Airport terminal check-in services

To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love aviation, the sky is home.

- Anonymous.

Panorama of a modern airport check-in hall at Buenos Aires-Ezeiza International Airport
Panorama of a modern airport check-in hall
at Buenos Aires-Ezeiza International Airport

Airport check-in uses service counters found at commercial airports handling commercial air travel. 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-on to the aircraft's cabin and receive a boarding pass before they can proceed to board their aircraft.

Check-in is usually the first procedure for a passenger when arriving at an airport, as airline regulations require passengers check-in by certain times prior to the departure of a flight. This duration spans from 30 min to 4 hours depending on the destination and airline. During this process, the passenger has the ability to ask for special accommodations such as seating preferences, inquire about flight or destination information, make changes to reservations, accumulate frequent flyer program miles, or pay for upgrades.

The airline check-in's main function, however, is to accept baggage that is to go in the aircraft's cargo hold and issue boarding passes.

Check-in options and procedures vary per airline with some airlines allowing certain restrictions other airlines have in place, and occasionally the same airline at two separate airports may have different check-in procedures. Such differences are usually not noted by the average passenger and occasionally leads to service interruptions when one carrier refuses to abide by the procedure that another carrier normally would be willing to do.

In-town check-in service is a service offered by some cities such as Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Hong Kong, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur or Vienna, where passengers may check in their baggage in designated places within the city but outside the airport. This reduces check in time and queuing at the airport.

Passenger registration


At the time of check-in one of the Agent's primary duties is to check for valid documents. This include tickets, invitation letters, passports, visas, etc. (depending on the type of visit, the arrival and destination of the trip). Some airlines, however, don't require this for domestic and intra-EU flights, allowing passengers to travel without their ID checked at any point (unless they are checking-in baggage).

In countries like the United States, which has special requirements, passengers have to provide information like their name, address and contact details of places in which they live, from which they are taking the flight and in which they intend to stay once in the United States. This information, known as Advance Passenger Information, is now usually collected online with or after the flight booking.

Baggage registration


At the time of check-in, the passenger hands over baggage which is checked by the airport security and sealed. Anything that is above the weight limit or which is not allowed to be carried by the passenger himself to the aircraft cabin is usually handed over to the agent at the time of check-in. The baggage allowance, if any, is prescribed by the airline and anything in excess will warrant additional surcharges.

On the commercial transportation, mostly with airlines, the baggage allowance is the amount of checked or carry-on luggage the airline will allow per passenger. On some airlines, this is the amount that is allowed free of charge. In other cases, this is the firm limit, and carrying additional weight for an extra payment is not an option.

The general allowance per passenger depends on the policies of the particular airline. On U.S. domestic flights, it was typical for an airline to allow passengers to check up to 2 pieces of baggage that are up to 50 pounds (22.7 kg) each free of charge (total 100 pounds = 45.4 kg), and this can be exceeded for a fee. This changed during 2007 with most airlines now charging for both the first and second bag. However, within Europe, and often on flights between the United States and Europe, the limit is as low as 40 pounds (18 kilograms) total per passenger, and many airlines do not allow passengers to exceed this amount, even with payment of a fee. Many passengers complain about this limit, because after the typical 15-20 pounds (7–8 kg) of the suitcase itself, little room remains for any other items.

Checked baggage is usually measured by weight. All checked items are generally weighed by the airline, and if they exceed the limit, the passenger is informed by the airline. To avoid any fees, the passenger often must switch some of the items found in the suitcase to another suitcase, or else carry it on.

Carry-on baggage tends to be measured more in dimensions. Passengers can thereby skip weight restrictions by carrying on the item. However, there are more restrictions on the types of belongings that can be carried on the plane.

On flights over the Atlantic Ocean (and on selected flights which vary by airline), passenger baggage is controlled by the so-called Piece Concept. Under the Piece Concept, passengers are permitted to check two bags with a per-bag weight of up to 50 pounds (23 kilograms) for Economy Class, and up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms) for Business or First Class. Certain airlines operating under the Piece Concept may add additional checked baggage allowance for their Elite Level fliers. Weight restrictions are per bag, unlike the Weight Concept. Most airlines have changed the policy and allow as of November 2009 only one bag to be checked in for free. The second bag will cost between $50-55.

