How does online check-in work?

8 November 20228 min read

Front view of a check-in area in a modern airport

These days, the pre-flight process is less queues and more computers, as airlines start to offer everything from online check-in and seat selection to self-bag-drop bays. Skipping the lines and spending less time airside is certainly a tantalising prospect – and in some cases, it’s even essential; you could find yourself forking out big money to check in at the desk.

So, if you have yet to embrace the world of electronic check-in, here is our guide to breezing through the process.

How does online check-in work?

It does exactly what it says on the tin; you can bypass the airport desks and check in for your flight using your desktop computer, tablet or phone.

Often it also means you can choose your seat before you get to the airport and 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.

Online check-in is pretty much standard with all airlines now, including charter, budget and scheduled carriers.

How do you know if you can check-in online?

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. Some airlines have even started offering an automatic check-in feature to their booking options.

Some airlines will charge you to check in at the airport. These include Ryanair who charge £55 per person each way. It’s well worth ensuring you opt for the online option here to save yourself some cash.

For some destinations, online check-in may not yet be available for all services, so do check your airline’s website.

Can you check in via app?

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. Some airline apps, including British Airways’, even alert you when the departure gate opens at the airport. That means less time staring at the departure boards and more time relaxing with a cuppa (or a cheeky pint)!

Popular airline check-in procedures

Checking in on time and having your boarding passes ready to go will help you breeze through the airport on the day you fly.

To ensure you tick this essential pre-holiday task off your list as soon as possible, we’ve compiled a list of ten popular airlines and their check-in procedures – no nasty fees or forgotten boarding passes here!

AirlineHow early can you check in for a flight for free?How much does early check-in cost?Can I check in at the desk for free?
Jet2Between 28 days and 6 hours before your flight.N/AJet2 offer the option to check-in at the desk at the time of your booking, which may come with a fee.
RyanairBetween 24 hours and 2 hours before your flight.You can check in up to 60 days before your flight if you purchase a seat. This costs from £4 per person each way.No, it costs £55 to check-in each way.
easyJetBetween 30 days and 2 hours before your flight.N/AYes, although easyJet strongly encourage you to check in online.
Aer LingusBetween 48 hours and 2 hours before your European flight, though this varies by route. Between 24 hours and 2 hours for transatlantic flights.Between 48 hours and 2 hours before your European flight, though this varies by route. Between 24 hours and 2 hours for transatlantic flights.Yes, and Aer Lingus also offer self-check-in kiosks at Dublin airport.
Wizz AirBetween 48 hours and 3 hours before your flight.You can check in up to 30 days before your flight if you purchase a seat. This can cost anywhere between €1 and €50 each way.No, it costs €30 to check in at the airport. However, you can pre-purchase airport check-in online for €10 if you’d prefer a printed boarding pass.
FlybeBetween 36 hours and 1 hour before your flight. Check-in closes 2 hours before flights leaving Paris CDG.N/AYes, either at the desk or at self-serve kiosks.
TUI - flight onlyBetween 7 days and 6 hours before your flight from the UK and Ireland. Between 7 days and 25 hours before departures home from other destinations. You can check in up to 14 days before your flight if you purchase a seat. This can cost between £15-£25 per person each way.Yes, although TUI reserve the right to charge a check-in fee for the service.
British AirwaysBetween 24 hours and 1 hours before your flight.N/A. However, those travelling on a basic fare can reserve a seat from £7 per person each way.Yes, either at the desk or at self-serve kiosks.
Virgin AtlanticBetween 24 hours and 70 minutes before your flight.N/AYes, either at the desk or at self-serve kiosks.

If you check in online, what do you do at the airport?

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.

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 your individual airline’s policy), however you may encounter longer queues.

3 things to remember when checking in online:

1. Prepare your booking 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 online so ensure you do it well ahead of travel to make your time at the airport as smooth as possible.

2. Get checked in on time

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 30 days in advance to just 24 hours before your flight.

Ryanair's free online check-in window is 48 hours before departure. If you pay to reserve a seat - which can cost from £4 - you can check in from 60 days before departure.

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.

If where you sit on a plane is important to you, we suggest checking in as early as possible. Many passengers will select seats online, meaning there will be fewer available for those choosing a traditional airport check-in.

3. Choose the right 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 or to collect it at the airport. Using the mobile phone method can work out the most efficient; your boarding pass will either appear in your airline app 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. Keep in mind that some airlines such as easyJet cannot accept a mobile phone version of your PDF ticket so be sure it’s saved to your device in the correct format.

Families or people travelling together can download all of their boarding passes to one phone or to several devices.

Remember, 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.

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