As I was checking in for my flight yesterday morning, I decided to use United’s new mobile website. Their new mobile site allows access via a smartphone. I used my Blackberry. What was even better was that as I checked-in on my phone, I was emailed a link to a webpage containing my mobile boarding pass. I could then access the boarding pass on my phone’s mobile browser. The boarding pass had a 2-dimensional bar code, my name and all my flight and gate information.
The boarding pass was not only usable to board the flight (more later on that), but was also usable to get me thru the TSA security check point. When I reached the TSA checkpoint at Dulles airport (IAD) here in DC, I handed my phone to the TSA agent. He asked me to hold its screen over their mobile boarding pass reader. All he wanted was my ID. As the machine scanned the bar code on my phone’s screen, the TSA agent could see my name and other info on his screen. He was able to compare it to my drivers license and I was good to go. Fast and smooth.
As far as I know, not all airports in the US allow using mobile boarding passes. I am sure not all TSA checkpoints in the country have the readers for these passes. I am also sure that United would have notified me when I checked in that I need to print a physical pass, if I was boarding at one of those airports.
Refresh to Update:
A really cool feature of the mobile boarding pass was that I could hit ‘refresh’ at any time to get updated information, including gate and more importantly, new seat assignment. This was great for me as I was waitlisted for an upgrade to First Class and could keep checking the status by refreshing the boarding pass page. Unfortunately, my upgrade was not confirmed until after the flight started boarding, so I got a new paper boarding pass for my First Class seat from the Gate Agent as I boarded. Too late in the process for them to update my mobile boarding pass. Not complaining, I did get the upgrade. I am writing this in seat 1D, sipping coffee in a nice china cup and saucer. It does taste better in china than in a foam cup…
Well, not everyone has a smart phone, so this only works for people with a web-capable phone with a data plan. The only other risk I saw to the whole process was the loss of data access via your phone during the TSA check or boarding. What if your phone goes bust or there is no signal at the TSA check point or the gate? The gate is not that much of an issue, as the gate attendants can print you a fresh one, but I see the TSA checkpoint as a potential challenge. I was afraid of this as I was approaching the TSA agent this morning and made sure that my boarding pass was loaded in my browser well before I even entered the airport. I would have hated to get out of the TSA line to go up to a check-in kiosk to get a paper pass.
I do not know if anyone has done any calculations on how much paper get used every day as flight boarding passes at airports across the world. Whether you print at home or get a boarding pass at the airport, it is paper and it’s wasted after one has boarded the flight. Or if you are like me, shredded after your miles have been credited to your account. Mobile boarding passes are certain to save a bunch of paper and the trees they come from. I was hoping to do my part today, till my late upgrade resulted in a paper boarding pass.