What is a Boarding Pass?


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About the author:

Co-founder and Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.

What is a boarding pass? How to get a boarding pass?

When can you use a mobile boarding pass, but when — you should use the printed boarding pass? How to get a boarding pass for a connecting flight? What if you’re flying with two or three different airlines, how does it work then? These are some of the questions that we’ll answer in this guide.

Very often this depends from the airlines, and their policies — so, these things change every once in a while. Take this into account.

Boarding passes and money
Boarding pass

1. What Is a Boarding Pass?

A boarding pass (or a boarding card) is a confirmation that you can board a plane. A boarding pass contains information about flight times, gate number, seat number, flight number, and, of course, has passengers name and last name.

You will receive your boarding pass after you check in for your flight. Airlines see check in as a confirmation that you are coming — that you will fly.

2. How to Get a Boarding Pass?

Is it sent right away after booking a flight?

No. You’ll get your boarding pass only after you check in for your flight. Usually check-in happens not earlier than 24-48 hours before the flight. Early check-in might be available for certain ticket types and business class passengers.

There are two options how you can get a boarding pass:

  • Online check-in
  • Airport check-in

2.1 How to Check In for Flight Online?

There are two ways how to check in for a flight.

You can do it online, or at the airport. Online check-in usually opens 48 or 24 hours before departure, and closes a couple of hours before departure. These deadlines may vary from airline to airline. 

Online check-in is not always available.

If online check-in is not available, you will need to check in at the airport. Take into account, that you may have to pay for airport check-in (it doesn’t apply to situations when airport check-in is the only option).

2.2 How to Check In for Flight at the Airport?

Airport check-in usually opens 2 hours before departure.

For long-haul and intercontinental flights, it’s usually 3 hours, rarely – 4 hours. Check-in closes 30–60 min before the departure. Take into account, that it all depends on the airport, airline and destination.

Budget airlines often charge for airport check in. And the fees are often ridiculous. Make sure you find out if airport check in is free. If not, check in online. Or take the easiest path — check in online every time it’s possible.

You can use a self-service kiosk to check in for your flight, too.

The feature is available even if you have checked baggage. Check in at a self-service kiosk, take the boarding pass and leave your checked bag at a baggage drop-off counter (not all airports offer this, though).

Person checking in for flight at check in kiosk
Person checking in for flight at check in kiosk – Photo by Anna Shvets

3. Boarding Passes: Printed vs Digital

Boarding passes can be digital (on your phone) or printed.

You can download and print boarding pass online — at home, hotel or print shop. Airports also have special machines (self-service kiosks), where you can print a boarding pass. However, not all airlines are supported. Alternatively, your boarding pass may also be printed by airline staff at the airport.

3.1 Do You Need to Print Out My Boarding Pass?

No. In most cases, no.

Nowadays, printing boarding pass is optional.

Most people, who check in online and don’t have checked baggage, travel with electronic boarding passes only. There are special apps for safe and easy storage of boarding passes. Most likely you have these apps on your phone already (Wallet for iPhone, Google Pay for Android). Alternatively, you can use your airline app on your phone.

But it’s not always possible to travel with a mobile boarding pass. Some airports require passengers to get printed boarding passes at check in counters. This is not very convenient for those who travel only with carry on baggage. Because then you still have to wait at the long check-in line to get boarding passes.

3.2 How to Get Boarding Pass on Your Phone?

There are three options:

  1. Use the app of your airline (easiest)
  2. Download boarding pass in PDF (most popular)
  3. Save electronic boarding pass to Wallet / Google Pay (most convenient; as long as your airline gives you this option)

If you use the app of your airline, not only you can save your boarding pass on your phone, but also check in for your flight, add extra baggage, add a meal, book a new flight ticket, etc. Some airline apps have an option to add boarding pass to iPhone Wallet or Google Pay.

