A few months ago, on a return trip through the Cincinnati Airport, I learned the hard way why you should always check-in to a flight online in advance. I was coming home from a business trip the night before my son’s high school graduation. With over two hours before departure, my colleague and I decided to get some dinner and then head to the airport. We finished dinner with plenty of time to spare, returned the rental car and walked up to the Departures area leisurely. I stepped up to one kiosk to check-in while my colleague went to another.
I punched in my frequent flyer number, brought up my reservation and the dreaded message, “Please see an agent” appeared on the screen. My colleague, boarding pass in hand, turned and said. “Did you check-in in advance? I checked in on my smartphone while you were presenting to our client. I just needed to print out my boarding pass.”
So at 43 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, I flagged down a gate agent in the otherwise empty terminal. The dialogue that followed was eye-opening:
“Hi, can you help me check-in please. I had trouble with the kiosk”
“Hmmm … sorry but you’re too late” (Both my colleague and I thought that the gate agent was kidding me)
“Very funny. OK. I’ve learned my lesson. I will be here earlier next time.”
“No. I cannot check you in.”
“What? There’s still 40 minutes before my departure !!!”
“Oh. We changed the rules here in Cincinnati last month. Because our terminals are so busy, the new cut-off time for check-in is 45 minutes. Sorry, but you just missed it.”
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? We are the only two people in line and my reservation says nothing about having to check-in 45 minutes prior to departure. Look, I have the printout.”
“I’m sorry, but the only thing I can do is re-book you on a flight for tomorrow”
“Can I go standby then?”
“Nope. I can only issue you a boarding pass for tomorrow.”
Fortunately, quick-thinking prevailed. I took the boarding pass and headed to security with the hope of persuading the gate agent to let me go standby. Once I reached the gate for my original flight, the agent smiled as I walked up and said, “Mr. Remy, we were expecting you” She had my boarding pass ready to go. Clearly, the gate agents had some fun at my expense.
So I have vowed to never let this happen again. The basic rule of thumb is: check-in in advance and then deal with any changes later. Never wait until you get to the airport.
If you have a smartphone, I suggest loading the free apps from all of the airlines that you normally fly. Put each one of these on your smartphone in a “Travel” folder and then, when you have a few spare minutes the day of your departure, use the app to check-in for your upcoming flight (while you are at it, check to see if it is leaving on time as well).
Think of the online check-in process this way: it is the airline equivalent of “possession in 9/10ths of the law”. Once I have checked-in and have my electronic boarding pass, the airlines need to go out of their way to deny me a seat. So take a moment and go to the app store for your smartphone, search for “airlines” and then download the apps for all of the airlines that you noramlly fly. You will thank me later!