I Learned Something New and Useful About American Airlines Check-in

American Airlines changed its published check-in policy so that at a bare minimum you have to check-in 45 minutes prior to departure even for a domestic flight without checked luggage. Both Delta and United continue to publish 30 minutes in similar circumstances.

The requirement to check in at least 45 minutes prior to departure for a domestic flight, even without luggage, rather than the previous 30 minute cutoff is also in American’s contract of carriage.

However American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein clarified for me that in fact, American will still issue a boarding pass 30 minutes prior to departure for a domestic flight.

  • The rules say 45 minutes, because they want you to get to the airport earlier. You might have to wait in line for a check-in kiosk or manual assistance, and you may have to wait in line at security.

  • American’s computers are set to a 30 minute deadline with 3 minute grace period.

  • What this means in practice is that American can check you in 27 minutes prior to scheduled departure

Now, if you have checked bags the rule is 45 minutes minus that same 3 minute grace period for a domestic flight.

For an international flight the ‘real’ check-in cutoff (including grace period) is 45 minutes without a checked bag, or 57 minutes with a checked bag.

American Check-in Counters, Sao Paulo Brazil

For New York – Boston – DC Shuttle flights the real check-in cutoff (including grace period) is 17 minutes without a checked bag or 27 minutes with a checked bag.

There are 5 airports where you really do have to check in even farther in advance however.

On the one hand I really appreciate this. Check-in cut-off at American’s hubs was long 45 minutes, while 30 minutes at outstations. They’ve published 45 minutes across the board, but the computers will still allow check-in 27 minutes out for most domestic flights with carry on luggage only.

On the other hand it’s another instance where American’s published policy differs from actual practice (like boarding earlier than stated boarding times on boarding passes) creating uncertainty and passengers to spend time accommodating American’s schedules rather than the other way around.

American Airlines Airbus A319

I also know from recent experience that many at American do not know the 45 minute published check-in requirement isn’t hardcoded in their systems. And that cost me a systemwide upgrade.

I’d far rather rely on a published policy than convincing an agent to try checking me in anyway. Still, it’s good to know it’ll work if I find myself unable to check-in online or via American’s mobile app and showing up about 35 minutes prior to departure again!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Actually, the cutoff times published on the AA shuttle area also incorrect. I’ve clarified with AA and agents at each of the 3 shuttle airports (DCA, LGA, BOS) – all say they follow 45 minutes with checked bag with 3 minute grace period on AA shuttle as well. The website that still says 30 minutes is outdated and they’ve said they need to update it…

  2. Fascinating that American claims its actual practices are more favorable to passengers than what the (revised) COC specifies. But American employees nonetheless sometimes act as if the COC binds. For example, when my sister tried to check in for the BOS-DCA shuttle, 41 minutes before the scheduled departure, American took the position that she had missed the cutoff time and thus was not eligible for IDB compensation when she was in fact denied boarding. There are several problems with American’s argument, including that as of the date of travel (not to mention the date of purchase), American’s COC specified 30 minute check-in, not 45. But American’s position vis-a-vis my sister is also totally inconsistent with what Mr. Feinstein claimed in the post here.

    See American customer relations reply to my sister, attachment 3b on page 27 of http://www.benedelman.org/airfare-advertising/pdf/m-edelman-to-dot-14jun2016-aa.pdf . Anyone with relevant experiences, perhaps having been IDB’ed in broadly similar circumstances, can share with DOT at https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOT-OST-2016-0107-0001 — useful for DOT as it considers this problem and what if anything to do about it.

  3. And as they transition to QIK from Sabre over the next half year, it’s only going to get worse as there is no override capability t-30, effectively removing all common sense action by ticket counter agents at puddle jumper airports. Especially when the flight is on a plane that is doing a turn with the inbound arriving after departure, but the outbound still showing “on time”, although that would be physically impossible you still have to show up “t-30”.

