Continental’s Auto Check-In: What’s the Point?

I was recently talking to someone and the subject of Continental’s relatively new auto check-in came up. It sounds pretty cool, but I honestly can’t quite figure out when I’d want to use this feature. Let’s see if you guys have any ideas.

The premise is simple. When you check in for your first flight on an itinerary, you can check a box that will then automatically check you in for your return flight once the check-in window opens up for that flight. You can then choose how you want to receive your boarding pass. It could be via email, fax, or on to your mobile device (where they currently allow mobile check-in). I understand that it saves you a little time by not requiring you to go back to the website to check-in, but it’s not really that useful.

Think about it. If you get it emailed to you, you still have to log on to get your boarding pass and then print it out somewhere. And if you have that printer, you can easily just check-in yourself when it’s time. I suppose a fax could be interesting, but this assumes you’re in a place (like 1985, apparently) where you have a fax machine but no printer access. I think there’s probably a limited benefit there. Of course, the mobile device is most interesting because once you receive it, that’s all you need to walk on the plane. But if you have your mobile device functioning, it’s just as easy to go online on your phone and check-in. Again, not much benefit.

In fact, this can take away some of the benefits of checking in yourself. With the exception of when you fly Southwest, can you think of any reason that checking in earlier rather than later really matters? The only time it matters is if you’re trying to snag some better seats that were released for check-in only. And in this case, you wouldn’t be able to change those seats unless you went back online again, and that defeats the purpose. So, if you’re happy with your seat, there might be a minor benefit in that it saves you a minute, but that’s about it.

Am I missing something? I’ll read your comments when I return next week.


22 Responses to Continental’s Auto Check-In: What’s the Point?

  1. Jeff K says:

    Besides the seat choice – major thing for me, minor for the non-geek traveler – I don’t see a personal benefit either. I check in early to *print* my boarding pass as part of my standard “check list” before leaving.

    I’d say it’s all for the airline so they can have as much load information at the earliest possible time.

  2. DRG says:

    When do they email it to you? If I could print both my outbound and inbound boarding passes at the same time, I would find that useful actually.

  3. Bob says:

    Seat choice, yeah, but not a *specific* seat. May be more correct to say *cabin* choice. Continental bases their upgrades on several criteria, and all things being equal (elite level, ticket class, etc.), earliest check-in wins the upgrade.

  4. Bob says:

    I meant “fare class”, not “ticket class”.

  5. SometimeTraveler says:

    What if you are going somewhere on vacation that has spotty internet access? Continental flies to Eleuthra, Bahamas, where your internet access is limited and verrrrrry unreliable. Auto check-in on return flights would have saved my family a ton of heart burn on our last trip there.

  6. David says:

    I can see a major benefit for people flying on business routes which are at high risk of overbooking – consider something like Chicago-Newark on a weekday evening.

    By being able to check in automatically hours in advance, one can be certain that you won’t get bumped at the airport – printing the boarding card can then be done at a time of your own choosing.

  7. A says:

    If when I check in on my outgoing leg I can print my return boarding pass at the same time that’d be a huge benefit. Often when traveling for business I don’t have the time to run to the hotel business center the night before I head back. This would save many headaches, but I assume you can’t do that.

  8. Jon says:

    On Continental, your priority in the complimentary upgrade list is impacted, amongst other factors, by the time you check in. However, the automatic OLCI doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be checked in at the 24-hour mark – rather, it can be any time leading up to your flight, and you can be sure that your upgrade-hungry fellow elites will be checking in at 23:59 before the flight.

  9. Michel says:

    I use this a lot- I tend to travel to the same location a lot and stay in the same hotel. I have them fax the boarding pass to the hotel, and it arrives under my door the day of departure. Therefore I don’t have to worry about having it on my way out the door and can arrive that much later at the airport.

  10. Brian says:

    I am so glad I work for CO and travel for free and don’t have to worry about all these things. :-)

  11. JF says:

    Further to Jon’s comment…this is for people that can get a fax at the hotel or use the mobile boarding pass. It allows you to go about your business (and often late night work or entertainment) and not worry about possibly standing in line at a kiosk so you can go directly to security.

    Cranky, you can always stop at the kiosk for a last minute seat change or do it on your blackberry.

