American’s New 45 Minute Check-in Requirement Inconveniences Travelers

Update: Despite a change to American’s published policy in March, per American spokesperson Ross Feinsten they will still check you in and issue boarding passes without checked bags 30 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights. New post forthcoming describing how actual practice differs from published policy.

Update 2: Here’s how the check-in systems work in practice versus what’s on American’s website.


In March American changed the minimum check-in time to 45 minutes prior to flight, from 30 minutes. The airline did not notify customers of this change at the time — no emails, no banners at AA.com, just different information on its website.

(Some specific airports have longer required check-in times.)

Minimum check-in times don’t mean too terribly much for most customers, most of the time, since you can check-in online or via the mobile app. But you can’t always do that, as I experienced last month while in traffic caused by an accident enroute to New York JFK. A 15 minute difference is a big deal.

Delta remains 30 minutes.

(Some airports require more time with baggage, and in some cases even without baggage.)

United also has a 30 minute minimum check-in time.

American requires customers to conform to its operational desires more than its competitors.

It’s part of American’s obsession with “D0” — cajoling employees and inconveniencing customers by making every operational decision not based on precision or rule but based on anything that will promote pushing back exactly at the proscribed minute in the schedule.

A year ago I wrote about American’s ‘Goldilocks Problem’ “Boards too Early, Updates Delays Too Late” and suggested management’s focus on “D0” rather than being ‘just right’ and helping ensure passengers get where they’re going on time is actually forcing customers to make significant adjustments for the convenience of the airline.

AirTran years ago operated a hub-and-spoke operation, but kept costs down by pioneering the idea of ‘passengers waiting on planes’ rather than planes waiting on passengers. Connecting passengers in Atlanta often had long blocks of time between flights.

American is increasingly becoming like AirTran, with customers adjusting to the airline’s operation rather than gearing the airlines operation around customers.

On-time performance matters, but Delta’s 30 minute check-in requirement demonstrates that 45 minute check-in isn’t necessary in order to obtain on-time performance.

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. Getting quite annoying recently on AA – had a flight last week that was supposed to depart at 6:40 with boarding beginning at 6:10. I left lounge about 6:05 and the monitors said nothing about boarding. Showed up to gate at exactly 6:10 and it was a ghost town. I thought there was a gate change or something but GA rudely informed me that everyone was aboard and waiting for me! We still sat at Gate for a while and on Tarmac. I bet some people were on the plane close to an hour before takeoff and this was a for a 2 HR flight

  2. No win situation for the airline. Chastised for being late, Chastised for trying to be on time.

  3. Consistent with your post, yesterday on PHL-RDU segment, 30 minutes before departure as boarding was about to commence, GA announces they need to change tyre on plane (presumably a known process and time). AA never updated departure time so travelers had to remain in gate area. Finally boarded 60 mins late. Lack of interest in passenger experience is one of the few certainties on US carriers.

  4. D=0 focuses on the wrong stat. “On time” performance matters more to customers than D=0. If D=0 is the norm, then AA should stop padding its schedules to allow 120+ minutes for 70 minute flights. An early arrival can be just as inconvenient as a late one.

    D=0 is no doubt connected with management bonuses.

  5. Oh how right John is! Bonuses are most certainly tied to the -10 door slamming! This may have worked at the much smaller USAirways but has been a complete disaster at the “new” AA. Sadly, it has pitted agents against flight attendants and pilots, often leaving revenue and non-revenue passengers behind. “Going for Great” is not what is happening.

  6. My guess is that this laser focus on on-time departures will please far more people than it annoys and will generate fawning media coverage that will generate more profits for the company. Just get your boarding pass in advance and show up early at the gate and maybe you’ll appreciate it too.

  7. I’m not sure how much some posters have been flying AA very much lately, but if you have, it’s hard not to notice the totally free fall of the operations of the airline.

    AA doesn’t care about the customer — they show it in things like Gary has posted above, when they wait until boarding time to cancel flights where crews clearly have timed out (leaving passengers with much fewer options), to the very buggy and often unoperational web site that consistently has problems with changing flights, pricing changes, and with same day changes.

    In addition to the generally poor attitudes from customer service and phone and Admirals Club reps that don’t know the rules and struggle using the legacy AA system.

    It is an operational disaster and management is playing with fire.

  8. I work for an airport who meets regularly with the TSA and airlines. They have bumped the times because of the TSA checkpoint wait times. When passengers are cutting it close at 30 minutes and have a 20 minute wait time in the checkpoint, they miss the flight in larger airports. The other airlines are following suit. If they don’t make the 30 minute cut-off at check-in, they’re rebooking on another flight because they know the passenger won’t be able to board.

