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Passenger check-in: what happens at the airport?

As part of the usual formalities prior to air travel, airlines check in passengers and checked-in baggage for every flight. So how does an airport check-in work? What are the different ways of confirming your intention to fly? What documents do you need to present to validate your presence on board? We explain everything you need to know about this procedure.
Published on July 24, 2023

What is check-in in civil aviation?

When it comes to first-time air travel, everything can seem complicated. There are various pre-flight stages that separate passengers from their seats. Among them, the check-in procedure requires arriving at the airport well in advance. For domestic flights, we recommend arriving 1 to 2 hours before take-off. For intercontinental flights, this time is extended to 3 hours on average.

This precaution is designed to avoid stress if you're not used to traveling by air, but also if you're unfamiliar with the layout of the airport. This advance on the flight schedule means you won't panic at the check-in counter if you have to face a long queue.

Good to know: you also need to keep an eye on check-in closing times, which are set by each airline. Check-in counters do not remain open after the check-in deadline has passed. The average check-in time is between 15 and 90 minutes before flight departure.

Like the security check, check-in is an essential step before boarding the aircraft. Although you may have booked your ticket in advance, it is through this check-in procedure that the airline takes into account your presence on the flight. It is therefore a confirmation of your intention to travel.

In addition, many airlines practice overbooking, based on the fact that between booking and the day of the flight, some passengers may cancel their trip. So it's only after this check-in stage that your seat is actually allocated.

How do I check in at the airport?

When you arrive at the airport, you're greeted by a welcome screen displaying a wealth of information, including the check-in counter for your destination.

When you arrive at the ticket counter, the airport agent will check your flight documents:

  • Your plane ticket or booking number
  • Valid identity documents (national identity card or passport, visa, authorization to leave the country for minors, etc.)

Once this information has been verified, you will receive your boarding pass. If you have not pre-booked your seat, your seat number is also given to you at this check-in stage at the airport.

On the other hand, the check-in counter is also the place where you must deposit your baggage, especially that which is to be transported in the hold. Each airline sets its own standards for baggage weight and dimensions. If you exceed them, you'll have to pay an additional fee.

Good to know: some items are forbidden on planes, while others are conditionally authorized in the cabin or in the hold. Take all this information into account when preparing your suitcase to avoid unpleasant surprises on D-day.

Is it possible to register online?

More and more airlines are offering to replace the check-in stage at the airport with online check-in. This electronic procedure is advantageous for people who want to save time on the day of departure. In addition to the fact that you can go straight through security, you can also choose your seat location before the other passengers.

Online check-in allows you to check in for your flight via the airline's website or mobile app. Online check-in services are generally open 1 to 2 days before departure.

As with airport check-in, you'll need to fill in a number of details to validate online check-in, including :

  • The number of booking
  • Your passport or identity card number
  • The number of checked baggage...

At the end of the procedure, you receive a confirmation e-mail containing your boarding pass. You then choose whether to print out this boarding pass or download it onto your smartphone for presentation at the various security checks.

Luggage tags are also available for printing. So you can drop them off quickly at the self-service baggage drop-off points at the airport.