Nov 26, 2010

Posted by in Trip Advice | 13 Comments

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How Does Online Check in Work?

Harry Lawrance

Checking in online is pretty much the standard now for budget airlines. I had my first experience of online check-in a few weeks ago and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I didn’t really understand it. For those like me who weren’t entirely clear on the process of online check-in, here’s how it works. Not all airlines processes will be the same but in general it goes like this:

1. When you buy your flights, you choose to either check in online or check in at the airport. Generally you have to pay for either option but online check in is usually the cheaper of the two!

2. Now the onus is on you to check in online. From around 28 days to around 5 hours before you travel, you should visit the website of your carrier and click ‘check in online’. You will be required to login using either the email address and password you registered at the time of purchase and/or your booking reference which will have been emailed to your registered email address.

3. On the online check in screen you will be required to enter the details of each member of your party including the passport number. These details will need to exactly match the details on the passport of each traveller. Once this is complete you will be asked to print out a boarding card for each memeber of your party, for each leg of your journey (outbound and inbound). These boarding cards must be kept safe as you will need to take them to the airport with you.

4. When you arrive at the airport for your flight you will have to do one of two things.

a) If you have hand luggage only then you’re laughing, as this is where online check in is a great help. You can happily proceed directly to security.
b) If you have a suitcase or bag that you need to load into the hold of the plane, you will need to head to the bag drop desk of your airline. This looks and acts exactly like the regular check in desks and the desk number for your flight will be shown on the electronic display boards as per usual. In fact the whole process seems to work in the exacy the same way as if you were checking in normally, with the one exception that you print your boarding cards yourself.I fail to see how the process is really any quicker – Ho hum.

5. Proceed as normal. The procedure works in the exact same way on the return leg.

What if I forget to check in online / forget my boarding card?

If you forget to check in online or forget or lose your boarding pass, you will still be allowed to travel, you will just have to have a new boarding card printed for you at the airport. This may incur an extra fee, sometimes in the region of £40! So make sure you keep a tight grip on those boarding passes.

So there you have it – a brief guide to online check in’s. Hopefully this has answered all your queries but if you would like to know anything else about this topic or have any questions, just leave them in the comments on the right and I will do my best to respond with the answers.

  1. derek hill says:

    do you have to pay for your seats with online check in?

  2. Hi Derek

    Your question is valid, however it really does vary by airline. However generally, once on line check-in is open, you can select your seat for free unless the airline has a free seating policy.

    With easyJet and Ryanair you cannot book individual seats, so when you check-in on line it is still a free for all when you board. Either pay for early boarding at up to £16 each way OR be one of the first to board so that you have the widest choice of seats.

    BA allows you to check in from 24 hours before and seat selection at this point is free. However if you wish to reserve seats ahead of this you will pay for the priviledge. This is similar to other airlines such as bmibaby, bmi, monarch, flybe. When you use their online check in you will be able to select from whatever is left from customers who have chosen to pre-allocate their seats by paying.

    Also note that online check-in open times vary from airline to airline.

    Hope this helps – who are you travelling with and I can give you specific advice for that airline?

    Kind regards


  3. derek hill says:

    Hi Bob
    We are flying with from blackpool.
    The online check-in opens 28 days before the dep. So we were hoping to get in asap to choose seats for free, as you would at the check-in desk when getting your boarding pass

  4. Hi Derek

    You should be fine. I can’t imagine that many seats will have been pre-sold on the flights, so you should have a good pick.

    If you cannot actually select your seat when online check-in opens, then ensure you get the airport early on day of departure to get the best pick from the check-in/bag drop desks.

    Have a great trip.


  5. can ordinary a4 paper be used to print boarding pass

  6. Harry Lawrance says:

    It certainly can Anne – just print your boardig pass out like you you would any other document.

  7. Hi Bob

    Just wanted to say thanks for this informative and very helpful advice. I am due to fly soon from GLA to SOU with Flybe and will be using the on-lone check in facility for the first time, which I was stressing and worrying about. However, your advice has been invaluable and has abated my fears!

    So, many thanks once again!


  8. Valerie says:

    Hi, do you know whether you enter passenger names manually or if it comes from the infomation you gave at time of booking? I’m travelling with Ryan Air soon and didn’t put my friend’s middle name on the booking – I never have before and never needed to to but now i’m worried that with Ryanair’s reputation for charging at every opportunity it could be a problem with them.

    Wondering if i can just include it at the online check in stage?


    • Hi Valerie

      Ryanair do not ask for middle names in the booking process and it is the names you enter when you book that must match the passport documentation when you travel.

      Airlines use the data that is submitted when a booking is made to match up all parts of the travel process, check in and boarding.

      You do not need to worry about middle names, so as long as you have the correct first name and surname there should be no problem at all with travelling.

      I too have a middle name but never use it when booking on carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet and have no problems checking in or boarding the plane.

      Have a great trip.


  9. Hi

    Still confused (sorry) – do the normal “two hours before departure” arrival times still stand then?? Obviously we aren’t going to leave it until the last minute but as we only live 15 mins away from the airport and fly tomorrow morning at 6:30 I would much rather spend an extra hour at home than in the airport…


  10. Eleanor says:


    My friend and I have book a Jet2 flight and my friend did not put middle names on booking for online check but there are middle names on our passport. I was just worried because somewhere on their pages it says names on booking must match passport details. Do you think we will be charged extra for not putting middle names on booking forms.



  11. Julie says:

    Hi, similar query really.

    I have booked five seats on a Ryanair flight to Spain and only entered first name and surname as that is all that was asked. However, passports show a middle name.

    When doing the on-line booking do I add the middle name so it is the same as the passport or do I leave it out so it is the same as the original booking?

    Please help.

  12. when you check-in online, you don’t have boarding card, do you ?


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