Have you ever wondered
Why do airlines encourage online check-in 24 hours before you arrive at the airport?
All airlines routinely overbook flights.
Consequently, they will go to great lengths to try and estimate how many sold seats will actually show up for the flight.
This is just another tool in their arsenal to estimate actual loads.
The more advance notice they have, the more efficiently they can deal with oversold seats, re-booking, fuel loads, etc.
All aircraft also have finite weight limitations which can actually affect how much fuel they can carry. This can be a genuine juggling act for smaller aircraft, as well as those that operate in hot climates. (Hot ambient air temperatures have a significant negative effect on aircraft performance).
For example, many long haul flights from Dubai, where temperatures are notoriously hot, are scheduling to depart during the morning hours before it gets too hot outside. If the flight should suffer a significant delay, it’s not uncommon for the Captain to order freight, passengers or fuel to be removed as the aircraft is now over it’s maximum allowable takeoff weight. Fuel is not only the most time-consuming to remove, it’s also the most risky as it shaves off tangible buffer time should any delays happen en route due to bad weather, heavy traffic, etc.
24 hour advanced, online check-in also serves as a good reminder to some passengers who have not yet decided whether they intend to take the flight.
What I mean by this is that, even the most economical fares can be eligible for a partial refund right up until ~45 minutes prior to scheduled departure time.
If you don’t cancel by then, you eat 100% of the ticket cost.
TL;DR: Airlines feel more in control of a flight if they have more advanced notice of confirmed intentions to actually board the flight.
~ Paul Harris, Flown frequently on business for the past 40 years.
You may also like to read 23 Travel hacks you need to know
Primarily to increase their view into what the actual load factor will be for that particular flight and to smooth operations in general.
When someone checks in, it’s a commitment. Checking in at or just after 24 hours before flight tells the airline about how “firm” their load is on an airplane.
With that information, it can begin to make decisions about managing the open space on the aircraft for the next 24 hours. If a 737 with 160 seats has all seats booked but 10, 80% checked in 12 hours before departure, the revenue management team can price those last 10 seats accordingly to get them filled.
Each seat not filled is a revenue opportunity that expires once the door is closed. So filling it at some reasonable price is better than not filling it at all.
So a 24 hour check-in, presented as a convenience item to the passenger, really is about gaining insight on how “firm” the demand is for that flight.
Finally, getting people to check themselves in with boarding passes printed or captured on their smart phone reduces the need for gate agents to spend time checking in passengers. The airline saves a little bit of money on each flight. Since airlines have thousands of flights per day, even a $5 savings becomes huge. $5 x 5500 flights x 365 days = $10 million. Well worth the effort to save the money.
~ Gregory Robinson, former Airline Industry Blogger
So, Online check-in or at the airport? Share your experiences in the comments section below.