Reports of the boarding card's death are greatly exaggerated
Despite what you'll read elsewhere online today, the death of the printed boarding card is still a dot on the horizon, even if the airline industry is beginning to catch up with the smartphone revolution. The UK media is declaring the printed passes will soon be no more, because British Airways are launching a new mobile app that stores itineraries, flight information and a digital boarding pass; you'll be able to use it on all domestic flights by the end of August, and most short-haul flights soon after.
The app launches on the iPhone from Monday, with versions for Android and BlackBerry to follow shortly after. You need to be a member of BA's Executive Club to access it once you've downloaded it, but then the Executive Club isn't all that executive - I'm a member for crying out loud; anyone can join it for free.
Reading the Telegraph's coverage, you'd think BA's 'software developers' were mythical sorcerers who had discovered alchemy, instead of geeks messing about with an API. British Airways is by no means the first airline to do this; they're over a year behind the likes of Air New Zealand and several other European airlines too, but it's enough to get the UK media excitable. "Paper boarding pass set to disappear" reads the Telegraph's headline; "Not for another five to ten years", it should clarify underneath.
The reason? Boarding passes presented on mobiles are a world away from boarding passes printed at home - another cost effective solution favoured by many airlines. It's easy enough to ask a friend or colleague to print the documents for you, but a digital boarding pass requires the individual to have the means to provide it. The problem is that while it may seem like smartphones dominate the mobile landscape, they've a long way to go; in the US marketplace for example, smartphone ownership counts for barely a fifth of all handsets.
For printed boarding cards to be scrapped completely, either airlines have to invest in web apps than can be reliably accessed on much older handsets that don't use native apps (and even then, there are still plenty of people using mobiles with no web access), or smartphones require universal take-up by consumers. In other words, the printed boarding card is here to stay for a good while yet.
Image by adactio on Flickr. Some rights reserved.