Air travel just got slightly more tolerable.  Last week, United Airlines launched their wireless check-in and paperless boarding pass service.  When I saw this, I was slightly skeptical because I normally expect more progressive companies such as Southwest or Virgin America to launch services similar to this.  American Airlines and United only recently added WiFi to their routes (it is available on United on about 3 routes and most MD-80s that American has have GoGo InFlight).  At certain airports (see below), you can use your smartphone to checkin and grab your boarding pass.

  1. Enter mobile.united.com into the browser of your mobile device to check in for any flight within the U.S. starting 24 hours before scheduled departure.
  2. If you are flying through one of the airports listed below, you can select to receive your boarding pass via email. Otherwise, visit any EasyCheck-in® kiosk to print your boarding pass at the airport.
  3. To use your device as your boarding pass, scan the barcode on your screen at security and at the gate when boarding.

You’ll also be able to check flight status and get up-to-the-minute arrival and departure information, including times and gate information at the following airports (with United):

  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  • Dallas – Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York LaGuardia (LGA)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Washington Dulles (IAD)

Why This Is Awesome?

  • It is so easy! Being able to check-in to your flight on the way to the airport and walking past the ticket counters without ever needing to print a boarding pass will quickly become my favorite part of flying.  The whole idea of printing your boarding pass at home for your “convenience” is really not a “convenience” for most customers.  It is a cost saving measure by the airlines.  There is less interaction required for the customers and less paper and ink tickets going out that the airline has to pay for.
  • This might mean reduced ticket prices? But probably not, since the airline industry barely scrapes by with a profit anyway.  Although, you would wonder if this might reduce the number of people the airline industry employs since there would be less of a need to interact with customers.

Why Will This Flop?

  • What happened to security? Is this really secure?  I have a really hard time believing that the TSA is going to let this fly (yes, I know, a terrible pun).  The first time that a TSA agent sees this, they are probably going to reject this person outright.  Depending on what the boarding pass looked like, how hard would to fake something that looked like this.  Not very, if you were technically skilled.  The TSA agents would need a scanner that would interface with the United ticket database to verify that these are actual, genuine tickets.

What I Would Like To See

  • Dedicated apps.  If you’re a business, having your own app for smart phones is de rigueur.  This is would create value among customers because they would love the convenience of being able to walk straight into security with their carryon and get right to their gate.  You could allow for a much richer customer experience, such as choosing your seats by using not only a seat map, but an actual photo of that seat to let you see if you would like the window placement, leg room, TV location, etc.  It might benefit the airlines as well because customers could move to standby for other flights, upgrade to first class, check on missing baggage – all without ever needing to call or speak to anyone.

There are other airlines such as Continental and Delta (planned) migrating to online boarding passes.  Everything considered, this is excellent use of smart phones and rather overdue.  This is an classic example of writing apps to create value rather than writing apps to drive revenue.