No, You Probably Can’t Check in Online for Your International Flight

We felt lucky that we could get a direct flight to Amsterdam via Delta Air Lines for our European trip. When Delta contacted us by email, my husband followed the link to the Delta web site and filled in preliminary information such as our address and passport numbers.

The day before we were to leave, he got another email telling him that we could check in online for the next day’s flight. Again he followed the link to the Delta web site, filled out all the forms, and printed our boarding passes.

I thought it all sounded too easy for an international flight. Nonetheless, we had boarding passes with assigned seats. When we got to the airport, there was a sign at the Delta counter saying that you could get in the “check baggage only” line if you had a boarding pass. I even asked the Delta rep standing at the sign if this applied to international flights, and she said yes.

So we stood in line. When we finally got our turn to check bags, the agent looked at our boarding passes and passports, and said, “Oh, you two are in trouble.” She pointed to the top of our boarding passes, where very tiny letters said “document verification required.”

Fortunately, she was very nice. She sent my husband over to the self-check-in kiosks and told him to scan both passports and print out new boarding passes. She put our bags aside and let me wait near the baggage check area while he did this. When he came back, the new boarding passes said, in the same very small letters, “documents verified.” She then checked our bags and we were on our way.

But what I want to know is this: Why did the online check-in process never indicate anywhere that we would have to scan our passports at the airport? In fact, why did the online process even allow us to print out boarding passes, since they weren’t valid boarding passes anyway and had to be replaced at the airport? Why did Delta put us through the whole online check-in process and lead us to believe we had checked in properly when we hadn’t?

Next time we’re flying out of the country, we’ll know better.

Departing from Sea-Tac Airport

During the 40+ years we lived in St. Louis, we became spoiled air travelers. St. Louis was the hub for TWA, which meant that we could get a direct flight from our home airport to just about any other major city in the United States. And back in the truly good old days, we often had our choice of several direct flights and could pick the most convenient time for us.

But when TWA went belly up, American Airlines absorbed it and soon phased out St. Louis as a hub in favor of Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. No longer could we get a direct flight to anywhere and instead had to travel to either Chicago or DFW to get a connecting flight to wherever we wanted to go. The number of available flights also dwindled. We usually ended up with no choices, forced to take the one available flight to the new hub and then the one flight to our destination city.

Now that we’ve retired to Tacoma, WA, Sea-Tac Airport has become our new hometown airport. Alaska Airlines has for some time been the major airline headquartered at Sea-Tac and has been increasing its service area. In fact, Alaska initiated a nonstop flight between Sea-Tac and St. Louis just before we left St. Louis.

Recently, Delta Air Lines has begun to compete with Alaska Airlines as the major carrier out of Sea-Tac. This healthy competition is good for consumers in terms of number of destination cities and number of available flights.

But the addition of flights is a drawback in that Sea-Tac does not have the infrastructure to support both the increased number of flights and the increased number of passengers. Where passengers already see this problem is in the horrendously long lines that form at the entrances to the security checkpoints.

And the problems will only get worse. On January 27, 2015, The Seattle Times reported on plans to expand Sea-Tac to accommodate an expected boom of passengers over the next 20 years: Traffic at the airport is expected to grow from last year’s [2014] 37 million passengers to 66 million 20 years from now:

A new International Arrivals Facility planned for 2019 is only the beginning. Also on the drawing board are plans for 35 more airplane gates added to the north and south of the airport’s 81 current gates, and potentially an additional new passenger terminal.

This article reports that Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are involved in a dispute over “how, or even whether,” the new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) should be funded. The cost of the proposed new facility was recently increased to $608 million.

More recently KING 5, Seattle’s NBC affiliate station, reported on March 5, 2015, about a public meeting at which Sea-Tac International Airport and Port of Seattle officials presented expansion plans:

Sea-Tac projects up to 66 million passengers by 2034 and indicates it needs to add gates, a new international terminal and reconfigure other infrastructure around the property.

There will be several more public meetings in upcoming months to gather public input on the expansion plans.

In the meantime, anyone flying out of Sea-Tac Airport should plan to allow plenty of time for getting through the screening process. When we arrived at about 6:45 for a recent early-morning flight, the line was not too long, but later in the day the line can snake out of sight down the concourse. Plan to arrive at least two hours before your scheduled departure time, or even earlier if you’re flying out during the peak mid-day hours.