What is a Paperless Boarding Pass?

M.C. Huguelet

The paperless boarding pass system is a technological innovation which allows airline passengers to download and display travel information on an Internet-enabled cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA). During airport check-in, the phone or PDA is presented to airline staff and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials for scanning in lieu of a traditional paper boarding pass. In addition to being environmentally friendly, this system is intended to provide heightened security and simplify the air travel process.

A paperless boarding pass system may simplify and speed up airline check-in procedures.
A paperless boarding pass system may simplify and speed up airline check-in procedures.

Generally, a US traveler who wishes to utilize the paperless boarding pass system must first check in on the airline’s website. She will then receive an email which includes an encrypted barcode. This barcode contains all information that appears on a traditional boarding pass, such as gate numbers and seat assignments. The traveler then presents her mobile device with this barcode displayed to TSA officials and airline staff at all airport checkpoints. Using a handheld device, officials and staff scan this barcode, verifying that the boarding information is genuine.

Paperless boarding passes may be downloaded onto a cell phone using specialized apps.
Paperless boarding passes may be downloaded onto a cell phone using specialized apps.

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TSA authorities claim that the paperless boarding pass system can facilitate heightened air travel security. The encrypted barcode used in the system is said to be much more difficult to forge than paper boarding passes. Thus, as paperless boarding pass usage increases, the incidence of fraudulent boarding passes will likely diminish. To make airport security as exhaustive as possible, however, TSA officials require all travelers utilizing the paperless system to provide valid photo identification which corresponds to the information contained in the barcode.

In addition to strengthening air travel security, the paperless boarding pass system can also simplify the airport check-in process, reducing the stress that sometimes accompanies the air travel experience. This simplification is due mainly to the fact that the encrypted boarding information can be refreshed on the traveler’s handheld device. Once refreshed, the boarding information will display any changes that might have been made to the boarding gate, the flight itinerary, the passenger’s seating assignment, and so forth. This capability allows the traveler to avoid mishaps such as reporting to the wrong gate.

One final benefit of the paperless boarding pass system is its abandonment of physical boarding cards. Displaying boarding information electronically saves paper and is thus environmentally friendly. In addition, it can potentially speed up the travel process by eliminating the possibility that a traveler will misplace or forget her card, a mistake which can normally be rectified only by obtaining a new card.

A PDA, which can hold a paperless boarding pass.
A PDA, which can hold a paperless boarding pass.

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Discussion Comments


My family and I are in the process of going paperless and we recently had a good experience with the Southwest boarding pass. They let us checkin online and sent all of our boarding passes to our wireless devices. It was great as all we had to do was go to a kiosk at the airport to get our boarding passes printed up. As a bonus, they also sent us mobile updates letting us know what was happening with our flight.

I do wonder though, when you'll be able to not have to print anything and just be able to show your e-mailed barcode to get on a flight? That would really be something.


We recently had a meeting at work where they were teaching us to how to go paperless and getting paperless boarding passes actually came up in the presentation. I was surprised about the barcode that could be put on your cell phones because I honestly thought that airports would need a bit more security than that. I guess if you still have to see a real person at the airport it is OK.

I actually like the whole paperless office concept though, and am glad more paperless businesses are popping up. It really is tragic what we have done to our environment. Since everyone has a cell phone or tablet these days, why not just download what you need?


Whenever I travel I always make sure to get the paperless boarding passes as it really speeds up your time at the airport. I notice so many people still in line at checkin counters and really wonder why they just didn't do it online and save themselves a few hours out of their life.

I think as paperless technology continues to improve we're going to see more and more penalties for checking in the old fashioned way. Already some budget airlines are charging a counter fee if you don't do your stuff online before getting to the airport.

Once you have your electronic boarding pass all you should need to do is get your passport checked and your bags handed in to get through the gate.

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