more getting to the airport early. – Mark Mayo Dec 17 '16 at 4:49

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