Ask LH: Can I Check In Online And Not Print My Ticket?

Ask LH: Can I Check In Online And Not Print My Ticket?

Dear Lifehacker, I travel regularly and was wondering if you could clear up a question regarding e-ticketing. When away in another state I often want to check in online to ensure I can get the seat I want but can’t because I don’t have a printer to print the e-ticket on. Can the e-tickets be scanned from a smart phone or iPad by the check-in staff? Thanks, PrintlessDear Printless,

You certainly can take advantage of online check-in without having access to a printer. Broadly speaking, there are two possible scenarios here if you’re talking about the major domestic airlines in Australia:

  • Both Qantas and Virgin Blue officially offer online check-in via smart phones. In this scenario, you can complete check-in on your phone, and then have a paper boarding slip printed at the gate before you board (or at the check-in if you have luggage).
  • Even if you don’t have a supported mobile phone, you can generally get away with online check-in if you have access to an Internet-connected PC or tablet prior to your trip. Just check in using the site as normal, and then either check in again using a kiosk at the airport to print your boarding pass (if one is available) or by visiting a counter and explaining that your printer “wasn’t working”. In my experience, no-one will care in either scenario. Jetstar allows online check-in 48 hours before flying; for Qantas and Virgin Blue, it’s 24 hours.

With that said, it is worth noting that the choice of seats you get if you check in in advance won’t necessarily be that broad. Qantas lets many of its frequent flyers select seats after they make a booking, and Jetstar lets you choose seats as you make a booking. If lots of people have done that on your flight, the available options might be quite limited — but they’ll still probably be better than if you wait until you hit the airport to make a selection.

Cheers Lifehacker


  • Hi Angus,

    One thing that’s caught me offguard more than once:

    When flying Virgin Blue, if you check in without using their special mobile check-in service and do not have access to a printer, you cannot “reprint” your ticket at the kiosk and must proceed through the (loooonnnggg) bag drop/check in lines. When flying Virgin I’d strongly suggest you use your mobile device if you know for a fact you won’t be able to print your boarding pass prior to arrival at the airport.

    Hope this helps someone!

    • Thanks Chris now I know I won’t have to run around Orlando on Tuesday looking for a printer!! Your answer was just what I needed to know many thanks!!

  • I’ve flown Emirates a few times. When doing the online check-in without a printer available, the online check-in desk will print your boarding pass for you after seeing your passport. That way you confirm your flight, pick your seats and still manage to dodge the gigantic normal check-in queues.

  • I was able to do a paperless check-in with Qantas a few months ago – I did the online check-in from my iPhone, and was SMS’d a link to a QR code. At the boarding gate, the attendant simply scanned the QR code on my phone screen, using the same scanner she had for the printed ones. I was worried it wouldn’t work or there’d be a problem, but it was a very smooth experience. I’m not sure if it’s available on all flights/destinations though.

  • If you’re flying Qantas and you’re a frequent flyer member then you can simply scan your frequent flyer membership card at the gate rather than your ticket. Combine this with adding your frequent flyer card to an app LH featured last week, ‘Key Ring’, and you have a simple way of always ensuring you can board if you don’t have access to a printer.

    A note about online checking and seat selection, I often find that I get a much better seat without selecting online. This depends where you prefer to sit I guess, but last time I travelled with colleagues I checked in online and they checked in at the airport – when I selected my seats online the closest I could get to the front (where I prefer to sit) was row 40 somthing. My colleague was allocated row 25.

  • Flying with British Airways recently their iPhone app apparently allowed you to use your phone as a boarding pass, sadly it required a signup so I just printed a boarding pass.

    • BA’s app gives a 2D barcode which can be scanned right off the screen. However, in practice, I found loading up the app each time (departures,security,boarding,aircraft door) a pain. You can snapshot the code and just open it as an image in Photos, but still, I found it easier to just print a pass at the kiosk, and wave that around when needed, whilst keeping my phone to myself!

  • As a previous Virgin Blue (and Skywest) check-in staff, I can vouch for this story. I recommend the boarding gate if there are staff there as it will be faster than a check in queue. You will need to show ID.
    Whatever you do, make sure you have a boarding pass at boarding time. If you can’t manage that, stay home please.

  • Some airlines officially allow you to show MMS/Email on your phone as the boarding pass. When you complete your online check it, it will ask you to choose what phone you have, and will send you the appropriately-sized-and-formatted bar code for your device. You just show them the MMS/Email, and the staff scans the barcode directly from it, without you needing a paper boarding pass. Air France officially encourages this. And I struck up a nice, albeit brief, conversation with the air hostess when I presented the boarding pass on my iPad for scanning. 🙂

    Other airlines do not officially support this. But I have also been able to board by getting the staff to scan my iPhone/iPad with a minimum of fuss. I think most airline staff would’ve come across this issue already and the general attitude seems to be that of acceptance rather than raising unnecessary procedural or security concerns.

  • I know that with Jetstar, as long as you have your booking reference number you can type that in on those self-service check-in machines to print out your boarding passes.

    Afterwards you line up and it’s all good.

    I also like the idea of using QR codes on smartphones – it seems like it’s the future.

  • In my experience, using the qantas iPhone app to check in does not let you pick a seat – you just get randomly allocated one by qantas. This got it deleted off my iphone immediately.

    The other thing I tried, and failed, at was to check in on my PC before I left home. This gives you an option to print your boarding pass…I tried printing to pdf, putting hte pdf onto iphone and scanning from iphone at the gate…fail.

    I’ve the most success with checking in on a PC, then printing a boarding pass using one of the terminals when I get to the airport.

  • My wife son and I travel domestically at least 3x per year and we always “forget” to print out or boarding passes or leave them at home. So far Tiger is the only one who charges us for not having a boarding pass.

    I wish that I could get this simple concept through to my not-so-old parents who insist on printing out the boarding pass. They don’t realise that as long as you have your ID and have checked it online, you don’t need to print the boarding pass. @lovabletechguy

  • I flew with virgin last nite and had my hands full and my boarding pass stuffed in my pocket and I said to the hostess as I boarded the plane “I know I’m seat xx” & she told me she still had to check the boarding pass to make sure I was on the right flight. So I had to stuff around to get it out. I’d really like to b able to show something on my phone. Because I’ve flow to qld and my parents don’t have a printer, so I can’t checkin online cause I can’t print the damn boading pass :s

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