Never Forget to Do This Before Boarding a Flight, Expert Warns

SKIPPING THIS SEEMINGLY BASIC PRE-TRIP REQUIREMENT CAN HAVE MAJOR CONSEQUENCES.

Whether you're a seasoned traveler or someone who rarely leaves town, everyone has their own unique style when it comes to preparing for a flight. Some set out clothes and make arrangements to get to the airport days in advance. Others may wait until the last minute before stuffing their suitcases and running out the door. But no matter how you typically prepare for a plane trip, experts warn you may be missing one essential task. Read on to see what you should never forget to do before getting ready to board a flight.

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Experts warn you should always check in to your flight as soon as possible.
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The last 24 hours before leaving town can feel like a whirlwind, despite any preparations for your trip you've made well enough in advance. Even if you're accustomed to traveling, the hectic pre-departure schedule can make it easy to miss the little things you might otherwise notice. But according to experts, one of the most important things you can do is check in to your flight as soon as possible.

"There are a few instances where it is quite important to check in early—and the earlier, the better," Scott Keyes, founder of travel blog and airfare website Scott's Cheap Flights, tells Travel + Leisure.

Forgetting to check in early could result in a bad seat or make you miss your flight.
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Inclement weather keeping your plane grounded isn't the only kind of travel day delay that's possible. Running into traffic or hitting an unexpected snag on the way to the airport can turn a well-timed trip through baggage check and security into an all-out mad dash to catch your plane. But waiting until you get to the airport to fetch your tickets isn't only adding another step between you and making it to your gate on time: You may also have arrived too late to check in to your flight at all.

According to Keyes, major carriers like American Airlines typically close check-in 45 minutes before domestic flights and 90 minutes before international trips. Fortunately, thanks to the convenience of smartphones and devices, you can now complete check-in with a few simple taps no matter where you are. And because of the unnecessary stress it can add about making it to the airport well in advance, "there's essentially no good reason to be putting it off until then," he says.

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Checking in to your flight as early as possible can be even more important on airlines like Southwest.
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It's one thing to be concerned about missing your flight. But Keyes has a specific warning about flying with Southwest, which uses a notoriously unique group-based seat assignment process. "That first-come, first-serve is determined by what time you checked in for your flight," he explains. "So, if you check-in for your flight, even five or 10 minutes after that 24-hour mark, you're going to likely get put into the B or C-section groups, which means your odds of sitting together as a group or getting an aisle or window seat are not great. Especially if it's a packed flight."

And it's not just Southwest: Purchasing a basic economy ticket on most airlines usually means you won't be able to select where you're sitting until 24 to 48 hours before your plane departs. Besides ending up in a dreaded middle seat, waiting to check in can be risky in the event that there aren't enough seats to go around.

"If you've got a long flight, you don't want to leave it up to the airline to assign a seat," Zach Honig, former editor-at-large for travel website The Points Guy, tells Real Simple. "If you don't have a seat assignment and the flight is overbooked, there's a bigger chance that you may end up getting bumped."

Downloading your airline's app before your flight can remind you to check in as soon as possible.
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Besides setting a calendar notification or alarm, one of the easiest ways to stay on top of checking in to your flight as early as possible is to be reminded with a quick and easy push notification sent right to your phone. By downloading your airline's dedicated smartphone app as soon as you purchase your tickets, an alert will let you know when it's time to check in and get first dibs on any seat selections that may have opened up. You can also use it to download your ticket, avoid long lines at the airport, confirm your flight status, and keep an eye on any openings in a precious window or aisle seat in real-time.

Plus, there's always the chance you'll be rewarded for your punctuality. "Sometimes airlines allow seat selection after check-in or at least have first pick compared to folks who check-in later," Keyes says. "It's rare these days, but every once in a while, check-in time can be the tiebreaker for determining upgrades, too."

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