The second option is the most popular. Most airlines will send you an online boarding pass in PDF format. You can save this PDF document to your phone or show it from your email. Saving on phone is the safest option. So, you can access it also when you don’t have internet.

Better, make sure you save it on your phone, too!

Not only on the internet (like iCloud on iPhone).

The third option is the most convenient. More and more airlines offer this option. They send you boarding passes in a special format that Wallet and Google Pay understands. For example, you’ve received boarding passes in your email. Then there’s usually a button “Add to Apple Wallet”, “Add to Google Pay”, or something like that. More and more airline apps also have this option to add to Wallet or Google Pay — this is super convenient.

3.3 Can You Go Through Security With a Mobile Boarding Pass?

In most cases, yes.

However, there are situations when a mobile boarding pass is not enough. In some situations you will need to acquire a printed boarding pass at a check in counter. If you go to the security with a mobile boarding pass when it’s not possible, the staff at the security check will notify you.

For example, in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, we had to stand in a 1-hour long line to get boarding passes. It was in 2021. The same happened in JFK, New York, in the summer of 2022, we had to get check-in at the airport. Even though we had digital boarding passes on our phones.

That’s why it’s important to arrive at least 2 hours before the flight, even if you have already checked in and have a boarding pass.

Inside Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 4
Inside Singapore Changi Airport

4. Boarding Passes for Connecting Flights

If you have an airline-protected connecting flight, everything is very easy.

All you have to do is to check in online and download all boarding passes. Usually check-in starts not earlier than 24-48 hours before the flight. In most cases, you will receive an email from your airline informing about that.

4.1 One Airline

This is the easiest situation. Mostly you can check in online.

If your connecting flight is operated by one airline, most probably you will be able to check in for all the flight legs with a single click. 

4.2 Two or More Airlines

You may have to check in at the airport.

If your connecting flight is operated by two (or more) different airlines, you may need to check in at the airport. Yes, your connecting flight is still airline protected but a part of it (or all of it) is operated by a partner airline. It is a very common practice in the aviation industry. You should not worry about it. As long as you have an airline-protected connecting flight booked on a single ticket (one booking reference), the procedure is easy.

For example, you have booked a flight from Riga to Islamabad with Qatar Airways. These are proper airline-protected Qatar Airways connecting flights. However, it doesn’t mean that all your flights will be operated by Qatar Airways. In this case, most likely there will be 3 flights, and the first will be operated by airBaltic, Qatar’s partner airline.

First, try to check in online. If that’s not possible on neither airline’s website, don’t worry about that. Arrive to airport 2-3 hours before the flight, and check in there. Go to the check-in desk of the first airline you are flying with. You will be given all boarding passes for all flight legs. You will receive all of them at once.

4.3 Self-Transfer Flights

What if you have a self transfer?

Self-transfer flights are separately booked flights. If you have booked your flight separately, you will need to check in for each flight separately. 

Read more about boarding passes for connecting flights.

5. Electronic Ticket vs Boarding Pass

Electronic ticket (e-ticket) is a document you get after booking a flight online. You get this document via email, and it’s a proof that you have booked this flight. It contains information about your flight and passengers, as well as information about services you’ve booked (additional baggage, meals, seats, etc.).

Usually, together with an e-ticket you receive an invoice. 

Boarding pass, on the other hand, only contains information that the gate agent needs to see. Such as your name, travel class, ticket type, seat number. You get a boarding pass once you check in for your flight. It gives you permission to board the plane. You can’t board the plane with an e-ticket.

6. What If You Lose Boarding Pass? Can You Get a New?

If you lose your boarding pass, you can get a new one.

If you haven’t gone through security, return to the check-in desk and ask to print you a new boarding pass. If there are self-service check-in kiosks, you can reprint your boarding pass there. If you are already past the security check, go to your gate and ask the staff to print a new boarding pass. 

Keep in mind that some airlines charge for reissuing of boarding passes.

Featured photo by Torsten Dettlaff

About the author:

Co-founder and Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.

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