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Standing at a check-in counter at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, 10 minutes after check-in closed, I couldn’t help but exclaim to the agent “but the plane’s right there!” – as if she didn’t know. I knew it wouldn’t help, though. To be fair to its passengers who’d checked in on time, the airline wouldn’t reopen check-in for me and I missed the flight.
Some think that cut-off times are set according to the amount of time it would take a traveller to get from check-in to the gate. But if it was as easy as simply getting to the aircraft before the departure time, check-in wouldn’t have to close as early. See, it’s not you; it’s us.
The check-in cut-off time is when various teams set to work in terminals, on and around the aircraft, and at our Operations Control Centre (the OCC), to get everything finalized for departure. And there is a lot that needs to happen in the time between cut-off and take-off. A LOT.
In a job reserved only for “mathemagicians,” an OCC load controller verifies the location of checked-in travellers in seats and plans how much luggage goes into each baggage compartment to ensure a perfectly balanced aircraft, front to back and left to right – an important safety requirement. This Swoopster can do much of the work beforehand, but final calculations can only be completed once check-in closes.
The ground-handling team, armed with the details given to them by the load controller, makes their way to the aircraft with checked luggage in tow. The ground handlers load the bags according to the plan, then read back actual numbers to the controller for verification. Should the number of checked-in travellers and bags change, bags and/or travellers may need to be moved around at the last minute.
A dispatcher, also working in the OCC, checks the number of travellers and bags checked in and plots a safe route through the sky. The dispatcher calculates the most-efficient altitude, checks for changes to flight routes, makes notes about the aircraft’s current performance and plans a route to an alternate arrival airport in case of an emergency. They then work out how much fuel is required and sends those details to the local fueler. Should any of the inputs change, the flight plan may need to be re-worked– a very time-consuming task.
Back in the terminal, around the time check-in closes, the gate controller prints the flight plan and en route weather and hands it to the pilots. The pilots will double-check the details and enter the flight plan into the onboard computer. The gate controller keeps the printer working hard by publishing manifests for the crew – for some destinations up to seven manifests are required for immigration.
As you can imagine, it can be quite a hustle to get everything ready to meet our goal of closing the gate 10 minutes before departure. Re-opening check in for just one traveller or bag could result in us having to repeat some or all of these linear processes and mean a delayed flight. And because each plane is scheduled for just a short turn between each flight, one flight delay can result in all flights on that aircraft being delayed that day, affecting many hundreds of travellers.
For domestic flights (within Canada) Swoop check-in and baggage drop close 45 minutes prior to your scheduled departure time. For US and international flights check-in and baggage drop close one hour prior to scheduled departure. We recommend travellers arrive no later than 90 minutes prior to the departure of a domestic flight and two hours prior to an international flight.
Be sure to allow extra time to get to the airport in case of traffic conditions or longer-than-expected airport lineups. You never know what you might run into along the way and it’s better to be safe than sorry! Travellers should plan even more time for check-in during the busiest travel times of the year such as long weekends, Christmas, spring break and the peak summer months of July and August. These are anything but “normal” periods so please arrive at the airport with even more time to spare. It’s far better to arrive earlier than necessary and have time for coffee, then it is to be running through the airport or risk missing your flight. Travellers can speed things along by checking in from home on FlySwoop.com and printing or saving a digital copy of your boarding pass with you to the airport. Those already holding a boarding pass will enjoy a speedier experience at check-in, and those without bags to drop off can go straight to security.
The worst part, for me, standing at Tegel, was that I knew all that was happening behind the scenes and still didn’t manage to check in on time. I had no one to blame but myself. The hours passed very slowly while I waited for the next flight to Dusseldorf, during which time I had lunch, browsed shops – and wrote this blog post. I’m sure the travellers onboard had no idea I “took one for the team” as they pushed backed on time, without me.
Moral of the story. Arrive on time! Don’t be late because your flight can’t wait.
Written by Michael Parker