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How does online check in work?
Checking in online is pretty much standard now with airlines including charter, budget and scheduled carriers. With airlines introducing new apps for smart phones by the day, the concept of arriving at an airport and checking in the traditional way is beginning to wane.
EasyJet has even launched a TV campaign to persuade us that travelling paper-free is the future.
Not only is it now far easier to check in using your desktop computer, tablet or phone, it means you can often choose your seat before you get to the airport and even save time before your flight with shorter queues, especially if travelling hand luggage only.
More importantly, it is cheaper to use online services with some airlines.
So, if you have yet to embrace the world of electronic check in, here is our guide to breezing through the process.
1. Pay attention when booking
After you have made your booking, you will be notified when check in opens for your flight, either in your confirmation email or during the booking process on your airline or travel agent’s website. Make a note of this, so that you can check in as early as possible.
Many airlines, such as British Airways and easyJet, still offer the choice of airport check in and, in some destinations, online check in may not yet be available for all services, so do check your airline’s website.
Some airlines have even started offering an automatic check in feature to their booking options. Flybe now offers this system, meaning that the airline will send you your boarding pass around 36 hours prior to departure – so you don’t even have to think about checking in once the booking has been made.
Top tip: Some airlines will charge you to check in at the airport. These include Ryanair who charge £45 per person each way and Jet2 who charge £15 per person each way. So it’s well worth ensuring you opt for the online option here to save yourself some cash.
2. Check for apps
If your airline has an app, download it to your smartphone. It will prompt you when check in opens, allow you to update your booking if you need to and also advise you of any changes or delays to your aircraft.
You can even make new bookings or check details such as airline mileage if your carrier offers this.
Airlines such as British Airways even alert you when the departure gate opens at the airport, giving you more chance to relax before your flight rather than constantly staring at the departure boards.
Easyjet has a Mobile Host app that helps guide you through the airport.
3. Make your booking (h)API
Every airline now collects Advance Passenger Information (API) for their bookings under strict security rulings. Airlines will require full passport names and insurance details as a minimum and, depending on your destination, may also request you give them contact information and the address of where you will be staying.
You will be prompted by your airline to add this information, so do it online, well ahead of travel to make your time at the airport as smooth as possible.
4. Get checked in
You are usually notified by your airline when online check in has opened via email, text or app alerts.
The time that check in opens varies from one airline to another, with some allowing check in from as many as 28 days in advance (easyJet and Monarch) to 24 hours before with carriers such as British Airways.
You will need your booking reference as a minimum to start the check in process and most airlines will allow check in for up to nine people online. (Groups should check their airline’s procedure.) You may also be required to check in infants less than two years of age at the airport. Again, check your airline’s website for further information.
At this stage you may be able to select or change your seat if you have not chosen to pre-pay for your preferred place on the plane. If you have not yet completed your API information you will have to do this as part of the check in procedure.
You will also need to confirm the number of bags you are checking in so use this as a chance to review if you need either add an additional bag OR to increase your weight allowance. It is nearly always cheaper to do this online than at the airport.
Top tip: As many customers will select seats online, there will be fewer available for those choosing a traditional airport check in. So bear this in mind.
5. Choose your boarding pass
Some airlines will give you the option to print out your boarding pass at home. Check the terms and conditions around this as fees are levied by some carriers such as Ryanair for failing to do this.
Others will allow you to send your boarding pass to an email address, to your mobile phone (pictured left) or to collect it at the airport. Using the mobile phone method can work out the most efficient and your boarding pass will either appear in your airline app for you to add to features such as Passbook or you can download it from an email straight to your hand-held device.
Save your boarding pass to your phone so it’s ready whenever you need it. Families or people travelling together can download all of their boarding passes to one phone or to several devices.
Top tip: Online check in closes a few hours before departure, so don’t leave it to the last minute as you may be too late and will incur an airport check in fee as mentioned with Ryanair above.
6. What happens on departure day?
Get to the airport in plenty of time and remember to take your smart phone with you or your printed boarding cards.
Travelling hand luggage only? Then bypass check in and go straight to security as normal.
If you are checking bags in you can go straight to the bag drop off points for your airline. Some airlines are now making this self-service where you print your own tags and fix them to the bags. You then simply drop the bags at the special desks, so check with airline staff if you are unsure.
Staff will scan your printed boarding pass or phone and you can even use these to pass through security.
7. What if I forget to check in online or leave my boarding card at home?
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 check in as normal or have a new boarding card printed for you at the airport.
Most airlines will still allow you to do this for free (but check you individual airline’s policy); however you can expect longer queues.
Worried about checking in online or want advice about your airline’s procedures? Are you an online check in convert? Leave a comment below to let us know.