Why you should ALWAYS use online checkin

It strikes me that while most people these days know what online checkin (OLCI) is, many people still don’t use it. Largely it seems that this is because people have concerns about how or when they’re going to check their luggage in and are worried about its integration into the system. A few people are even still afraid of the technology altogether.

Besides the obvious benefits of having your boarding pass up to twenty four hours in advance though, there are other benefits to using OLCI.

The most important is that it tells the airline that you’ve thought about your itinerary and that you’re coming. This prevents them from kicking you off the flight and selling your ticket at the last minute to someone else. See, most airlines have a rule that you must be checked in thirty to forty five minutes prior to departure; if you’re not there before, then they have permission to boot you from the flight and cancel your itinerary.

By checking in online, however, the airline can’t close the flight and move on without you. Even if you make it at the last minute or even if you don’t make it at all, they should hold your seat until the very last second. Only then, if you haven’t showed up at that point and they need the spare seats will they substitute someone else in.

This is particularly handy if you’re only traveling with carry-on luggage. You can show up well inside the forty five minute window, blitzkrieg through security get to your gate five minutes before pushback. As long as the jetbridge is attached and the door is open they should let you on. This is the only way that I’ve made several of my flights.

10 tips for smarter flying

You don’t even have to print your boarding pass. If you haven’t got a printer around prior to departure, you can always scoot online and check in without printing your particulars. Once you get to the airport you can reprint it and go on your merry way. Last week on a return flight from New York to Cleveland I showed up at La Guardia 10 minutes before pushback (in my defense the M60 was crawling). Asking the Continental Airlines gate agent to print my boarding pass she refused, saying that it was too close to departure. I told her that I was already checked in and she reluctantly agreed to reprint the pass. Result? I made my flight by about 30 seconds.

But what if I am checking luggage, you ask? When time is critical, checking in online still holds an advantage. Most carriers have separate lines at ticketing for “full” versus “luggage only” check-in. The “luggage only” line always moves faster because all you have to do is scan your boarding pass, drop off your bags and head through security. And when you’re close to that forty five minute cutoff (it applies for luggage as well), a fast moving line is critical.

And if you lose or forget your boarding pass? No problem. Just ask an airline agent to reprint it, give them your ID and they’ll oblige. Really. I lose boarding passes all of the time.

Another advantage to checking in online is the flexibility in seat assignments. The last seven days prior to departure are full of seat changes, as travelers jockey around the plane getting upgraded and finding the best seats. At the twenty four hour window (when OLCI opens), better seats on the plane can also open up. So if you’ve been pining to sit in the exit row or even next to your travel companion, you can do this from your home computer early rather than begging an airport agent to help you out later.

So take it from the frequent traveler. It’s always a good idea to check in online before you travel. That faithful day that you run into traffic, a parade or a revolution on the way into the airport and make it to ticketing at the last second with your boarding pass you’ll thank yourself.