On flights not serving the United States or Canada (or other locations specified by the airline where the Piece Concept does not apply), passenger baggage is controlled by the so-called Weight Concept. Under the Weight Concept, each passenger is permitted to check a total bag weight in however many bags they have. Typically, Economy Class is permitted to check in up to 20 kilograms, Business Class is permitted to check in 30 kilograms, and First Class is permitted 40 kilograms. Some Airlines mainly based in the Middle East such as Emirates, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways etc. offer 10kg extra per class, so 30kg Economy, 40kg Business and 50kg in First Class. Unlike the Piece Concept, in which weight restrictions are per bag, the Weight Concept allows passengers to combine their bag weight into fewer bags which would otherwise be too heavy to travel under the Piece Concept.

Online check-in


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. This service is generally promoted by the airlines to passengers as being easier and faster because it reduces the time a passenger would normally spend at an airport check-in counter if required. Some airlines however would still require passengers to proceed to a check-in counter at the airport regardless of preferred check-in method for document verification (e.g. to travel to countries where a visa is required or to inspect if the credit card used at purchase matches the identity of the person who made the purchase). If a passenger needs to continue the check-in process at the airport after performing an online check-in, a special lane is typically offered to them to reduce wait times. Furthermore, online check-in for a flight is often available earlier than its in-person counterpart. The process then transfers to passengers the control over their check-in. Airlines may use the system because self-service is frequently more efficient to operate, with a greater ability to cope with surges in passenger numbers. It also lessens activity at the airport, saving airlines money and reducing passenger waiting times.

Ryanair charges passengers a fee for not using online check-in, except in certain limited circumstances. Furthermore, by the start of 2010, all passengers were required to check in online, therefore abolishing the use of check-in desks.

Alaska Airlines was the first to offer online check-in. The system was first offered on a limited basis starting in September 1999 and was available to the general public on selected flights a month later. Since then, a growing number of airlines have introduced the system.

Typically, web based check-in for airline travel is offered on the airline's website not earlier than 24 hours before a flight's scheduled departure or 7 days for Internet Check-In Assistant. However, some airlines allow a longer time, such as Ryanair which opens online check-in 15 days beforehand. Depending on the airline, there can be benefits of better seating or upgrades to first/business class offered to the first people to check-in for a flight. In order to meet this demand, some sites have offered travelers the ability to request an airline check-in prior to the 24 hour window and receive airline boarding passes by email when available from the airline.

Mobile check-in


In the mid-late 2000s, checking-in was made possible using a passenger's mobile phone or PDA. A GPRS or 3G-capable smartphone or an internet-capable PDA is required and the check-in feature may be accessed by keying-in a website on the mobile phone's browser or by downloading a dedicated application. The process is then similar to that which one would expect when checking-in using a personal computer. At the end of the mobile check-in process some airlines would send a mobile boarding pass to a passenger's mobile device which can be scanned at the airport during security checks and boarding. However others would send an electronic confirmation with a barcode that can be presented to the staff at check-in or scanned at the kiosks to continue the check-in process (i.e. to have boarding passes issued).

Gate / Lounge check-in


Air New Zealand domestic services introduced a self-check-in process allowing passengers with baggage to arrive and check-in at the self-service kiosks up to 10 min prior to departure time. Passengers then attach the baggage tag and drop the bag themselves at the baggage drop belt. However, passengers without checked baggage can go straight to the lounge (if entitled to lounge access) and check in at the kiosk there using their ePass (a small RFID device only for its premium customers) or proceed straight to the departure gate when boarding using either their ePass or mPass (an application which can be downloaded or installed onto mobile phones to work as an electronic boarding pass).

