Airline Tips: The Check-In Process

All airlines have hard cutoff times for passenger check-in. If you try to check in beyond this time, then odds are you will not be flying on your scheduled flight that day, unless your flight is delayed for some reason. Most airlines will recommend that you arrive at least two hours prior to your scheduled departure time to ensure enough time to get through the check in process, drop luggage, clear security, and board the aircraft for an on time departure.

Two hours may sound excessive, but it’s generally a good rule to follow, especially if you are checking bags. You never know what the lines will be like at the check in counter when you arrive at the airport, or at the security check point. If it is a particularly busy day then you may spend a lot of time waiting to get to the gates, and you do not want to be rushing to get to your flight. Showing up early will prevent that.

Here are a few tips that will be helpful on the day of your flight. If you do these things then you should have no trouble getting to the airport and through the check in process with time to spare before boarding.

Check Out This Infographic with the Check-In cutoffs for six popular US Airlines

Get the Airline App

Once you book your flight, download the airline’s mobile app to your smartphone. The app likely has lots of valuable information like flight status, baggage fees, airport maps, online check-in, mobile boarding passes, gate information, and much more. Some apps will even give you notifications if your flights change so you don’t have to be constantly looking for updates on a delay. Having access to an airline app is very useful.

Check Your Flight Status

Use the app or the airline’s website to determine if your flight will be on time. You don’t want to head to the airport for an on-time departure if your flight is going to be delayed several hours. Know this information before you go. If you are dealing with a delay then you may want to inquire about alternate flight options.


Check In Online

You can usually do this through the airline’s mobile app or on their website if they do not offer a mobile app. Most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours prior to your departure. Checking in online will save you from standing in line at the airport, especially if you are not checking bags. Once you get checked in online you should be able to download your boarding pass directly to your phone or print it out at home. If you do this then you won’t need to stop at the airline counter before going through security.

Show up Early

Remember, there are hard cutoff times for checking in for flights. Even if you already have your boarding pass, you still want to show up to the airport early. Security lines are unpredictable, and can sometimes take over an hour to get through them. You don’t want to miss your flight because you were stuck in TSA.


Have Your Luggage Ready

If you are checking bags then make sure your luggage is compliant with the airline’s size and weight policies. If you have oversize or overweight luggage then you could be held up at check in, and you may be paying extra fees. It is likely that you will be paying bag fees for checked bags, especially if you are traveling within the US, but you don’t want to get hit with fees that you were not expecting. Most airlines allow you to check bags that weigh up to 50 pounds for the standard fee, exceeding that weight limit, even by one pound could cost you several hundred dollars. Be Prepared, weigh and measure your luggage before you go to the airport.

Consider Pre-Check

TSA offers “Pre-Check” to passengers for a fee. If you are approved for “Pre-Check” then you will usually get to go through an expedited security lane at most US airports. You will not need to remove your shoes, belt, light jacket, laptops or liquids from bags. The “Pre-Check” process greatly reduces security wait times for passengers, and is worth looking into, especially if you plan to travel several times over the next five years. A “Pre-Check” membership costs $85 and is good for five years. You can apply for “Pre-Check” online.

You can begin the TSA Pre-Check application process here.

Carry Proper Identification

You will need picture ID to travel through security. If you check-in for your flight online then you won’t need ID, but having a boarding pass will not guarantee you entry through security. You need to prove that you’re the person that is listed on the ticket.

Carry On Compliant

Even if you have “Pre-Check” you still need to follow the carry on guidelines set by TSA and your airline. Make sure you are not bringing any forbidden items through the checkpoint. Also make sure that any liquids that you are carrying with you are in containers smaller than 3.4 oz. If you have full sized toothpaste or shampoo they will be confiscated, and you may have to go through additional screening, wasting your time.

Check out your airline’s carry on baggage policy here

Show Up Before Boarding

Make sure you are in the gate area for your flight before boarding begins. Your gate agent(s) may be making some important announcements that you will want to hear about your flight. Remember, if you are in the gate area at boarding time, and you don’t see the signage at the gate advertising your flight then you may be in the wrong spot. Airlines will do gate changes often, and they are not always announced. If it’s time for boarding and there is no one around then it is time to ask someone. Failing to do so could cause you to miss your flight.


If you follow all of these steps then you should have no problems with your travel day. Hopefully the airline will do their part and get you to where you need to be on time.

If you get held up and miss your flight for any reason, then you will need to get in touch with an airline representative. They will assist you with rebooking. Airlines have a long-standing policy known as the flat tire rule. Under this policy they allow passengers who miss their flights to get rebooked without being charged extra. If you show up after check in time, and an airline employee is trying to charge you for rebooking then you should cite the flat tire rule and insist on talking with a supervisor. You should never be charged just because you showed up a little late.

If you have missed a flight and need help rebooking, click here!



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