Do mobile boarding passes make any sense?

Yesterday I flew from San Juan to Tampa via Miami on American, and decided to use a mobile boarding pass. The check-in queues were rather long, so I pulled up my mobile boarding pass in a matter of seconds.

After yesterday I was reminded why mobile boarding passes suck. I’m all for saving paper when possible, though this is an area where the savings don’t justify the inefficiency of it all, in my opinion.

First I went to the TSA checkpoint, where the agent didn’t have a mobile boarding pass scanner, so she had to leave the line and go to a scanner on the other side of the checkpoint to verify my boarding pass, which held up the line for about a minute.

Then I got to the Admirals Club, where my mobile boarding pass wouldn’t scan, so my flight information had to be looked up manually.

Then I got to my gate, where once again my boarding pass wouldn’t scan, even though I pulled it up correctly. Then I had to present my ID in addition to my seat number, once again holding up the line.

In Miami I accidentally pushed the wrong button on my phone, and closed my mobile boarding pass. I tried to once again pull it up from the link in the email, and it wouldn’t come up. Fortunately they have a PDF version as well, so I showed the gate agent that for my Miami to Tampa flight, and she manually entered my seat number and said I can go ahead.

Then as the door is about to close from Miami to Tampa the flight attendant comes up to me and asks me for my boarding pass. I show him the PDF copy, and he walks away satisfied. Then the gate agent walks aboard and asks for my ID, which she walks off with. In the meantime I overhear the guy behind me telling his wife that I’m probably trying to sneak into first class. A couple of minutes later the gate agent comes back with my ID and says “I’m sorry about that Mr. Lucky, we had a bit of a mixup.”

Anyway, I just can’t help but think that mobile boarding passes are a massive waste of time/resources. Online check-in is great, but does any frequent flyer actually consistently use mobile boarding passes?

Let me know in the comments section or the poll below!

[poll id=”16″]

Filed Under: American, Travel
  1. I hate them. I always just use a kiosk printed bp if not checking a bag. The time savings are minimal and things often go wrong (like you experienced). Every time I’m held up during boarding while someone tries to scan their phone over and over again I wish these damn things had never been invented.

  2. I think you just had bad luck. Of course, if the boarding passes don’t work (or if security doesn’t have the scanners), then they don’t make sense.
    For me, they’ve been working well so far, so I usually just go directly to the security checkpoint when I arrive at the airport – completely skipping the check-in desk and not having to print out a piece of paper at home either.

  3. I hate mobile passes. Waste of time.

    I prefer Qantas’ q card boarding. There is a barcode on the back of the Qantas frequent flyer card and after checking in online or at an RFID pole, an email or text is sent to you with your flight number and seat number. At the gate the barcode on your card is scanned and a small boarding receipt is printed out to show cabin crew. Still like the old card stock bp’s though!

  4. Waste of time. And I’m always annoyed when I’m stuck behind someone whose pass won’t scan.
    The ONLY instance where I think a mobile boarding pass might be useful would be if I was cutting it real close timewise getting to the airport and was worried that the kiosk at the airport wouldn’t print one because it was too close to flight time.

  5. I’ve found that mobile boarding passes on the iPhone AA mobile app have trouble scanning unless the screen brightness is turned *all* the way up. Once this is done, I’ve never had trouble with them scanning.

    Oddly enough, I’ve never had this issue with United mobile boarding passes.

  6. Great topic! I’m not sure either if I should like them or not. I’m Munich based and using Lufthansa for most of my flights. Whenever I’m not able to print my boarding pass I request a mobile boarding pass. So far nobody wanted to see any additional identification. But I had troubles with the scanners quite often and the gate staff had to enter my data manually, which is quite annoying when the whole line is stucked because of you. Nowadays I have the strategy to print my boarding pass at at machine as long as I have some minutes spare time. Normally there are no lines and printing takes thirty seconds.

  7. I would prefer it more airports became mobile boarding pass friendly, although I do agree that at times it can be a hassle if the TSA doesn’t have their act together and the scanner is broken, not at their podium, etc. Once they even tried to blame Delta for the battery in a scanner being dead…

    And as a note for scanning mobile boarding passes – you need to make sure your screen brightness is cranked all the way up. I’ve never had a boarding pass failed to be read by TSA or an airline when ensuring that.

  8. And if your miles don’t post, what do so many airlines request? To fax the boarding pass.

  9. They don’t make any sense to me. The only time I think it might be useful is some sort of irrops situation where you are rescheduling and checking in without waiting in a line.

  10. I use them on Delta whenever possible and have never experienced any of the issues you mention. The only gripe I have is the Delta app can take a long time to load which can cause problems if I forget to load the board pass prior to getting in line.

