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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?

Person handing smartphone with digital boarding pass to a gate agent

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 for My Flight Online?

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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. 

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

What to Do After Online Check-In

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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.

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?

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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. 

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