Monday, February 7, 2011

eBoarding passes will be great - but not there yet

eBoarding passes are a 2-D barcode that you download to your mobile device.

Instead of printing out a boarding pass at home or at a kiosk, you can then walk right up to security and show your mobile phone. You get access to your eBoarding pass either by downloading an app from your airline or by getting a text message or email with a link to the barcode online. They have a scanner that reads your barcode at security and at the gate.

Ad advantage of the eBoarding pass barcode from a security perspective is that the system can detect that you have a legitimate ticket - it reads your name and presumably also checks with the airline to see if you are booked on the flight. This is a big step up from boarding passes that you print out at home, which anyone with a modicum of Photoshop skills could fabricate.

I've tried the system out when departing from both La Guardia and Detroit airport. I expect the system will eventually become standard, but it still has some kinks.

First, the TSA hasn't standardized their procedures for the eBoarding pass. At La Guardia, they hand you a laminated card to show to the officer that checks your boarding pass after you walk through the scanner. At Detroit, they don't check your boarding pass twice, so there is no laminated card needed. This is a minor point.

A bigger problem is that at least with Delta iPhone app, you need a live connection to the Internet to display the eBoarding pass. The Delta app doesn't download the 2-D barcode and then store it. So once I went through security with my eBoarding pass, but at the gate I had no data connection so couldn't call up the barcode. This was a hassle since I didn't have a paper ticket. (The gate agent was able to look me up by my driver's license and print out a boarding pass.)

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