  9. So glad I stopped chasing status with this carrier. Keep your EQM’s and 100k flight miles.
    My money is going to pay for first class on the carrier that has the best combination of nonstop flights and 1st class seating.

  10. @Mimi – but United and Delta haven’t done this. And there’s still a cutoff for reaching the gate, so this is unnecessary. Besides it means that passengers who will usually still make it just fine, such as those with precheck, are inconvenienced for no reason at all.

  11. A related question is whether AA can simply change the minimum check-in time any time it wants, even for passengers who already purchased tickets. I content that AA is not permitted to do so. See 14 CFR 253.9, https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/253.9 , disallowing material adverse retroactive changes to contracts of carriage. Check-in time is surely material, as failure to comply leads to forfeiture of confirmed space. Also adverse to passengers, as it’s an increased obligation for passengers.

    An additional concern is that for a time, it seems AA staff were acting as if the requirement was 45 minutes when in fact the posted COC, on aa.com, actually said 30. My sister was denied transport in this situation in this period.

    This week I filed a DOT complaint about this problem. See http://www.benedelman.org/airfare-advertising/pdf/m-edelman-to-dot-14jun2016-aa.pdf . Anyone with relevant experience or related comments for the DOT can do so at https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOT-OST-2016-0107-0001 .

  12. I haven’t noticed the operational stuff that much at LAX but I sure have noticed the difference more than once on the Gold and Platinum phones lines. Recently one woman based in, I believe Raleigh, was the 2nd worst experience ever in 30+ years of flying. I was somewhat complicit at the end, as I lost my cool and ended up yelling at her. Not excusing that, but it was a family emergency. But when you’re barely at the end of your first sentence and you get a knee-jerk ‘sorry cant help you – buzz off’ response ( when you know full well they can), it was shocking. The end of the conversation was (Me:) “So let me sum this up. You actually could help me with this, you just choose not to.” Her: ” Yes, that’s right.”. After hanging up I redialed and asked for a supervisor, where I had no trouble explaining my situation that was caused by AA’s error, and it got resolved fairly.

    United telephone folks overseas may be incompetent or not empowered, but at least they aren’t rude.

  13. All I want to say is THANKS American for the kick in the pants. I have been wanting to change my airline loyalty for YEARS, but your former frequent flyer program kept me from doing so. Despite the delays, ridiculous schedules, unclean older planes, rude service, lackluster lounges and bad food; flying your airline for miles was too good a deal to pass up. Now that you have gutted your FF program, there is no value in flying your airline anymore.

  14. It’s too bad, the Horton AA of 2012-2014 attracted a lot of UA M/HVFs like myself to come over partially or wholly. Have given a lot of high CPM biz to AA (love redeeming on CX, tolerate BA), but I’m just not seeing the value going forward.

    sUS planes absolutely suck, and the airline just feels cheaper now compared to UA…quite a change from a couple years ago.

  15. Based on my experience the notion that American has a ‘laser like focus’ on ontime departures and arrivals is laughable. My most recent experience involved getting pushed to another flight at another airport because the flight I purchased didn’t run–thank Mesa on this one — one of AAs horrible regional operators. AA needs to get their regional operators under control or start getting rid of the ones that don’t seem to be able to do the job.

  16. AA’s 45-min policy is for check-in – NOT BOARDING. Boarding for domestic travel still begins at 30 or 35 minutes prior to departure according to aa.com/i18n/urls/boarding.jsp. The “check-in” they are referring to is what takes place prior security when you get your boarding pass and sounds totally appropriate even for short TSA lines. Most people are even checking in before they get to the airport so this is not a big deal.

  17. It sure seems like people like to complain about US airlines. I take over 100 flights a year on the US airlines and ALL of them are now providing decent service. Honestly the only thing worse these days is the free upgrade situation which certainly diminishes the value of my UA 1k status, But I clearly don’t have a RIGHT to those upgrades (that they’re now selling ).

  18. I’d also note that complaining about the ff programs makes sense too, at least as long as you consider that you were probably over-entitled (aka getting more than you paid for ) in the past. But anyone who has any elite status (or maybe even just some credit card benefits ) and precheck can have an entIrety acceptable airport /airplane experience. That’s a reality check.

  19. This article is misleading. This article does mention that it’s for checking bags at the counter. American still allows you to check in up to 30mins if you are carrying on only.

  20. Flying for Life, what would you do if you tried to check in 44 minutes before departure, domestic without bags, and were refused? If you were told you had missed your flight and needed to pay a change fee and fare difference to travel? If you were converted to standby? You could cite Gary’s blog and the statement he paraphrases from an AA spokesperson. Good luck with that! The actual AA contract, embodied in the COC, says 45 minutes.

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