Mastering the Mobile Boarding Pass

Technology is changing everything. Remember when our tickets were printed and mailed to us? Today virtually all flights are ticketed electronically, and boarding passes are increasingly digital as well. A mobile boarding pass is a digital document that allows you to pass security and get on the plane. It’s usually accessed from a mobile phone, but can also be displayed on a tablet or laptop. It replaces the old-fashioned paper boarding pass. Both documents have a digital code for scanning: a bar code on paper, and a QR code on digital.

Benefits of Mobile Boarding Passes

When there are no glitches, mobile boarding passes are very convenient.

  • It’s easy to misplace a slip of paper, but we are very motivated to track our phones.
  • You request your mobile boarding pass at online check-in up to 24 hours in advance, so it will streamline your airport experience. You avoid lines at desks or digital kiosks.
  • You can go straight to security if you are traveling carryon, and checking baggage is faster.
  • Lastly, it reduces waste and diminishes the chances that nefarious folk will get hold of your discarded boarding pass and extract the travel information embedded in the bar code.

Benefits of Paper Boarding Passes

Most problems with mobile boarding passes relate to the phone. Maybe your phone is out of juice: You ran it out binge-watching Downton Abbey on your previous flight, or you mistakenly assumed you’d be able to charge your device on the plane or at the gate. Perhaps a last-minute pickpocket grabbed your phone. If your phone has a very small screen or a cracked screen, it might not scan.

  • You need data or Wi-Fi to access the mobile boarding pass. If airport Wi-Fi is expensive, down, or glacially slow, you may not be able to load it. Sometimes when you open a phone with Wi-Fi enabled, automatic updates will take over, slowing or even crashing your phone. Even the newest phone can be stubbornly, suddenly unresponsive on occasion.
  • You may be compelled to download the airline’s mobile app. These can be very useful, but older phones may not have space.
  • Some airports, especially smaller regional ones, may not support the QR code technology. You can research in advance, but information may be unreliable.

Who Should Use a Paper Boarding Pass

It’s great insurance against technical issues.

  • If you’re prone to losing things, or prone to draining your phone playing games and watching media, make sure you have a printed version.
  • Got an old, sluggish phone? A small screen? A cracked screen? Print them.
  • If you are not confident that you can easily find your pass with a few touches, print them.
  • If you have access to a printer, print at home. Otherwise, get your paper boarding pass at the airport.

Tips for a Low-Stress Boarding Experience

Mark your calendar for 24 hours before departure, and watch for an email reminder from your airline to check-in online. Sometimes you’ll see “no online check-in, please check-in at the airport” – good to know, so you can plan. Check all flight times: They may have changed since you booked reservations. Monitor flight status on your day of travel.

If you end up running late at the airport, being checked in already can make a huge difference in whether they allow you on the plane.

There are multiple ways to access mobile boarding passes

  • Open the text or email message when it’s time to show the document.
  • Take a screenshot of the document and save it to your photos, then you can retrieve it without data or Wi-Fi.
  • Download and save it as a PDF — make sure you know how to find it!
  • Save it in your smartphone wallet app (Apple Wallet comes with iOS).
  • International flights may allow online check-in, but require stopping at the counter for passport verification.

If you encounter any problems, don’t delay: Scoot to a counter and get help.

Getting a printed boarding pass at the counter or kiosk is generally free, although some low-cost airlines such as Spirit and Air Asia charge a fee for using counter service.

Our advice: Always check-in online for a mobile boarding pass, AND play it safe and print a copy.