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The Paperless Boarding Pass: My Experience with Mobile Check-In

The Paperless Boarding Pass: My Experience with Mobile Check-In

I have had a smart phone for about two years now, but it was only most recently had an opportunity to try the very ‘en vogue’ paperless boarding pass – that is, a pass that you download on your phone.

It was surprisingly hassle-free (I was half expecting people to look at me in disbelief as I waved my phone around), but everyone understood the procedures and the technology seems well tested. Many airlines are offering bonus miles for you to try it out (a little trick from Chris Guillebeau’s snzzy guide to frequent flyer miles), so if you’ve got an eligible flight in future I would encourage you to try it out.

Mobile Checkin

I actually checked-in “Online” not on my phone. I got an email from United to let me know check in was open, and I was eager to do so as I wanted to make a quick seating change and knew I could get some good seats during early check in. Hopped online, and then selected the option to get a “mobile boarding pass.” What happened is that United sent me an email which allowed me to open up a secret webpage with my pass on it. The pass has a QR Code which can be scanned at security checkpoints and gates. Here’s what mine looked like:


Security Check In & At the Gate

This is where I was expecting some hassles – after all, this is TSA territory, and we all know how well that is going. Surprisingly, they didn’t bat an eye – in fact, it was almost less hassle than the paper pass; maybe these are harder to fake or perhaps the terrorists haven’t heard about them yet.  Dunno.  Anyway, every time it was no hassle and no questions.  They have a mobile QR scanner at the checkpoint, sort of a big bulk thing that looks very para-military, but it worked just fine.

Same story at the gate.  The gates at United all are using the same type of scanner, so my phone waved over the same scanner as did the paper boarding pass.  No hassle, no questions, nobody blinked an eye.  I was like, really, wait, something has to go wrong! Stop!

The Pro’s and Con’s of the Paperless Boarding Pass

Despite my breezy experience (and the mileage bonus to boot), there are of course some pros and cons to the paperless boarding pass.

The Pros

  • I loved not having a piece of paper to stuff in a pocket, crumble in my bag, or spill coffee on.  And one less thing to throw away at home.
  • It’s super easy to get a new boarding pass – just click refresh.  I can imagine this a huge time saver when dealing with irregular ops and airport mayhem.

The Cons

  • The browser on my iPhone tends to refresh a page automatically when you open it, which is annoying all the time, not just when you’re opening your phone to check in at the gate.  So be mindful of this.
  • It goes without saying, but you do need a smartphone, and you need a full battery.
  • Paper is pretty low tech.  Mobile introduces more opportunity for mistakes and mishaps.  Inevitable.

This feature I think will become more and more of a “regular” feature, considering it’s a win for everybody involved.

Handling Changes

I had read that the mobile (paperless) boarding pass actually will refresh if you have changes en route, and I even got to test this out!  I was upgraded to First Class (benefit of being the travel guy, you see), and when I went up to the desk, I handed my phone, and he said, “oh, just refresh – a little Christmas gift for ya.”

I said I was actually reviewing the entire process so I’d be curious to see if this works, and his colleague at the desk overhead me and told me that they have had few if any problems and that it’s all worked really well.

Refreshing the page finished, and boom – new boarding pass.  Couldn’t have been easier.

Try It Out

So next time you’re at the airport, try it out – and ask if there’s a mileage bonus too!

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