Airline Check in Question

Does anyone know why there is a seemingly arbitrary 24 hour time limit before you can check into most airlines online prior to travel? What would happen if someone was able to check in 25 or 26 hours in advance? Would it lead to the end of civilization as we know it?

They actually do check in before that. If you are traveling from Tokyo to New York with a change of planes in Los Angeles, you can check in for both flights based on the time the first one leaves.

My guess if you could check in earlier is that many people would accidentally check into the flight for the previous day.

I doubt it - you can check in for a flight only if you have a reservation for it.

Yes, since there are lots of daily flights and each of them have the same flight number, it would be very easy to sign in for the wrong one.

While we are on the subject, what is the point of checking in early? I always just go to the airport and checkin at the kiosk or ticket desk. I don’t really see what checking in online does for you.

Before self check in, you could only check in at the airport. You know: once it was proven by your presence that you were actually there.

The point of having a check in seems completely pointless to me in this day and age. I’ve got my ticket and seat assignment; why in the world do I still have to go through a pointless check in step? Especially when I can do it from home, oversleep, and miss the flight anyway. Isn’t checking in supposed to be a “hey, I’m here!” signal?

Well, there simply has to be a cut-off time. If it is 24 hours, someone will ask why it isn’t 25 hours. If it is 36 hours, someone will ask why it isn’t 37 hours. The advantage of an arbitrary decision is that it is usually definitive.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was reluctance to make the check-in time 48 or 72 hours, simply because it may become more common for people to check in for flights that they don’t actually show up for. Someone may check in for a flight two days prior, only to find that their plans change a few hours later – no rational person is going to then remember to go back to the airline and un-check in.

My guess is that it has to do with airtravel economy. The airline sells more tickets than seats on the plane, knowing that a percentage X will not show up / check in. The longer the check in time the less no shows the less free money for the airline.

They need some time though. Partly not to annoy people too much but more importantly to know in time if by accident ‘too many’ people check in so they can try to tempt them to take a later flight at a discount. I guess 24 hours is nicely in the middle. Plus the fact that 24 hours is exactly 1 day which makes it easy to calculate when that is …

I’m really speculating here, based on my general distrust of large companies so I’d love to be proven wrong by an insider who really knows this stuff…

Nah, when you enter your confirmation code you get the one and only one reservation that goes with it. You’d never have the opportunity to check into the same numbered flight on a different day, the option simply wouldn’t be there barring a catastrophic bug in the checkin software.

Because of Southwest.

If you’re flying almost any other airline, you’re assigned a seat when you purchase the ticket, so yes, it doesn’t really make any difference when you check in. On Southwest, you’re assigned a “boarding order” based on the time you check in. The sooner you check in, the higher you are in the boarding order, and you have a better choice of seats.

You avoid having to stand in a line. You avoid having to allow an extra few minutes just in case there is a line. At larger airports there may be some distance between the check-in point and security. If so you avoid needing to walk that distance and can be dropped off directly in front of security. You also avoid the small risk that just when you arrive to check in they have a computer outage at the kiosks. In general the more stuff you can pre-prepare in any project, the less exposed you are to last-minute screw-ups. Given that the airplane isn’t going to wait for you, eliminating as many sources of last-minute screw-up as possible is good tactics.

Many passengers don’t get a seat assignment until they check in. That’s mostly what it’s for. FOlks like you with far advance seat assignments are (AFAIK) the minority. In cases like yours the real value is entirely for the airline; we get to know whether you’ve forgotten about your trip or your plans have changed earlier in the process than if we had to wait until 10 minutes before departure when you’re just not there.


It’s definitely a trade-off. We now have to deal with check-ins that aren’t real. Which is a slowly growing problem. But the advantage to the airline of needing lots fewer kiosks and space for them, and the convenience advantage to the customer of doing it from home, both militate towards keeping advance check-in pretty much as it is.

On Air Canada you have to pay extra to get a seat assignment when you buy the ticket. When you sign in you get an assigned seat and then they cannot bump you. I am always careful to check in as close to 24 hours before as I can. Also if you have a boarding pass, I think you go through a shorter line at the airport.

Oh, hell yes! How long has it been since 9/11? How long has it been since only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond security (with exceptions)? Every time (every time!) I fly I encounter several people who are clueless about flying. They aren’t all Geritol folks who haven’t flown since the Wright Brothers. Most are 20-30 somethings, with practically everyone of them glued to social media. Yet they have no idea about boarding passes, baggage, standing in line, TSA security, etc.

If I can be ready in advance of all these folks, checked in, boarding passes printed (I have them on my phone but I never trust that works just when I get to TSA security), etc., all the better for me. Same at the gate and boarding.

Just knowing I’m already checked in at least 24 hours in advance also means I can schedule my arrival time at the airport to avoid lines.

On Easyjet in the UK you can check 31 days in advance and print your boarding cards.

There is a difference between airlines and their sales strategies: a few airlines do not overbook flights, and if you miss your flight, you’re out the price of that leg. I can see that checking in is less important for such airlines: the seat is paid for whether you’re in it or not.

Most major carriers overbook to assure that they have butts in seats, because they are more lenient to rebooking passengers on other flights to get them to their destinations. Checking in is surely more important for these carriers, because there may be a number of people who are waiting to see if everyone shows up for the flight before they know if they are on that airplane.

They’d have to pay me to fly Southwest.

I often do a pre-check-in, then when I get to the airport I have to stand in line behind those who haven’t checked in because I still have to check my luggage in-person. :frowning:

Most airlines have separate lines for those purposes. (But some then understaff the counter so they can’t handle them separately…)

Yup. That was exactly my experience a month ago.

If they ever raise the cost of a checked bag I may look into the cost of shipping it ahead of time with USPS. (Only half kidding.)