  11. Yeah, I think this poll needs another response, besides, hate or love. I find mobile boarding passes to be better through a mobile app, like United’s. I also have no problem at TSA, because you just slap the phone on the scanner. I generally always have problems at the gate when I’m trying to scan. Then I do feel like a moron. I’m sure that there will be a better iteration in the future.

    Like an RFID card that you just need to tap on the reader. And it wil automatically upload your boarding pass before your flight when you check in.

  12. I think you had bad luck, or American’s system just sucks. I use the Delta app/mobile boarding passes everytime I fly and their execution is flawless. Never had an issue with not scanning. I’ve ran into the TSA issue with them not having the scanner at SFO a couple of times, but now it seems like each station has the pole-mounted scanners or each ID checker has the handheld scanner.

  13. Use them all the time, including this very second, on Delta with zero issues.

    Sounds like AA has very poor execution on their end. I also use iPhone.

  14. The problem isn’t so much the mobile boarding pass but the systems used in the US.

    I had three Qantas flights over the weekend where I used mobile boarding passes. This was great. However, we have no BP check at security, the lounge agents don’t scan it, they just check that it is a premium ticket or has elite status attached and then it is scanned at the gate with a small receipt being printed for you to use on the aircraft.

    It was simple and fast but I put a lot of that down to generally easier procedures in Australia and in the US.

  15. I always use them, but I do sometimes think a piece of paper/card would be so much easier; especially if you have to hold your passport anyway.

  16. It’s an implementation issue.

    I use delta’s all the time. So far they have been reliable, functional, and convenient. Unless I have not been upgraded and want the free booze coupon that I get with a paper printout, I’ve been going mobile.
    The movbile pass is stored locally and functions reliably.

    I almost got caught out on US a few weeks back as they make the pass available only as a link, which is idiotic given how overloaded and unreliable mobile data connections often are near airports.

    I’m sure I’ve now jinxed myself.

  17. Ive found Delta’s to work 100 percent of the time. AA’s on the other hand have been hit or miss.

  18. I disagree that mobile boarding passes are great. I use them all the time, and I love the fact that it saves paper and I don’t have extra pieces of paper floating around my pockets.

    There are many possible drawbacks, though I’ve adjusted to a lot of these over time. First, the airport has to be prepared and have their shit together. It’s gotten better for me at the larger airports that are used to people using these, but at the beginning, some airports wouldn’t have the scanner machine turned on at every post (still happens once in a while), and you’d have to be redirected, wait for the the machine to boot/reboot, etc.)

    I’ve also seen people not being able to load their boarding passes…maybe data connections are bad at certain places in the airport (or certain cities al together). I usually try to load mine up ahead of time (like before I head to the airport, in a separate browser tab on the mobile browser. If I feel like being extra prepared, I take a screen shot of the boarding pass that I can just pull up later. You can do on an iPhone by pressing both of the buttons…and if you have an android or some other device, I guess the way to do it is to go out and buy an iPhone? šŸ˜›

    Also, I’ve found with AA, if you have your phone’s screen brightness turned down (which I usually do to save battery), their scanners won’t work. I usually have to turn my brightness up to about 2/3 of full brightness for their scanners to work. If it’s AA, if you mobile boarding pass “won’t scan,” that’s a highly likely culprit.

    Overall I like it, but I think the whole mobile boarding pass technology is in an early adopter phase, so it’s not always the smoothest experience (but it has gotten better over the last year). I think I’ve occasionally heard people that are surprised you can just scan a phone like, but I actually don’t hear it as much as I would expect to.

  19. oops…last comment should’ve started “I disagree mobile boarding passes don’t make sense” šŸ™‚

  20. One thing I do with mobile boarding passes on my iPhone is take a screenshot of it (press the power and home buttons simultaneously), so I have it in my photos and can access it right away even without internet.

  21. I dislike them, but I have not seen any issues with them. I see people using them more and more and have never had a line held up by someone using them.

  22. AA must be really bad with mobile BPs… UA’s works flawlessly. The only issue I have encountered is when the mobile BP machine is not on and it wastes 5 seconds while the agent turns it on.

    I never had issues with DL either.

  23. How do the different airlines handle mobile BPs?

    Delta either sends them to you as email links (bad) or MMS messages (good) or in the mobile app (good).

    US seems to only send you an email with a link (terrible!)

    UA does ??
    AA does ??

    Providing a boarding pass in such a way that you require internet access at the gate (or whenever you pull it up) is a horrifically bad implementation. Providing it in a way that you automatically store locally and can pull up regardless of whether your data connection is working, and having your scanners operating reliably, is good.

    I never trusted or even tried mobile BPs until delta had a promo giving away miles for using them. Turns out they actually work pretty well, except for when I was at OAK the day they rolled them out there and the machine was not yet working.

