Up To No Good

When you spend approximately 7 hours on hold to a company in the space of a couple of days, you get to know their hold recordings pretty well. You also start going a little crazy and vowing never to use their service again (or writing humorous songs about your experience), but that’s by the by.
I can tell you that if you are flying from Toronto Pearson with Air Canada, you can check in at the airport UP TO 45 minutes before the flight or online UP TO 24 hours before the flight. So far, so easy. But here’s the problem: those two uses of UP TO don’t mean the same thing. They don’t even mean similar things; they mean the complete opposite.
Online check in opens 24 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure time. In-person check in closes 45 minutes before scheduled departure time. Are you with me? Let’s have an example.

Flight AC848 departs YYZ 20:20 on 30 Jan.
If I want to check in online, I can do that anything UP TO 24 hours in advance, ie any time between 20:20 on 29 Jan, and whenever it closes (this isn’t specified in the hold recording).
If I want to check in in person at the airport, I can do that anytime UP TO 45 minutes before, so I need to arrive by 19:35 on 30 Jan.

So what does UP TO mean and how can these both be right?
UP TO means less than or equal to. With times, that means less than or equal to the amount of time stated. Online check-in is available LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO 24 hours before take-off.
But with times it can be used to mean before the time of day stated. In-person check-in is available BEFORE [the time of day designated as] 45 minutes before take-off.
Confused? I certainly am. In the law, we strive and strive to make contracts only interpretable one way, as writers we should do the same. So next time you use UP TO, especially referring to times, think if there is another possible meaning and if you could make yourself better understood by phrasing things differently.

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Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

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