The Check In “en” Counter

Check In At the Airport aka The Too Often Dreaded Check in Counter

Check your attitude before checking your bags


There are days when you arrive at the counter just ready for an epic, BraveHeart-esque battle… right? You were not able to get seats together with your spouse, you know your bag is just 2 lbs over the limit and you want a free upgrade…you know you deserve ALL this because you fly all the time and you’ve played out the conservation in your head as you walk up to the counter. You’ve already looked over the counter agents trying to decide which one has Little Big Man’s disease and which one you can sweet talk…..sound familiar?

Ok, Ben-Hur, slow down and back up….Let’s take this one step at a time.

What Are YOU Bringing to the Airport Check In Counter?

Did you take my advice from the last post and ease up on the caffeine this morning? Did you get a good night sleep? Were you running around frantic at the last minute? Did your ride to the airport show up late?

Before you approach someone who has not had any contact with you…EVER…check your emotions. The counter agent is not the enemy. They did not book you on the 6:00am or misplace your computer power cord this morning. Breathe….Now…be pleasant.

Pre Check In Counter Strategy

If we are traveling as a couple, we often “divide and conquer”. Ridlon goes to check in and I park the car in the lot (this saves time). I drop him off with the checked bags and I bring the carry on luggage. Here’s why. When you roll up to the counter with two checked bags, a roll aboard and a shoulder bag for two, it just looks like a ton of stuff. So he checks in with only his small shoulder bag carry on luggage. I arrive and go sit in the corner with the three other large carry on luggage pieces. He comes and takes over with the carry on luggage while I walk to the counter to quickly show my ID (or often he shows it for me) and then off we go to security. Works like a charm, ESPECIALLY on small airlines where they will definitely insist you check (and pay for) the second carry on.

If you get to the gate and they say it’s too big for the plane, they simply gate check it for you. It gets hand delivered to the top of the stack and at no charge.

Done deal.

Avoiding the Check In Counter

Kiosk service is wonderful if you have it in your airport. You check in, indicate the number of bags, get your boarding pass, drop your bags and go. If you are Elite Status with the airline and checking in at the kiosk, click on “special” status for your luggage then inform the counter agent you have status that allows for free bags.

Checking in on line before leaving home can be a good idea if you are running late but I have found that I still need to show the counter agent my ticket so it generally doesn’t get me too far. The notable exception to this is Southwest Airlines where you ALWAYS want to check in online at least the night before. For Southwest Airlines, boarding passes are issued in the order passengers check in and even if you’re the first to check in at the airport, dozens of people have already checked in before you online.

The En”Counter”

If I opt to bring all bags to the counter, I always put my large carry on luggage at my feet to avoid any questions (I travel with lots of heavy camera gear). As I am approaching the counter I scan for the person’s name on their ID badge and ALWAYS greet them by name. It makes such a huge difference and the agent is always surprised that you care enough to call them by name. Instant connection. I ask how they are doing and immediately hand over my passport or ID without being asked. If you give the impression that you know what you are doing it makes quite a difference in the attitude of the agent.

I then chat amicably to them. This is not to “get something” but simply because it’s now a pleasant interaction, you may learn something fun about them and it makes their day better and yours too. They automatically just process you through while enjoying the conservation and send you on your way. Easy!

Luggage Restrictions, Favors and Not So Favored

Know the restrictions of the airline you are flying


If your bag is overweight you’ll be charged. Agents are strict about this so weigh your bags and don’t expect a favor here. All that will happen is that you will sit on the airport floor pulling out shoes and jackets and getting mad. It’s not their fault that you can’t tell the difference between 50 and 53 pounds. However, I have been known to “hang” my bag off the scale a little or let it rest on my leg so the full weight is not resting on the scale (shhh, don’t tell!)

If you want a favor, ask in a pleasant upbeat manner and don’t act like it’s the end of the world if you don’t get it. I often say, “well, I just thought I would ask!” Then remember, you can always ask again at the gate! Intimidation and fist pounding doesn’t get anyone anywhere anymore. Its been done for so long now that service personal have just learned to tune out.

If the Check In Counter Turns Into a Bad Dream

Of course, there are times when it all goes bad. The army duffel bags I travel with, if filled to the brim and stretched do exceed the bag size but in 12 years of using them I’ve never had a problem. I don’t fill them to capacity, never pack them over the weight limit and if I have one extra bag, I am proactive and walk up and say, “Hi, I have 3 bags so I’ll need to pay for one of them.” That is the surprise of a lifetime to an agent!

One day, we came across an agent who just wanted to make a point. Here I am, in the middle of an itinerary and he tells me he is going to charge me $400 in oversize bag fees. Of course, there is no way to “change the bags” since we are in the middle of the ticket. So we kindly asked for a supervisor. It’s OK to do this but again, don’t fist pound. Simply acknowledge to the agent that it seems that you can’t come to an agreement on this issue so you need to speak with someone who can help make a decision. At this point, we decide which one of us will handle it. Having both you and your spouse trying to prove a point doesn’t work. In most countries out of the US, it’s still better for the man to handle it. Sorry, ladies but that’s the reality of it.

Do not make it a test of wills; look for a win/win. You want to get what you think is a fair compromise but allow them to save face as well. You may even ask, “How can we make this a satisfactory ending for all involved here?”

Always write down the ID number and name of the agent in case you need it for future correspondence but I don’t do this till the end of the conversation so it doesn’t seem like a threat. I do this so I can explain my unhappiness about a particular agent but also if they have helped solve your issue, I will often call or write the airlines to compliment the supervisor.

There have been a few occasions when a compromise can’t be worked out. In this case, I use my American Express card, and then deny the charge on the card. This gives you some recourse after the fact.

The main points here are really the same as you learned in Kindergarten at age five; play fair, be nice and no temper tantrums!

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2 Responses to The Check In “en” Counter

  1. Tyler Tervooren February 26, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    It’s all about the win/win. People have been playing the zero sum game for too long and all you ever end up with is flared tempers, one party clearly unhappy and the other party victorious but still likely unhappy about the whole exchange. Compromise is the name of the game in negotiation. You give up a little bit of something less important to you in order to gain more of what you really want.

    I’m interested to know more about this American Express trick you use! Luckily, I’ve never had to deny a charge on a CC before. How can you deny a charge that you ultimately consented to?

    • admin February 27, 2010 at 11:35 am #

      Win/Win is the name of the game. As for AMEX, its a matter of either not consenting or consenting under duress. If we are half way through an itinerary and our only other option is to leave our bags sitting on the airport floor and fly on without them, that’s not much of a choice. Just because we put the charge on our card at the time doesn’t mean we agreed with it. That’s what we explain. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Thanks for the comment!

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