Reports of the boarding card's death are greatly exaggerated

16 July 2010

Lufthansa boarding pass. Image by adactio on Flickr. Some rights reserved.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.


  • Roger R.
    Who cares what BA does, it's not like anyone ever gets to fly with them with there striking and what not.
  • PaulH
    I travelled by Lufthansa last month and had the option for having my boarding pass emailed to me with I thought was a good idea (and I saw a guy use it at the airport) BUT you needed an internet connection as they had to scan the pass AND check the email to see if the details were correct. This is OK in this country as (im assuming) every will have a data bundle with their phones but if you are in a foreign country you don't want to be connecting to the internet and spending money getting your email up...needles to say I printed my boarding pass off at home...
  • kev
    just wait til ryanair starts charging a tenner for a physical boarding pass :D
  • The B.
    Bloody hell, even the Eurostar uses it and it's not as though they can even spell technology without snow causing a breakdown.
  • M4RKM
    Some airlines still haven't got e-tickets so i'm pretty sure that bit needs to come first. And as for online check in, well I always do that bit in the UK, but then it gets torn up at the airport, and I'm issued a normal boarding pass... Thanks Delta. I'm all for electronic gizmos and gadgets, anything to make things easier to remember, but I once tried checking in on a mobile phone and it was hellish... Things need to improve.
  • Junkyard
    Who cares that they'll have to provide paper boarding passes for the plebs? At least those of us with decent phones don't have to piss around with them.
  • Codify
    Emirates have been doing this for a couple of years now
  • -]
    I'll stick to my paper passes, thanks. For the rest of my life, not just the next five-to-ten years.
  • Is B.
    [...] its mainstream debut this year, it’s unlikely to kill off cash or cards anytime soon; as with the rise of airlines using electronic boarding passes failing to replace paper documents, unless everyone has a handset with NFC technology then it [...]

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