Topic of the Week: Alaska Airlines Increases Its Minimum Check-In Time

Alaska has decided to increase its minimum check-in time from 30 to 40 minutes in most airports. (Some more challenging airports are still at 45 minutes.) They say they’re doing it for consistency’s sake, but then why not standardize at 45 minutes? Anyway, this is just for check-in and you can do that on your phone, the internet, etc. So is it a big deal? Do you think this will have some kind of impact on you as a traveler?

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27 Comments on "Topic of the Week: Alaska Airlines Increases Its Minimum Check-In Time"

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James Burke
Guest
I think the impact will be felt most by travellers at Horizon airports – the Pasco’s, Walla Walla’s and Salem’s of the network. You’ll need more than 40 minutes from SEA or PDX to go from line-up to TSA to gate, but at the smaller airports, it might be 5 minutes. I know there was some business-types moderately peeved when Air Canada raised check-in to 45 minutes at all airports (the story I read was from Charlottetown PEI)… For me it isn’t a big deal – I am usually checked in 24 hours in advance, and through security an hour… Read more »
Todd
Guest

Horizon hasn’t served Salem since 1994. But your overall point is totally valid. I recall fondly rolling up to the Walla Walla airport (which had free (!) parking) shortly before departure and making the flight no problem.

Alex Hill
Member

I agree. I fly out of Wenatchee fairly regularly, and the thirty minute checkin deadline there is totally fine. There are three staffers which do everything, including check-in and handling of the inbound flight, but the inbound flight arrives 20-25 minutes before scheduled departure of the outbound. This will just leave them twiddling their thumbs 20 minutes longer.

Alex Hill
Member

Where by 20 minutes longer I meant 10.

noahkimmel
Member

Its a tough choice.

If its too tight, people miss their flights or the airline makes a customer service decision to hold the plane, resulting in late flights. Even in smaller stations, you have to train your customers to show up early. So even making an exception will get them to come earlier next time.

The trouble becomes when a lot of customers show up at 35 minutes (for instance) and they could make the flight, but they cant use their phone or kiosks to check in. Then the ticket counter has a harder time getting people through on-time.

SubwayNut
Guest
Frontier Airlines has had a 45 minute cut-off for as long as I have been flying them (like 7 years, haven’t in a few), something you need for their DEN hub (an airport I believe all airlines require 45 minutes for). I still remember the time the city bus I was taking to LGA was running late and got stuck in traffic on the Triborough and I didn’t arrive until 35 minutes before departure. I was very happy I’d check in on line and had no bags. I went up to security where there was no line and still had… Read more »
noahkimmel
Member

so many DL people go to the wrong terminal at JFK and its not a quick trip from 2 to 4 or back

David SF eastbay
Member

Sounds like they are just trying to stop people who think the check-in time doesn’t apply to them and problems were happening.

Sean McCue
Guest

I think this only impacts those who are checking a bag. Alaska wants that extra time to get the bags to and loaded on the planeIf you haven’t checked in online 40-45min prior to the flight then shame on you.

Ryan G
Guest

This is really a non-issue. Frequent travelers probably check in online, and this doesn’t affect them. Once/twice a year travelers are probably not aware of the policy or that it has changed, and will look online to see how soon they need to be at the airport. It creates consistency among the majority of the airports, and show they are aware that some airports (ATL, DEN, etc) may need more time, and allows for exceptions for them, without disrupting the majority of the airports which can comfortably handle a 40 minute check in time.

Ron
Guest
Not everyone can check in online. It’s easy enough going out, but not always possible on the return, for example that time I was staying in a cabin with no internet or cell phone reception, and was only able to connect on the way to the airport. I understand that an airline may need to enforce a cutoff for operational reasons (for example if the same agents work the counter and the gate), and that normally people should plan to show up early. But people are sometimes late through no fault of their own, and enforcing a longer cutoff than… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

In my experience Alaska has been quite flexible. One time around the holidays I completely messed up and arrived at the airport about 5 minutes before my plane was supposed to depart. Luckily I was going to the San Francisco area so I switched from OAK to SJC or something like that.

tr5642
Member
Pure ‘check in’ isn’t a big deal given the current world of online/mobile check in. The bigger issue is the ever increasing shift of burden to customers. All airlines keep increasing these board times, at-gate times (note that Alaska is also requiring boarding ready (at the gate?) 30 minutes before flight, etc. Go look at official policy at many airlines on when they suggest arriving at airports. They seriously suggest arriving 2 hours before for domestic and 3 for international! Yes, reality isn’t that, but because that’s policy, they are saying “we don’t care about PAX time”. Assuring that they… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Airlines probably recommend the 2/3 hour cut off because the people who are paying attention to that are probably inexperienced fliers and a) need the extra time. b) might not be giving themselves enough buffer to get to the airport and take care of parking/returning the rental car/etc. The experienced fliers know what to do.