    AA needs to look at the real reason their flights are late:
    1) pushback = departed, touchdown = arrived , flight time = 2/3 scheduled time? Essentially lying with the metrics and still failing.
    2) Old planes that break a lot with no spares for when they do break.
    3) overpacking flight schedule creating gate and atc gridlock, how many times must we circle the terminal or go to the bullpen to wait for a gate to open ? Or sit on the runway waiting for atc clearance to takeoff on a puddle jumper with no weather on either end ?
    4) Zero order regarding the boarding process, priority lines, gate lice, enforcing boarding group, etc. Top that off with being lied to about overhead bins being full by the ticket counter agent and “needing” to check bags. Or the FAs taking all the overhead bin space above your seat. Or sticking to a “2 item rule” when the third item is a suit jacket or small purse, sure it could be jammed in a roll aboard or backpack or could be worn then it would be “ok” but having it separate which not impact anyone else’s space requires a repack operation which stalls the boarding.
    5) Not clearing upgrades until boarding, or well 10 minutes prior to boarding, same with standby that has available seats (not for no shows).
    6) Gate / valet checked bags process is painfully slow and inconsistent.
    7) complete disregard for understanding and predicting time of departure as evidenced by the rolling delay (delay 10 minutes then once actual time crossed delayed time, add 10 more minutes, rinse and repeat) and the infamous inbound plane having a physically impossible turn time for the still undelayed outbound.
    8) putting the onus on the people that have the least impact (GAs, FAs, Pilots) because of all the overhead system issues and “rules”. You can’t fix stupid.

    And finally passengers need to be incentivized or penalized for proper boarding etiquette.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this, perhaps the people responsible for these type of operations systems should actually fly and see for themselves.

  4. “AA Shuttle”, the commenter posting the 8:40 am comment above, is correct that AA’s web site is wrong. But it’s even worse than he indicates.

    https://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/shuttle.jsp says, at this moment, “You can check in online or up to 20 minutes before departure without checked baggage and up to 30 minutes before departure when you check bags.” That’s a page that’s prominently linked by Google and by AA’s own on-site search. I made timestamped screenshots in case AA ever denies making this statement as of today.

  5. Sounds like management believes they need a tight leash on an untrustworthy line staff. Doesn’t sound like a place I’d like to work.

  6. There’s always one! ;^) Seriously, Jim, everybody loves something sometime, and with all of the co-branded credit cards and/or “deals” that exist between American Airlines and Citi, AMEX, and lord knows who else, American Airlines is making it difficult *not* to — well, if not “like” than at least difficult not to fly . . . but I manage!

  7. Sean: budget your time to waste more of it sitting around in airports? 45 min is excessively early.

  8. Earlier this year British Airways made changes to check-in time cutoff time across their network. Considering the high volume of transfer passengers between the two airlines, the may have worked together to harmonise timings.

    * London Heathrow – all flights 45 minutes before departure
    * London Gatwick – all flights 45 minutes before departure
    * London City – all flights 20 minutes before departure (small airport geared towards business destinations & flyers)
    * London Stansted – all flights 45 minutes before departure
    * UK domestic airports – 45 minutes before departure
    * Short haul European airports – 45 minutes before departure, except Lisbon (50 minutes) and Madrid (55 minutes)
    * Long haul international airports – at least 60 minutes before departure, check Manage My Booking

    OpenSkies flights from Orly – 50 minutes before departure

  9. I have a issues I am trying to check my children in with UBAIZF. No luck the flight leaves tomorrow. I have call every one with no results. Please advise me.

  10. My thoughts are just don’t fly AA. Their customer service is lacking at best. There gate agents rarely smile but most important they’ve added seats to most of their planes. If you fly coach you will barely fit in the seats width and if your a 5’10” man your knees hit the seat in front of you. They will gladly upgrade you with a little more legroom but when you compare that to problems they have with overcrowded gates it just isn’t worth it. I missed a flight last week because I arrived 40 mins early (which is very very late for me) due a freeway closure from an accident and a typical 1 hour drive took me 2 1/2 hours to get to the airport. My mom and sister made the flight traveling to the airport from the opposite direction. When I called and told me they wouldn’t let me on the flight they told me that the flight had been delay for 15 mins which turned into 30 mins and I could have easily made the gate. They did offer me to fly out for $75 a new flight at 5 p.m. but I would miss the wedding I was attending. I walked over to Virgin American who laughed when I told them the story and said do you know how many AA passengers we get because of their silly cutoff rules? They said we cut you off when the doors shut on on the plane. We’re about getting you to your destination on time whenever possible. They said AA gets away with it because their so big and dominant the fight routes to every city. I did look and there is a 45 min cut off rule for AA so I have to take responsibility because I was late regardless of what happened. It was just refreshing to talk to the Virgin American people at the gates. Great attitudes, totally accommodating and when i told the stewardess what happened she gave me and my group free drinks for the entire flight to Miami. So the moral is select your carrier wisely not just on the cheapest price. Cheap prices do you no good if you don’t get to your destination on time.

  11. I waited in the line for 30 minutes and arrived at a booth 42 minutes before departure (I checked) and they had to move me to a later flight because they were unable to check my baggage, and I missed something important because of this. Should have known better, but it was still pretty annoying. THis was beginning 2016.

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