Every airline has its quirks. Some are generous with the snacks, while others won't even hand out pretzels. Carriers have their own flight attendant uniforms, plane designs and luggage restriction. But the major airlines have nearly identical policies about some things, including boarding passes. It's common for passengers to have several options to choose from when getting these all-important travel documents.

Getting Mobile Boarding Passes

Now that nearly everyone travels with a smartphone or other handheld device, major airlines allow passengers to use those devices to access boarding passes. (Even Southwest's boarding process, which is run differently from other airlines, allows for the use of mobile boarding passes.) Using a mobile boarding pass saves paper and makes it harder to lose the pass. A piece of paper can be misplaced, but most people always have their phones handy.

Generally, mobile boarding passes are accessible starting 24 hours before departure. Log onto the airline's website and check in for the flight. Once you're checked in, the site should offer the option to send you a mobile boarding pass by text or email or using the airline's app. It should look similar to a paper boarding pass, right down to a scannable bar code.

Before banking on using a mobile boarding pass, though, check the airline's website to make sure they're accepted at your airport. Some smaller regional airports take longer to get this option set up. Because accessing the boarding pass may require that the holder have internet access – and technical issues tend to happen at the least-convenient times – take a screenshot of the boarding pass and save it to the images folder of the phone or tablet. If it's not possible to load the boarding pass when it's time to board, pull up the screenshot and use that instead.

Printing a Boarding Pass

Generally, airlines give passengers the option to print paper boarding passes themselves at home. Check in online within 24 hours of the flight and look for this option. Alternately, print boarding passes yourself from a self-serve kiosk at the airport. Major airlines generally have these kiosks in major and smaller airports in the United States and in other countries. Use a confirmation number, credit card or passport to access it.

Using a kiosk has a few benefits. Travelers can select their preferred language, which makes them ideal when you're traveling in a foreign country. If the ticket you have includes the option to choose a seat, using the kiosk also means getting access to a seat map that shows all the seats currently available. Make a last-minute change before printing the boarding pass. Travelers who have baggage to check may still be able to use a kiosk to print a boarding pass.

Printing Passes at the Airport

While handheld gadgets are everywhere, the airlines recognize that not everyone has them or can use them. Agents at the airline's ticket counter can always help passengers get their boarding passes printed. Be prepared to show photo ID. This service is generally free, although some budget airlines, including Spirit, charge a small fee for using counter service.

Getting a boarding pass printed at the ticket counter may require standing in line. Keep in mind that for an international flight, boarding time isn't the only factor in determining when you should get to the airport. Airlines often suggest passengers arrive at least two hours before an international flight, but waiting in a long line at the ticket counter will eat up some of that time.