Change of reservations


In some situations, it may be necessary to change a passenger's travel plans and the check-in counter will handle these concerns. This may involve changing itinerary, upgrading class of travel, changing to an earlier or later flight but such changes are subject to the conditions of the tickets issued.

Check-in counters of Thai Airways at Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Check-in counters of Thai Airways at
Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi International Airport

Premium check-in and lounge access


If the passenger carries a first or business class ticket or presents a certain frequent flyer program membership card (usually the higher-level tiers), or any other arrangements with the carrier, access to the premium check-in area and/or the lounge may be offered. Premium check-in areas vary between airlines and airports. The main airport in which the airline hub is located normally offers a more thorough and exclusive premium check-in experience, normally inside a separate check-in lounge. Air New Zealand's Auckland International premium check-in lounge provides a dedicated customs clearance counter and direct shortcut access to the security checkpoints. Airlines operating in minor airports generally offer an exclusive and separate Premium check-in queue lane, often combined for its first, business, and/or premium economy passengers. Singapore Airlines also offers this service to First Class and Suites passengers whose flights depart Singapore Changi Airport's Terminal 3. These passengers have a dedicated curb side entrance and can wait at the couches while staff assist them in checking-in. They are then lead to a dedicated passport control counter.



Boarding is the entry of passengers onto a vehicle, usually in public transportation. Boarding starts with entering the vehicle and ends with the seating of each passenger and closure of the doors. The term is used in road, water and air transport (for example, passengers board a coach).

At commercial airports, a boarding call on the public announcement system asks travelers to proceed to the exit gate and board the aircraft. This can begin any time from an hour to thirty minutes before departure (depending on the size of the plane and number of passengers). For boarding an aircraft, airstairs or jetways are used. Small aircraft may carry their own stairs.

Airlines control the access to the aircraft by checking passengers' boarding passes and matching them with the list of passengers. Many airlines use the IATA standard Bar Coded Boarding Passes (BCBP) to automate this process. A 2D bar code is scanned and the data are sent to the airline's system to look up the list of passengers. If the passenger is entitled to board, a positive message is sent back to the airline agent. Boarding in air travel is supervised by ground personnel.

Jet bridge


A jet bridge (also termed jetway, loading bridge, aerobridge/airbridge, air jetty, portal, passenger walkway or passenger boarding bridge) is an enclosed, movable connector which extends from an airport terminal gate to an airplane, allowing passengers to board and disembark without having to go outside. Depending on building design, sill heights, fueling positions and operational requirements, it may be fixed or movable, swinging radially or extending in length.

Jetway is a registered trademark of JBT AeroTech. However, it is often used in North American parlance to refer to any jet bridge, regardless of manufacturer.

Prior to the introduction of jet bridges, passengers would normally board an aircraft by walking along the ground-level ramp and climbing a set of movable stairs, or up airstairs on aircraft so equipped. Mobile staircases or "ramp stairs" are still employed at many airports around the world, particularly smaller airports and terminals supporting low cost carriers.



Loading bridges provide all-weather dry access to aircraft and enhance the security of terminal operations. They are often permanently attached at one end by a pivot (or "rotunda") to the terminal building and have the ability to swing left or right. The "cab", located at the end of the loading bridge, may be raised or lowered, extended or retracted, and may pivot, in order to accommodate aircraft of different sizes. These motions are controlled by an operator's station in the cab. The cab is provided with an accordion-like canopy, which allows the bridge to dock with aircraft with differing contours, and provide a nearly weather-proof seal. Additionally, many models offer leveling devices for the portion of the floor that makes contact with the aircraft. This allows passengers to slowly transition from level aircraft floor to sloping jet bridge floor. As such, jet bridges provide enhanced access to aircraft for passengers with many types of disabilities and mobility impairments, as they may board and disembark without climbing stairs or using a specialized wheelchair lift.

