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The Ultimate Guide to Online Check-In for Flights

The days of paper tickets and standing in line to check-in are (mostly) long gone, but many travelers still have questions about checking in online for their flight. 

Here’s everything you need to know about online check-in. 

What Is Online Check-In?

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Online check-in allows you to check in for your flight from anywhere in the world. Simply log-on to the airline’s website or app and input your name and booking confirmation number to start the online check-in process. 

Note that if you booked your flight through a third-party site, like Expedia, you’ll likely have two numbers: a confirmation number from the booking site as well as a record locator code from the airline. You’ll need the record locator code to check-in on the airline’s website. 

During the online check-in process you can choose a seat, add meals, opt for an upgrade, and more. After checking in, you’ll get the option to print your boarding pass, have it emailed to you, or save your ticket to your Apple Wallet. You can also opt to print your boarding pass at the airport at one of the kiosks and still skip waiting in the check-in line.

Should I Check In for My Flight Online?

Checking-in online allows you to check in for your flight earlier than if you waited until you got to the airport, which means there will be more seats available to choose from. 

By checking-in early and reserving your seat, you’ll also have less of a chance of being involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight compared to someone checking-in at the last minute. 

When Should I Check-In Online for My Flight?

Most airlines allow online check-in beginning 24 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure time. Some international airlines open check-in 48 hours before the flight, so always check with your airline. 

Set a reminder in your phone to check-in as early as possible, so you can snag the best possible seat if you haven’t been able to reserve one ahead of time. 

Below are the check-in windows for 32 popular domestic and international airlines.  

*Online check-in windows may vary depending on the departure and arrival city. Always check your carrier’s website for specific rules before checking in. 

Domestic Airlines

Airline Online Check-In Opens (Time Before Departure) Online Check-In Closes (Time Before Departure)
Alaska Airlines 24 hours 1 hour
Allegiant 24 hours 45 minutes
American Airlines 24 hours 45 minutes
Delta 24 hours Not Stated
Frontier 24 hours 1 hour
Hawaiian Airlines 24 hours 45 minutes (for flights to/from mainland North America)
30 minutes (for flights between islands)
Jetblue 24 hours 40 minutes (domestic)
1 hours (international)
Southwest Airlines 24 hours 1 hour
Spirit Airlines 24 hours 1 hour
United Airlines 24 hours 1 hour

International Airlines

Airline Online Check-In Opens (Time Before Departure) Online Check-In Closes (Time Before Departure)
Aer Lingus 48 hours (for flights within Europe)
24 hours (for flights to/from North America)
95 minutes (flights to/from North America)
For flights within Europe, closing times vary.
Aeroflot 24 hours 45 minutes
Air Canada 24 hours Not Stated
Air China 8:00pm two days prior to departure (for flights within China)
36 hours (for international flights)
1 hour (domestic)

3 hours (international)
Air France 30 hours Not Stated
Air New Zealand 24 hours 30 minutes (domestic)
1 hour (international)
British Airways 24 hours 1 hour
2 hours (for flights to/from United States)
Cathay Pacific 48 hours 90 minutes
China Eastern 48 hours
24 hours (flights to/from Canadian and US Airports)
9pm the day before (flights from Harbin Airport)
45 minutes (domestic)

1 hour (international)
China Southern 2:00pm the day before 1 hour
easyJet 30 days 2 hours
Emirate 48 hours 90 minutes
Ethiopian Airways 2 days (domestic)
48 hours (international)
1 hour (domestic)
3 hours (international)
Etihad Airways 48 hours 1 hour
KLM 30 hours
24 hours (flights to/from United States)
Not Stated
Lufthansa 30 hours Not Stated
Norwegian 48 hours 1 hour
Qantas 24 hours 30 minutes (domestic)
90 minutes (international)
Ryanair 24 hours
60 days (with pre-reserved seat)
2 hours
Singapore Airlines 48 hours 1.5 hours
Turkish Airlines 24 hours 90 minutes
WestJet 24 hours 1 hour

Unsure whether to check a bag or travel carry-on only? Check out our handy guide to the carry-on and personal item size limits for each of the airlines listed above. 

Why Can’t I Check-In Online?

Sometimes, you’ll be unable to check-in online. This typically happens on an international flight where the airline needs to verify your passport, visas, and other travel documents in person before allowing you to board. Other reasons for not being allowed to check-in online can include:

  • Being selected for secondary screening by TSA
  • Your ticket was issued by a codeshare partner airline and not the airline you’re traveling with
  • Traveling in a large group
  • Your flight is overbooked
  • There was an issue with your information or documents uploaded to the online check-in platform
  • You are traveling with pets or large and/or specialized luggage
  • You are traveling as an unaccompanied minor

If you are asked to check-in at the airport, remember to factor that into your schedule and arrive at the airport earlier to accommodate any issues that may arise. 

What to Do After Online Check-In

Once you receive your electronic boarding pass, you can head straight to security if you’re traveling carry-on only. If you’re checking a bag, you’ll still need to stop by the ticketing area at the airport. Look for special “bag drop” lines that bypass longer check-in lines.

Some airlines offer fares, such as the Basic Fare on Porter Airlines, that allow customers to check-in online but will not issue them a digital boarding pass. Checked-in passengers will still have to visit a kiosk or the check-in desk at the airport to obtain a physical boarding pass. Make sure to read the fine print when traveling on a low fare or budget airline so you’re not in for any surprises at the airport.

Why Can’t I Choose My Seat During Online Check-In?

If you bought a basic economy ticket, you might not even be able to choose your seat at online check-in. You’ll either have to pay extra to choose a seat or ask the gate agent to reassign you to a better seat if possible when you arrive at the airport. 

Why Didn’t I Get TSA PreCheck When Checking-In Online?

Make sure your TSA PreCheck number (your known traveler number) is saved in your profile with the airline before checking in. If it is, and you still didn’t get TSA PreCheck on your ticket, read our story here to find out why else you might not have gotten PreCheck and what you can do about it.

How Early Do I Need to Get to the Airport if I’ve Checked-in Online?

You don’t need to get to the airport three hours early if you’ve checked-in online and have your boarding pass, but you should still leave plenty of time to get through security. 

If you still need to check-in a bag and you don’t have TSA PreCheck, you might want to get to the airport two hours early so that you have plenty of extra time in case of lengthy lines.

If you are not checking a bag, and you have TSA PreCheck, you could arrive as close to an hour before your boarding time. However, you may want to leave more time as a buffer if you’re traveling through a notoriously slow airport or during busy holiday periods. 

Is Checking in Online for Your Flight Worth It?

Online check-in allows passengers to reserve their preferred seats and skip the line at the check-in desk. According to CheapOAir, there are some financial benefits to online check-in as well—passengers checking in online typically pay a lower bag check fee than those checking in at the airport. 

In general, checking in online for your flight reduces your risk of being bumped, saves time at the airport, and reduces the number of documents you need to keep track of during your travels. 

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