When online check-in isn't working

5 Reasons Online Check-in Isn’t Working

“You cannot check in online for this flight. Please check in at the airport or call support.”

The airline website

…cue intense frustration, some swearing, and a resigned effort to show up earlier at the airport for queueing at the check-in counter.

Sometimes online or mobile check-in isn’t working. There are various reasons for it, and, to stay a happy calm traveller, you should know the main ones.

1. No Online Check-in Due to Overbooking

Firstly the airline may have overbooked the flight. Margins in the industry are low-ish. So airlines hedge their bets when it comes to how many people they think will cancel or not show up for a flight. Letting people buy more tickets than there are seats on the plane is one way to do that.

When it gets close to the flight departure time and everyone is checking in to the flight, unless you have a pre-booked seat, it could be the case that they simply don’t have space for you. And the reason why online check-in isn’t working.

When you get to a check-in counter, this may have changed and you may get a seat so all is not necessarily lost. To completely avoid this added stress factor, you can try to book a specific seat when you book your flight which you can usually do from time of booking, up until online check-in opens.

Another way is to be a premium member of the airlines reward program. They seldom (if ever) kick one of those off of an overbooked flight.

2. A Documentation Check Needed Before You Can Check in Online

Dependent upon where you’re flying, your documents could require a further check – your citizenship, visas, and the requirements of the final destination will determine this. They’ll do a physical review at the check-in desk to see that you have everything you need before they’ll give you your boarding pass.

Airlines are responsible for transporting you back to your origin if you fail to get through the requirements of your final destination. The overheads they would incur on this possibility, outweigh the inconvenience to the passenger.

In these cases, it may not be a case that online check-in isn’t working. You may be able to complete the online check-in, but afterwards will be notified that you will need to pick up the actual boarding pass at the airport.

3. Flagged Passengers Don’t Get to Check in Online

In some cases when online check-in isn’t working you may have been flagged in the system. This could either be due to:

  • Technical reasons, such as the name on your ticket doesn’t match the name on your I.D, they need to move your seat, or any other mismatching issues.
  • Security reasons, such as extra screening. This will normally be highlighted on your boarding pass with an SSSS code. There are several reasons why you might have been selected for extra security screening or it can be a completely random check.

4. If its a Code Share Flight, You May Be Using the Wrong Airline’s Website for Check-in

Sometimes tickets are booked with one airline (the Marketing Airline), but another airline is the one actually flying (the Operating Airline). If so, theres a good chance that online check-in isn’t working on the Marketing Airline’s site. Or it could be that the airline you’re flying with doesn’t have an online check-in service for your route.

Top tip: If this happens, you can often check in on a partner’s site instead! This has proven to be the case for smaller airlines flying out of larger airline hubs like FRA, AMS, ZRH, or LHR. For example for Belavia flights, they don’t offer online checkin on all their routes, but you can use the KLM site to check-in online if you are flying out of Amsterdam (AMS).

5. Online Check-in May be Suspended Due to Payment Issues

If you bought your flight using someone else’s credit card, like your friend or boss, this can flag you for credit card fraud. Other flags for credit card fraud can be a different address on your credit card to the one on your document, booking a flight very last minute, and/or not having enough time to verify your payment method. When you have been flagged as potential fraud, they’ll want to do extra checks at the check-in counter.

In many cases, there’s no reason to panic. The airlines lose around 1Billion dollars a year to fraud. So understandably they want to make sure you actually are allowed to use the credit card. This is why they will make you check-in in person, and may ask you to present proof with the physical card, or an authorisation document sometimes.


In some cases, online check-in isn’t working because your ticket is not valid yet, or no longer valid. Check for a 13-digit ticket number on your booking to ensure your booking was processed correctly. And if none of the above helps your mind stop worrying about worst case scenarios, then all that’s left to do is pick up the phone and call the airline.

Bonus tip:

If you need to check in at the airport, but love to have your boarding pass digital and stored in your Apple Wallet, or GPay, download GetPassbook. It simply scans your paper boarding pass and creates a digital mobile pass file, which you can add to the OS Wallet of your choice.

Available on both the AppStore and Google Play.


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