After hearing about mobile boarding passes back in early 2012, I was eager to try it out during a business trip I took earlier this year. I booked my ticket with United Airlines, downloaded their Android mobile app and added my reservation. I should mention that their app is extremely useful for other features like checking your flight status, changing seats, getting airport maps, and so on.
Like many other major airlines, their app allows you to load up your boarding pass code, so instead of having to print a boarding pass, you can have the code scanned directly from your phone’s display at both security and at the gate. The one positive I can really think about is that you paper usage, and that’s really about all I can think of right now.
For starters, mobile boarding technology still isn’t implemented at most international airports, so I had to use a traditional boarding pass for my outbound trip (since I don’t live in the U.S.). On the return trip from Las Vegas, I had already preloaded my boarding pass and got a copy via email. The code simply stores the digits of your confirmation number (or some other tracking number that references you to your flight details). When I got to the airport, I checked my bags in via the kiosk since I had already web checked-in some hours before. The baggage attendant informed me that because their boarding pass system was backed by the airport’s internal wireless network, there could be the chance that the scanners won’t work should the network not be functional. I decided not to chance it and asked for a physical boarding pass, but still intended to use my phone to get past checkpoints if I could.
At the security checkpoint, I noticed that there were no special lines for those had mobile passes. I would have assumed that since it was still newish technology, they would have given an incentive to use it over a traditional pass. I had to wait like everyone else even though I possessed a paperless option. When my turn came around, I got them to scan my pass from my phone, but I did notice that it took a little longer for the scanner to detect the code versus those who used traditional passes. I used my Nexus 4 on the brightest setting and the display does look clear/crisp enough, at least to the human eye.
Moving along to the actual boarding process, once again there was no special line for those who had mobile codes and out of the 100+ people boarding the aircraft, only one other passenger used their phone to display their boarding pass. Again, the scanner took some time to recognize the code (which felt a bit awkward given how quickly people wanted to board). The same process occurred when I transited through Houston.
In terms of how the passes worked, my experience was flawless as compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard, but then again United’s system does work pretty well as compared to others.
But what’s the point of it all if it offers no time saving advantage?
After doing some research, the only people benefiting from this would be those who fly domestic without checked baggage. They could easily check in via their phone or on the web and then head straight to security rather than having to queue at a check-in counter.
Someone flying with baggage or flying international really won’t see the benefits or have any incentive to use a mobile pass over the traditional alternative. Also, given the number of instances where mobile apps suddenly freeze or just not generating the code in time for the flight, it still has a long way to come. I for one don’t plan on using it anymore unless airlines give me a real reason to try it again.
For instance, I’ve flown on a few smaller airlines that actually have separate lines for those who check in via the web, and that’s a huge advantage because it could mean standing in a line with just two people ahead of me rather than fifty. Given how limited mobile pass usage still seems to be, at least if I was given the option of preferential boarding or just skipping past the general masses, it would be a huge plus for me. Sadly that’s not the case.
However, I do encourage travelers to use the airline mobile apps for other reason because you can access a plethora of flight information right from your cellphone. For instance, my flight from Houston was delayed by an hour and my app was able to tell me that the aircraft being used to service my route was held back because of bad weather and it even gave me the city where it was coming from and the aircraft registration number (United’s internal registration that is). Other apps have similar features, so try them out if you get the chance.
[Cover Photo: MissTurner/Flickr]