Many innovations in the air travel industry have been for the worst in regards to travelers’ flight experience.
Online check-in is not one of them.
Changes usually benefit one party more than the other. For example, increasing the number of seats on aircrafts meant less comfort for passengers, especially when it comes to legroom (or lack thereof). Compensations for disrupted flights, on the other hand, (rightfully) benefit passengers.
But online check-in is one of those rare improvements that are beneficial to both passengers and air carriers.
In this updated guide for 2021, we will cover:
- What is online check-in
- Why you need to check-in online
- What are the benefits of online check-in
- What to be careful about when checking-in online
- When to check-in online
- How to check-in online
- Why you can’t check-in online
- Useful links to check-in with your airline
What's even BETTER than online check-in? Saving money while traveling, without lifting a finger.
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What is online check-in?
Online check-in allows you to check-in in advance for your flight using either the airline’s website or mobile app. In 2021, most airlines have set up the online check-in process for their customers.
What is also known as web check-in is different from the traditional way of checking-in for your flight in that you no longer need to wait until you are at the airport to check-in, but can instead do so prior to the day of the flight from the comfort of your home.
As we’ll see in a moment, the check-in process is relatively simple and boasts flight-experience-changing advantages.
Why do you need to check-in online?
Online check-in is so useful that some airlines went as far as making it mandatory. What’s in it for them?
Because it helps air carriers do what they strive for: saving money by reducing costs. Because the online check-in process requires less paper and less staff at the check-in counter at the airport and saves a lot of time (hence, money) compared to airport check-in, setting up such a process is a no brainer for airlines.
And this should matter to you too: fewer costs potentially allows airlines to offer cheaper fares!
This is why low-cost airlines such as easyjet, Wizzair and Ryanair have made it mandatory to check-in online. And if you're interested in saving money on airfare, you should do it.
Airlines also benefit from passengers checking-in from home in that it lets them know that you are very likely to show up for the flight. This means that they are less likely to sell your seat to someone else. As a result, you're much less likely to be denied boarding by checking-in online and the airline won’t have to pay you overbooking compensation.
What are the benefits of checking-in online?
Choosing your seat
The only way for you to select your seat yourself rather than having it randomly assigned to you is to check-in online.
Now, there’s a caveat to that: many (mostly low-cost) airlines took this opportunity to get some more money from travelers by randomly assigning them a seat during the online check-in process and requiring an additional fee for them to select the seat they want.
That being said, choosing the right seat can make or break your entire flight, especially if you intend to sleep on the plane, so don’t waste this opportunity. And keep in mind that an early check-in will grant you more seats to choose from.
Saving time by skipping check-in kiosks
Whether you’re traveling with a checked bag or a carry-on only, you will save time at the airport by checking-in online.
If you’re traveling with just a carry-on bag, you can head to the security check as soon as you arrive at the airport, rather than making a first stop at the check-in desk, since you already have your printed boarding pass, or, better yet, you e-ticket.
If you did bring a checked bag, look for a line that says something like “bag drop only” instead of “bag drop & check-in”. Those queues are usually shorter and faster since the airport staff only needs to take your luggage.
Saving money on additional luggage
As we’ll see right after, you can also add another luggage to your reservation during the online check-in process, if you forgot to do so when purchasing your tickets.
Purchasing additional baggage during online check-in will generally be cheaper than waiting until you’re at the airport to do so.
Upgrading your travel experience
With online check-in, here’s more for you to do to improve your travel experience than choosing your seat assignment. Airlines have tailored the process to give you the opportunity to get your credit card out once more before the flight.
Rather than merely letting you check-in for your flight, the airline allows you to also:
- Add extra luggage
- Buy “priority boarding” to be among the first passengers to board the plane
- Book a hotel or car rental from one of their partners
- Add insurance
- And more
Check-in from anywhere
Since all you need is an internet connection, you can check-in from anywhere you want, either on the airline’s website or app.
I’d recommend doing so on your phone so that you can directly download your boarding pass or e-ticket and be sure to have it with you at the time of the flight. Usually, I download the airline’s app to have all my travel information stored in one place.
What should you be careful about?
Some airlines will make you pay a fine if you haven’t checked-in online or if you don’t have a printed copy of your boarding pass. For instance, Wizzair will charge you anywhere between 10 and 30€ for checking-in at the airport rather than online, and up to 50€ per passenger if your boarding pass isn’t printed out.
What if you can’t print your boarding pass? Even if you don’t have a printer, you can still check-in online and get your copy at the airport. If you have a smartphone, most airlines in 2021 will also be able to scan it directly off your screen. Even if you don’t have a paper copy of your boarding pass, your seat is safe.
Also, related to the previous section, don’t fall for all the “amazing deals” the airline offers you while checking-in online. Ask yourself whether you really need whatever they offer to make your trip better and purchase only that.
Finally, be mindful of the check-in time: the airline may deny you boarding if you didn’t check-in on time. In that case, not only would you be unable to board, but you also wouldn’t be entitled to denied boarding compensation, because it would be regarded as your responsibility.
When to check-in for your flight online
Most airlines let you check in from 24h to 48h prior to departure time, up until a few hours before departure. Make sure that you check-in during this window and remember that when it comes to seat selection, the earlier, the better.
Note that in Europe, some low-cost airlines like easyJet and Wizz Air let passengers check-in online up to 30 days before departure.
How to check-in online for your flight
In order to check-in online you will need your flight details, your PNR (aka booking number or confirmation number) and your passport number, if you are on an international flight. You also need to know the number of bags you’ll be checking in.
Head over to the airline’s website or app and look for the “online check-in” section. Fill out your confirmation number and passenger details, go through all the steps to buy add-ons, until finally you get the chance to download your e-ticket or have it sent to your email.
One thing to keep in mind, if you’ve purchased your tickets via an online travel agency or somewhere else than from the airline: the booking confirmation you will need to check-in online is that of the airline, not the confirmation number from the reservation third-party.
All you need to board the plane is the ID document you used to check-in and your mobile device with the e-ticket or boarding pass.
Why you can’t check-in online
Unfortunately, online check-in isn’t always an option and you may be denied the chance to do so if:
- You’ve been (randomly) selected for secondary screening
- You requested special assistance for a child traveling alone or a wheelchair
- You are traveling as a large group (many people under the same booking reservation)
- The first flight of your itinerary is operated by one of the airline’s codeshare partners
- The airline doesn’t have your passport on file yet (only for international travel)
If you try to check-in online but can’t, it’s likely for one of those reasons. You must then come earlier to the airport and head to the check-in kiosk before your flight.
Useful links to check-in online with your airline
Air France online check-in
British Airways online check-in
EasyJet online check-in
Iberia online check-in
KLM online check-in
Lufthansa online check-in
Ryanair online check-in
Vueling online check-in
Wizz Air online check-in
Final Words on Online-Check-In
Online check-in will definitely make you appreciate your trip even more and help you leave with your mind at ease. The good news is that almost all major airlines offer this option nowadays!
So if you want to save time during baggage drop off, choose your seat on the plane, and make sure you have the best flight experience possible, make sure to check in online for your next flight!
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