First they did away with the paper ticket. Then they did away with the bulky boarding pass, and now they’re going to do away with even that flimsy little boarding pass that you print out at home from your PC. The world’s airlines are on the way to letting passengers get through the airport without having to wave that sweat-soaked, crumpled-up piece of paper at anyone at all; all you’ll have to do is show the security guys the screen on your cell or mobile phone, Blackberry or other ‘device’. Under an IATA agreement made final this week, the device would show a tiny digital bar code that would become the boarding pass and get a flyer past security and to the boarding gate itself.
Passengers would have to register their phone or PDA when they book the ticket; they’d then get a message from the airline with the barcode or a way to download a unique barcode. IATA director-general Giovanni Bisignani says the bar-code standard just approved by members is “an important step in getting rid of paper that bogs down processes and drives up costs.” IATA estimates that airlines could save as much as $500 million a year when the bar-coding is fully implemented. Air Canada is already rolling out a paperless boarding pass (but not for flights to and from the US) Canada, and WestJet has also experimented with it; in Europe, Air Berlin and Spanair and ANA and JAL in Japan have also taken steps toward paperless boarding passes, according to IATA.
But it may be a while before US flyers can use this technology. The US airport security agency, the Transportation Security Administration, would have to accept the concept and then develop or buy the appropriate barcode-reading technology for use at its screening stations. But TSA is planning a test, in cooperation with Continental, IATA tells us, which at least shows that they’re thinking abut accepting the concept. A few questions remain such as: will the same people who lose their boarding pass lose their PDA? what happens if you put your mobile into your shoes, as is now done in the States, to get through security?