The demise of the paper airline ticket is nearing in the US market as electronic ticketing begins to dominate. Use of e-ticketing is running at 70-80% on domestic routes and majors have already started to raise price penalties for the use of paper tickets.

United Airlines, which began e-ticketing in 1994, will be rid of paper tickets by July 2003 on US routes and worldwide by 2004. American Airlines, which plans to be totally paperless by 2003, says that it will charge customers who insist on paper an extra $20. Northwest Airlines has raised its fee from $10 to $25 for paper tickets and Delta Air Lines doubled its charge to $20.

The strategy is opposed by travel agent groups, especially because carriers such as Continental Airlines will charge the agent a penalty if it fails to impose the fee. Despite accusations by the agencies and by consumer advocates, the airlines insist that it is not a revenue-raising move but is designed to cut costs. For each electronic ticket issued, carriers save $5-8 in expenses.

One objection stems from interlining, but carriers are working towards common protocols to avoid problems when fliers are rebooked on a different airline after a cancellation or delay. Northwest expects to be able to interline with all major carriers before the end of this year.

America West Airlines and Continental became the first US airlines with an electronic-ticketing partnership in 1999. American, Continental and United have similar agreements with other airlines.

Another series of consumer objections stems from the introduction by carriers of a complex new series of rules, restrictions and tariffs on ticket use. The six largest US airlines have now made many non-refundable fares unusable after the ticketed date of travel if the traveller does not confirm itinerary changes beforehand.

Rather than unused credit being available for a year, travellers will now lose the total value of the ticket unless they fly as originally booked or on a standby basis, or call the carrier ahead of travel and pay alteration fees that can be as much as $100

Source: Airline Business