United Airlines has been using mobile phone boarding passes for several months now. Passengers can check in to a flight online and have an electronic boarding pass e-mailed to their phones. The e-mail has a code – sort of like a UPC code – that is scanned at both the security line and at the boarding gate. This is a totally paperless process.
I used it once over the summer. I didn’t trust the process yet, so I printed a boarding pass at home just in case. It worked just fine but I didn’t like having to have my phone out, on, lit up and open to that document, so I didn’t use it again. However, I can be bribed. So when United sent me an e-mail offering me a thousand miles for each time I used a mobile boarding pass for the rest of the year, I tried it again. After six flights in four different airports, here is my analysis:
- It works. Once you have the box code on the phone, it scans very nicely at both security and at the gate. I didn’t have any trouble with that. However:
- It is not available for all flights because not all airports have the scanner equipment. For two of my six flights, I didn’t have the option.
- Even at O’Hare, not all security lines are equipped with the scanners. Do you know how annoying it is to wait in a security line only to find that you can’t use that line and have to go stand in another queue? Totally unacceptable.
- For one flight, I checked in on the phone and received the email boarding pass, but the code box did not appear. You know that little symbol when there is supposed to be a picture but you can’t see it? I got that. It only happened once, so I don’t think it was my phone.
- My trips were either one night or two nights, so I didn’t bring the charger to my phone. All three times, I worried about burning out my battery from keeping my phone screen continually active and lit in the queues. And when my phone goes dark, it locks up and I have to punch in a password to open it again, so you don’t want to lose that while you are in line.
- You can’t carry your boarding pass through the metal detector. So if the TSA agent wants to see your information again, you have to wait for it to come out of the x-ray machine. I didn’t have that happen, but I worried about it.
- I couldn’t do anything else with my phone while the boarding pass was open and available. Like check my email.
In the Pro Column: Being green and paperless, and not having to worry about how and where one might print off a boarding pass before heading to the airport.
In the Con Column: Paper is a lot more handy than managing the process with a cell phone.