jaybru
Member
Isn’t travel just getting more stressful every day what with trying to comply with this or that. Minimum times for this and that. Add-on fees for this and that. No actual tickets, just boarding passes that you may have gotten 24 hours earlier, but now you’re a minute late, so it’s meaningless and with lots of small print and asterisks indicating please know, etc. And, sorry, we don’t accept cash, for anything, and if you try to transact your business here, we’ll have to charge you an additional $25. Soon, just trying to talk with someone will cost an arm… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
It is important to remember that this is published policy, not practice. I once worked at a telephone company/internet provider and in the training class when we went through the terms and conditions the trainer said that he was going to teach us the terms and conditions and when to break them. T&Cs exist to give employees somewhere to stand when saying no to a customer. Is Alaska going to prevent people from checking in at 39 minutes? Hopefully not. If I were designing this from a customer service perspective I’d publish 40 minutes and enforce 30 minutes. But when… Read more »
Alex Hill
Member
I haven’t missed a check-in deadline on Alaska/Horizon, but on at least AA and UA (once each), I’ve missed it by one minute (after standing in line for 10+) and the computer wouldn’t let the agent check me in. Instead, they processed me as a stand by, insisting that there was no way I had time to make the flight (but I would have been fine 1 minute earlier, somehow). I made the flight anyway in both cases. If Alaska’s computers are similar, agent discretion doesn’t matter. At the very least, if they publish 40 minutes but enforce 30 minutes,… Read more »
troyfilson
Member
Nick, to your point, airlines and most service providers need to have service standards that benefit the customer and the company with the ability to make judgment calls outside the policy. I would argue that outside the United States, service agents do not have that much flexibility. At least, they don’t have the same level of flexibility found in America. The argument for/against employee ownership and empowerment can go both ways, but culturally, there is little leeway and customers have been conditioned to not expect it. One airline I have worked with closes the flight at precisely 30 minutes before… Read more »
Voyager9270
Guest

The cynic in me says that by artificially increasing the minimum check-in time, you are increasing the number of people who miss the deadline, and thus increasing your revenue from same-day confirmed flight change fees. Alaska is a reasonably customer-friendly airline, so I don’t think they’d be taking this page out of the Ryanair playbook, but stranger things have happened….

atwramper
Guest

or… they are trying to close up the lobby so that they need less employees to do more work.

This is the Alaska that fired 472 rampers in SEA because Menzies was cheaper… I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like this so that the ticket counter employees could run to the back to stack bags, then the gate to meet the inbound, load the outbound, and then marshall it out.

Jim
Guest

I don’t understand why airlines need a minimum check-in time. If you make it to the gate on time, what exactly is the issue?

I can understand a policy saying that if you don’t check in by a certain time, you risk losing your seat to a standby passenger. However, assuming the flight isn’t oversold, minimum check-in time just seems to be an excuse to levy additional charges.

troyfilson
Member

Jim,
You sort of answered your own question, partly. Airlines require that time in order to process passengers, both stand-by (revenue and non-revenue) and confirmed oversold passengers without seats. It’s not fair to tell someone who checked in on time that they won’t get a seat, but the guy who rocks up at 30 seconds before departure does.
Also, below the wing, it physically takes time to process load manifests, which include passengers, baggage, fuel, cargo, etc. This paperwork has to be validated by the flight crew.

atwramper
Guest
They have the MCT for good reason. Your bag doesn’t go from the belt in the front to the plane in one fell swoop. It goes from the front, to screening (god knows how long this takes somedays), to another belt,to a sorter unit, out to the plane, and then onto the plane. In other words, simpler is better. Having a policy that says “You can check in 15 minutes prior if your using the app, 20 minutes if you have to use a kiosk but you might lose your seat if you’re not at the gate 14 prior (then… Read more »
atwramper
Guest

gah, I meant cut-off not MCT.

troyfilson
Member
The check-in cut off time or flight close time depends on many unique and even airlines specific factors, including most that are out of the control of the airline itself. As a process-focused consultant, I think the additional time for flight closure would be needed in some cases where the airline does not have sufficient and EFFICIENT processes in place to avoid costing the customer that sometimes precious extra time. Things that airlines can do to improve a customer’s experience and allow check-in closer to departure would be more availability of web/kiosk check in and even more efficient load management… Read more »
Matt Smith
Guest
Do NOT fly Frontier Airlines! A Frontier Airlines ticketing agent turned five people away who were checking in 45 minutes before their flight. Frontier Airlines only had one ticketing agent on duty and she went on break in anger after turning people away. The five of us were waiting at the Frontier check-in counter without an agent present, after she was rude saying that there is no way that we can make the flight. I actually made it to the flight while the doors were still open, but they wouldn’t let me in because I was not the one person… Read more »
Doug
Guest
I went investigating this policy this morning after my fiance and I, along with 15 other customers, were turned down at the 40 minute cut-off. This was at the Pullman-Moscow airport, where there is only one flight at a time. We all stood patiently, waiting in vain, thinking that we would be checked in. Rightfully so, because the plane sat not 50 yds away with a half hour to go before departure, and we could see the alaska employees standing around doing nothing. Why wouldn’t we be checked in? It didn’t make sense that we wouldn’t. Once we realized they… Read more »
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