  12. Chris says:

    For Lufthansa flights I can always check in for my same day return flight. It’s an extremly useful feature to save you from wasting your time at airport. Then again LH also has a real auto checking for elites which I don’t quite understand. When a flight has the slightest chance to be overbooked elites will be checked in completely automatically and transparently. This still doesn’t save you from your deadline to pick the boarding pass, though.

    I guess the EU probably doesn’t accept the fact that airlines want to protect their status customers in these cases so they can argue with them beeing checked in earliest.

  13. If you are not Elite and your seat is not assigned in advance (say, you booked close to departure on a cheap fare), the auto check-in will assign you one from what is (then) available for checkin when it checks you in.

    That will typically mean you get a better seat in Coach than you would have otherwise received with a later checkin.

  14. casey says:

    While I have not used it, I find the auto-checkin feature quite interesting and potentially time saving.

    A ticket to my mobile phone saves time (even check-in on something like an iphone is a pain in the butt and takes time) … and perhaps if i was thinking ahead and had the fax number of the hotel, i could just pick it up on my way to check out.

    Airline checkin on the way back home has always been a pain on the butt, as internet access is not always guaranteed.

  15. CF says:

    DRG/A – They email it to you at some point within the 24 hour window before your return. If they did it all when you checked in for your first flight, then I see a big benefit.

    SometimeTraveler – If your internet access is spotty, how are you going to retrieve your boarding pass to print? You’d still have to go to the airport to get your boarding pass.

    David – If that’s how Continental operates, then it could be good, but as Jon says, there’s no guarantee you’ll be checked in exactly at 24 hours prior to departure.

    Michel – I think we have a winner! That does sound like a nice benefit. If you’ve got a regular routine like that, there is a definite benefit. Thank you.

    JF – If you’re using the mobile boarding pass, you could just as easily check in on your phone instead of having auto-check in. The fax at the hotel now makes sense thanks to Michel. But if I want a seat change and can use my blackberry or a kiosk, what’s the point of checking in automatically? I could just do that on my blackberry or at a kiosk as well.

  16. SometimeTraveler says:

    CF – if your internet access is spotty, you are correct, you will have to get your tickets printed at the airport. The difference is that you will already be checked in, so you don’t have to worry about getting bumped or getting to the airport so long in advance. Getting a printed ticket is a relatively easy thing, especially now with kiosks everywhere, but sometimes getting to the airport is not. Or maybe I just don’t understand exactly what check-in means? As my screen name implies, I don’t travel very often.

  17. CF says:

    SometimeTraveler – If you have a seat assignment, I wouldn’t think it would matter when you actually check in for the flight. You need to get that boarding pass no matter what, so it shouldn’t be an issue. But if you don’t have a seat assignment, then yes, it could matter so that you can get a good one on the early side. But this doesn’t guarantee that it will check you in immediately – just at some point before departure.

  18. mechanic x says:

    i got a question not really related to this post, but more to continental. what is this deal with slot auctions in newark. i don’t understand any of it. apparently it’s very important to continental since they keep putting it in their daily news updates. any cranky insights?

  19. CF says:

    mechanic x – Good question, and admittedly, I’ve only been skimming. Let me look into it.

  20. Herkemer says:

    if i’ve got my boarding pass emailed to my blackberry, it is already downloaded onto my phone. If i’m in a spot where service isn’t that great, it saves me a lot of time in having to go through the process of going to the website and navigating to that section, whereas, otherwise, i can just go to my email, pull it up, and have it scanned.

  21. Verre says:

    There is a big disadvantage to doing this: If there is a change, say, you get sick, or are delayed, you have already checked in! Much harder to have any recourse for changing your flight! Don’t check in early!

  22. Robert says:

    I do not like autocheck for one main reason. If you use the feature and choose that you want to receive your boarding pass for your return flight home…you will not be able change to an earlier flight unless you are at the airport and dealing directly with a ticketing/gate agent..

    This is specific to your RETURN FLIGHT. For example…you have a 6pm flight back to newark and you finish all your meetings at 10am. You will literally need to go to the airport kiosk to make any/all changes. Once you are checked in, telephone agents cannot make any changes. It is all up to the gate personnel handing the flight.

    It is really a pain…AND…if you choose not to use autocheckin–you’ll ofteen see the option to change to earlier flights when you checkin online. This all goes away with the autocheckin process…..

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