When you have an upcoming flight, you might have noticed that you receive an email from the airline asking you to check in online, but is this required?

While you have the option of checking in online, and there are a few good reasons why you might want to do so, you are not required to check in online and can wait until you get to the airport instead.

Online Check-in Opening & Closing Times

While it can vary by airline, most airlines will let you check in from anywhere between 24 hours and 48 hours before the scheduled departure time.

Generally, airlines will not allow you to check in online if there is less than 1 hour before your flight is scheduled to depart.

How to Check in Online for a Flight

Some airlines make the process of checking in online as simple as quick as possible by actually checking you in automatically without you having to do anything.

Generally, to check in online, you will need access to your flight number, name, booking confirmation and ID or passport number (if flying internationally).

You will receive a confirmation email once you have checked in online along with your boarding pass.

Why You Sometimes Can’t Check in Online

In some instances, you are unable to check in online.

This may because:

  • You are flying with a pet
  • You are flying as part of a large group
  • You need wheelchair or other special access
  • You are an unaccompanied minor
  • Your flight is not operated by your main airline (codeshare flights)
  • You have been marked for secondary screening by the TSA

Why You Should check in Online for a Flight

1. Choose Your Seat

With many airlines, when you check in online, you are given the option of choosing your seat.

Keep in mind that some airlines require you to pay for choosing your seat, while others will let you do so for free.

2. Save Time

If you check in online and are only planning on bringing a carry-on, you will be provided with your boarding pass and can head straight to airport security.

Even if you have to check in a bag, you may still be able to save time by printing out a luggage tag at the airport and dropping your bag off at a designated bag drop desk.

3. Avoid Being Bumped

Passengers who check in last are more likely to be bumped from a flight, as it is common for airlines to sell too many tickets for a flight.

4. You May Get Charged Extra

Some ultra low-cost airlines will actually charge you extra to check in at the airport in the form of printing out a boarding pass for you.

Why You Shouldn’t Check in Online for a Flight

1. No Chance of an Upgrade

There’s never any harm in asking for an upgrade when you go to the airport.

While the chances are small, the chances are none if you first check in online

2. Can’t Change Your Seat

If you aren’t willing to pay to be able to choose a specific seat, the airline will randomly assign your seat for you.

This can mean that you end up sitting in a less desirable seat, such as in the middle or at the back of the plane.

If you wait until you are at the airport to check in, you can ask the check-in agent if there are any aisle or window seats, or any other seats according to your preference, available.

3. Can’t Make Last Minute Changes

Some airlines, especially ultra low-cost airlines, will have a no change/cancellation policy after you check in.

So you will want to wait until the airport to check in, if you think your plans might change at the last moment.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).