Should I Check In Online Or At The Airport?

So should you check in online or at the airport? And why most people prefer to check in online?

Nowadays Airline companies tend to make the entire industry automated and easy to access. And online ticket booking and check in will save more time and even money.

When booking online  you can easily compare prices of multiple airlines to get your air tickets for an affordable price. Also, it is easy to do online flight booking as multiple payment options are available.

But what about checking in for your flight, is it best to check in online or at the airport?

Check in online is always better than the airport and it has numerous advantages. You can download your boarding pass 24 hours before your flight, modify your luggage and select your seat, in addition you can skip the check in line at the airport if you don’t have a checked bag

However check in online is not accessible on any flight but most airlines provide it, and for other passengers, check in at the airport seems more convenient to them .

Below will explain what’s the difference between check in online or at the airport, and why you should check in online.

Also will go through some examples on how check in online works using United website the same process works for other airlines.

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anonymous person with tablet in hands in city
Photo by Eren Li on

What Is Check-In?

If you are a frequent traveler you are familiar with these air travel terms like check-in, boarding, baggage allowance, carry on baggage, this will help you browse airlines websites easily and find what you are looking for quickly.

So let’s see what the check in is.

The action of registering one’s presence, typically as a passenger at an airport or the airline website.

Wikipedia detailed the check-in as follows:

Online Check-in: is the process in which passengers confirm their presence on a flight via the Internet and typically print their own boarding passes. Depending on the carrier and the specific flight, passengers may also enter details such as meal options and baggage quantities and select their preferred seating.


Airport check-in is the process whereby passengers are accepted by an airline at the airport prior to travel. The airlines typically use service counters found at airports. The check-in is normally handled by an airline itself or a handling agent working on behalf of an airline. Passengers usually hand over any baggage that they do not wish or are not allowed to carry into the aircraft’s cabin and receive a boarding pass before they can proceed to board their aircraft.


Is It Better To Check In Online Or At The Airport?

Most airlines provide different options for passengers to check in for their flights.

  1. Mobile check using the App
  2. Via the airlines website
  3. At the Airport check in counter
  4. At the airport self-serve kiosk

But when checking online you get the chance to select your seat, save time at the airport, pay any applicable checked baggage fees which is cheap than the airport, and get your boarding pass in a matter of minutes.

There are also plenty of other benefits. Sometimes you may get an upgrade to premium economy.

Just to know some airlines may not provide the possibility to check in on their website or the app for certain destinations.

Do You Get Your Boarding Pass When You Check In Online?

Yes, once you’ve checked in online, you will get an email with your boarding pass, print it, so you can show it at the airport on your mobile device, or access it in a mobile app.

If you don’t have access to a printer or a smartphone, you can print your boarding pass once you get to the airport as well. This doesn’t save you any time at the airport but does allow you to choose your seat further in advance than you would if you waited till a couple of hours before your flight.

If you forget to print your bearding pass and your phone dead at the airport or didn’t work for some reason the airport security will not let you pass until you show them a valid ticket or boarding pass.

When To Check In For a Flight?

Almost all major airlines recommended check in before 24 hours prior the departure, and arriving at the airport early to allow plenty of time (with or without bags) to clear security before scheduled departure.

airlines are not so different about check-in time:

for example American airlines

You can check-in online or from the app starting 24 hours before and up to 45 minutes before departure (90 for international).

at the airport, you must be there a certain amount of time before scheduled departure:

  • Within the U.S. – 45 minutes
  • To or from destinations outside the U.S. – 60 minutes

For example United Airlines require Starting 24 hours before your scheduled departure time, you can check in for your flight in the following ways:

  Go to check in

Credit: United website
  • Enter your confirmation or eTicket number and last name


  • Log in using your MileagePlus® account information
  • or 2. Open the United app, click the Check-in box and enter your confirmation or eTicket number and last name in the designated fields.

Select Your Seat When Check-In

Most airlines When you book a flight on their websites, will allow you to choose your seat.

If not you can browse the website check-in from the homepage and enter your name and record. From there, you can choose seats. If seats are unavailable, check back later or you can change seats when you check in.

Some Airlines keep some seats until the day of departure to allow their airport personnel to accommodate passenger needs.

If you are unable to reserve a seat at the time of booking, you may get your seat when you check in for your flight at the airport.

Seats may become available closer to the day of departure; you can frequently visit your airline website to check the available seats for your flight.

Why Can’t I Check In Online?

Sometimes you can’t check in online if :

  • Your first flight is not operated by your main airline
  • You’re traveling with a pet, weapon or firearm
  • You’re an unaccompanied minor
  • It is not before the allowed check in time of your airline hours before your flight.

Final Thoughts

One of the major benefits of check in online is to get your boarding pass and save time at the airport. If you check in your Airline website you don’t need to wait in the line at the check in counter at the airport.

And if you are traveling with carry-on only and you don’t need to drop your suitcase, you can head straight to the security checkpoint.

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