Some airports with international gates have two bridges for larger aircraft with multiple entrances. In theory, this allows for faster boarding and disembarking of larger aircraft, though it is quite common to use one bridge for only passengers in first class and business class, while the other bridge is only for the use of passengers in economy class. With the arrival of the full double-deck airliners such as the Airbus A380, it is expected that each deck will have one or more loading bridges. Such connectors are being constructed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Johannesburg International Airport. These are already in use at Dubai International Airport, Karachi Jinnah International Airport, Melbourne Airport, Sydney Airport, Singapore Changi Airport, Toronto Pearson Airport, Montreal-Trudeau Airport, Incheon International Airport and Narita Airport with the A380.

Though loading bridges are usually permanently attached at their terminal-building end, leaving only the cab free to move, this is not always the case. Those at Melbourne Airport's international terminal are anchored in the middle and movable at either end – the terminal building-end can be raised or lowered to connect with either the departures level or the arrivals level of the terminal building.



Loading bridges restrict aircraft parking to spots immediately adjacent to the terminal. Thus, airports still use mobile staircases to facilitate boarding at hardstands (remote parking positions).

Loading bridges may pose hazards to aircraft if handled improperly. If the bridge is not retracted fully prior to departure, it may contact protruding parts of the taxiing aircraft (e.g. a pitot tube), requiring repair and delays. Furthermore, during cold weather, the loading bridge may become frozen to the aircraft. In this case, when the jet bridge retracts, it could damage the aircraft if that area has not been properly de-iced.

Loading bridges usually cost more to use than remote stands, so many low cost carriers (e.g., Ryanair, Easyjet and AirAsia) prefer not to use them.

When regional jets are used, jet bridges have another disadvantage, since they only allow one aircraft to park at the gate at a time. Several airlines have removed jet bridges at regional jet gates at airports such as Atlanta which are short on gates. When boarding on the ramp, airlines can fit two or more regional jets per gate.

Usage and appearance


Jet bridges are occasionally used at smaller, single storey airports. This is accomplished by use of a flight of stairs, and in some instances, a wheelchair lift. In this scenario, a passenger would proceed through the gate, but then up a flight of stairs to meet the height of the jet bridge. An example of this can be found at South Bend Regional Airport in South Bend, Indiana. Alternatively, a ramp can be used within the terminal building to bring the passengers from the waiting area to the height of the jet bridge. The Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport at Ithaca, New York has two gates using this approach. This can be done to attract larger airlines that require use of a jet bridge to the airport, to make boarding smaller planes easier for disabled people, and to improve the boarding process in bad weather.

At the airport terminal, the bridge is connected to a portal (called a "gate") in the terminal wall behind the gate desk. Once airplane boarding starts, passengers hand in their boarding passes to the gate's attendant, who lets them pass through.

Inside, the bridge looks much like a narrow but lighted hallway in an office building, without doors. Loading bridges usually have no windows, but glass walls are becoming more common. The walls are normally painted in accordance with airline standards, generally with relaxing colors. Some bridges have advertisements on interior or exterior walls.

By using a retractable tunnel design, loading bridges may retract and extend varying lengths. Some airports use fixed walkways to effectively extend the reach of a loading bridge. The fixed walkway extends out from the terminal building and connects to the loading bridge rotunda. Occasionally, fixed bridges lead to multiple loading bridges. Also, there are some jetways (such as the ones at Edmonton International Airport and Calgary International Airport) that sit directly on the ground, as opposed to supports. These jetways are often used by small airlines or airplanes that are sometimes too low for conventional jetways (such as the Dash 8 and CRJ).

The cab of the loading bridge is raised and lowered in order to dock with aircraft of differing sill heights. The height of the cab is matched to the height of the aircraft door sill height. This often results in a slope along the length of the loading bridge.

Controls in older systems will contain a large number of individual motor control buttons, with efficient operation requiring a high degree of operator skill and experience. Modern control consoles are much simpler, with only a few buttons, a graphic display console, and a single multi-axis joystick, with an overall appearance similar to that of a video game console in a video arcade.

Boeing 747 connected to a jetway at London-Heathrow Airport

Boeing 747 connected to a jetway at London-Heathrow Airport

UTC | Zulu Time


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