“Air travel reminds us who we are. It’s how we recognize ourselves as modern. The process removes us from the world and sets us apart from each other. We wander in the ambient noise, checking one more time for the flight coupon, the boarding pass, and the visa. The process convinces us that at any moment we may have to submit to a force that is implied in all this, the unknown authority behind it, behind the categories, behind the languages we don’t understand. This vast terminal has been erected to examine our souls.”
Don Delillo 

Airline Check-In Tips

This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.

In my mind, the most tiring and frustrating aspects of being a Fifty Plus Nomad happen at the airport. Sadly, everything from declining airline customer service to terrorism threats has conspired to make airports more problematic each year.

Fortunately, as I have learned more, the number of issues has diminished. That said, it is easy to experience problems at the airport if you are not prepared. Therefore, I have prepared the following airline check-in tips to help you avoid some of the issues I have experienced.

Typical Problems that Occur at Airline Check-In Counters

Most problems in boarding a plane will occur at the airline check-in counter. Before you get on the plane, airlines must deal with any issues at immigration, customs, etc. As a result, airline computers will alert the agents at check-in of most potential problems. Chances are, after check-in, you will not have any more issues.

Here are some of my best tips for avoiding problems at check-in:

Tip #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Call for an Airline Wheelchair

If you have somewhat limited mobility, I suggest you ask for wheelchair assistance. (I must admit I do not call for a wheelchair because I have no real mobility problems).

You can request a wheelchair either when you:

  • Make a booking for a flight.
  • Get to the airport.

I would highly suggest calling for assistance if you have a trip with a connection. Airports nowadays are vast and confusing, and the connection times can be tight. Anything you can do to limit your stress is advisable. (I would also suggest you call for assistance anytime you book a flight for anyone who does not speak English).

Tips #2: Expect Fees at Airline Check-In

If you buy the cheapest fares possible, don’t be surprised if you pay fees at airline check-in for the following items:

  • Checked baggage. Usually around the equivalent of $25-$30 for the first bag and $100 for a second bag. United Airlines waives these fees if you buy your tickets with a United Chase card. American Airlines waives the fee sometimes with an AA Citibank card.
  • Seat assignments. I generally pay between $25-$75 when I want to ensure that I sit next to my travel companion. I usually do not pay this fee as a single traveler and let the airline assign me a seat.
  • Some budget airlines severely limit or even prohibit carry-on baggage. These airlines charge high fees if you exceed their stringent limits.

These fees have been a part of many flights for the last decade. (Especially flights in/between the US and Canada and flights within the European Union. That said, these fees are becoming more and more common on all flights worldwide).

Often airlines allow you to buy tickets that include these fees so you can avoid paying these fees at check-in. Sometimes, these tickets will cost you less than if you bought a cheaper ticket and paid the fees at the check-in counter. (This is true with Easy Jet and Ryan Air).

Tip #3: Bring The Correct ID or Passport at Check-In

You are not required to have a boarding pass or a copy of your electronic ticket when you check in at the airline counter for a flight. Usually, you can get the boarding pass at the automated kiosk at the airport. You can often check in at the curb for many domestic flights if you already have a boarding pass. Also, printing the boarding pass ahead of time can save you some time.

Generally, to board a plane, you will need to present the appropriate government issue ID. (A passport is required if you are leaving the country). The ticket agent will use your ID to find your reservation if you have not checked in ahead of time. (Note: You will be required to have your passport upon check-in, even on flights within the same country. In addition, expect to show your ID and boarding pass multiple times before you board the plane).

Some airlines, most notably budget carriers, will charge you extra to print out the boarding pass at the ticket counter.

Tip #4: Proof of Onward Passage

If you have a one-way ticket to a foreign country, do not be surprised if the airline check-in counter agent asks you for ¨Proof of Onward Passage¨. ¨Proof of Onward Passage¨ is an airline, bus, train, or cruise ship receipt showing when and how you leave the country.

In other words, if you bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, you must show proof that you intend to leave Costa Rica. Otherwise, the agent will deny boarding on the plane. (Costa Rica strictly enforces proof of onward passage).

Increasingly, countries require “Proof of Onward Passage¨ before boarding a flight. Therefore, please print out a copy (or have it readily available on your smartphone) of the proof of your return before checking in for any one-way international flight. You should also be prepared to show your return ticket at the immigration counter at your destination if you plan to stay more than a month or you frequently enter the same country. You can also find out if you will need “Proof of Onward Passage” from Goats on the Road.

If the lack of ¨Proof of Onward Passage¨ becomes an issue, buy a fully refundable air ticket out of the country. There is a small fee for cashing in these tickets. You can recoup nearly all the cost of the tickets when you apply for a refund. Unfortunately, the price of these tickets is high (as much as $5000 for a Transatlantic or Transpacific flight). You will need a lot of credit to cover the expense until you get a refund.

Bahamas Air made me buy a refundable ticket because I did not have a copy of the cruise ship itinerary showing that I was leaving the Bahamas. (Ironically, I was in the Bahamas for less than two hours). The refundable ticket cost me $280. (My original flight only cost $55). I got back $265 from Bahamas Air after a couple of calls and faxes to the Bahamas. ($280 minus a $15 fee).

Tip #5: Make Sure Your Passport and Visas are in Order and that Your Passport Will Not Expire in the Next Six Months

You can not board a plane without the proper passports and, in some cases, visas. I have prepared a separate post on passports and visas.

Many countries will refuse entry because they do not want you to travel on a passport that could expire during your stay. I have often seen people at the check-in counter who have had problems because their passports would expire in less than six months. To avoid this problem, I continually renew my passport eight months before its expiration. (This also gives the Passport Authority two months to process the renewal).

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A Few Other Possible Problems at Airline Check-In Counters

  • If you are going to travel in Africa or Asia, check to see if you need a yellow fever certificate before you enter the country. If you have visited a country with yellow fever, many countries will not allow you to enter their country unless you have a certificate. You can get the yellow fever shot and certificate (valid for ten years) at many public health departments and traveler health clinics.
  • Realize that you will need permission for minors to travel internationally, either unattended or with anyone other than their parents.

Want More Airline Check-In Tips?

Check out these posts from ESky.com and Wikipedia.

Additional Posts About Long-Term Travel from Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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