  24. I’ve been a big fan since CO pioneered them at a few of its hubs over four years ago. I rarely have any issues with them scanning – maybe one use out of 100. And, the implementation in the UA app is pretty flawless and makes it easy to display the boarding pass quickly with no data connection required after the initial check in is complete. So, I’m a fan. I can’t say they save me any time, but they don’t take any longer either. The real advantage is it’s one less thing for me to keep up with or in my hands while boarding.

  25. I use it all the time on DL and they work very well except minor hiccups at some checkpoint and some skyclubs. But they work eventually. On a recent trip to San Juan DL did not give me the option for it on the way back. Not sure its because DL knows that TSA or their gates don’t have the scanners at that airport.

  26. United and Delta mobile boarding passes are MUCH better than American. I tend to print bp’s with American because I’ve almost missed a flight with bp issues with AA (they don’t let you reload the bp within the 30 minute departure window?!).
    If you fly out of an airport like O’Hare every week with United it tends to be fast and easy so I have no reason to use printed bp. Going international I always print and with smaller airports I print a copy just in case.

    It sounds like your case is not issues with Mobile boarding passes generally though – all of your issues are similar problems I’ve had with American’s system alone – not any other airline. I’d say stick with paper in your case until AA gets their sh*t together on the mobile side.

  27. Does it depend on the airline or is it a TSA issue? I find the TSA readers are usually out of service or there is only one that works among seven lanes (I fly in and out of ORD mostly). I’m now 100% paper, which feels wasteful but generally saves time.

  28. I don’t think the technology is well tested out and supported. There are too many glitches to work out still.

  29. I flew UA twice roundtrip to Denver and SF this month from LA using the mobile boarding pass all four times and it worked perfectly! Saved time (but I still printed out paper backups just in case)

  30. I’ve never had a problem with getting my phone to scan (by having the brightness cranked up all of the way). When I fly, I normally go to the ticket counter, get a boarding pass printed on the boarding pass card stock, and then go through TSA with my phone (so my boarding pass doesn’t get marked up by an overeager namechecker). I then use the paper boarding pass after security (as I care about reliability of scanning) and then keep it for my records.

    I fly a lot, so boarding passes and menus are the few souveniors I allow myself.

  31. I use the AA one frequently to complete the check in. If I have time to get a BP from the kiosk, I prefer that to the mobile BP. I always take a screenshot (holding both buttons down).

  32. I like them because it doesn’t flag me for extra screening like I sometimes have with paper. Additionally I’m opposed to handing anything over to the TSA. It allows me to control the scanning process and just to maintain a little sense authority. By the way, I always opt out as my own form of protest and happily relay that I don’t trust their scanning machines.

  33. I use Delta’s mobile App and its mobile boarding passes all of the time. Really easy to use, works every time.

  34. Truly, really dislike them. Check-in online, but always reprint passes at the airport. šŸ™‚

  35. I get them on the phone and I also print at the kiosk.

    I use the phone version at TSA. I don’t think they’ve figured out how to do the SSS mark on the electronic ones.

    I use the paper at the club and at the gate. I find it faster and less of a hassle to keep the phone on the right page and lit, not faded, for the moments I need it. When I tried to use it at the gate a few times, I always wound up holding up the line while I got back to the right page or even retrieved it over the air again.

  36. *LOVE IT* only b/c of one reason… I use it at elite lanes where I am not elite… they automatically waive you through just because they think techies are frequent fliers.. just zoom in /out and get as much of the QR code as possible…


  37. never had a problem with it with Delta. saved me a couple of times when i didnt have time to print my tickets. almost never got it to work for United, at least thru the app. email works a little better – but none of that was related to the airport not being prepared or machines malfunctioning. If I have time, I print out the paper tickets as backup (or to get drink coupons in case of delta :), but having mobile passes is so much more convenient than reaching into my backpack or pocket to find my tickets.

  38. @Lucky: Your blog is mostly about finding distinctions of class and sophistication between premium cabins, both major and minor, but the sloppy wording of this poll is strictly third-class.

    Here’s what I see when I look at your poll.

    1. Loved it
    2. Hated it
    3. Tried it before hating it

    Love? Hate? Is that really the best you could come up with? If someone loves (or hates) something as mundane as an electronic boarding pass then they’re probably talking this technology a little too seriously.

    I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but many of the issues I see with regard to electronic boarding passes appear to be related to lack of interest and experience among the TSA bouncers and airline staff.

    Minor tweaks here and there, such as turning up the brightness and toggling auto-rotate, has done wonders in my limited experience.

    My main concern is with today’s smart phones and how quickly they deplete their completely insufficient battery packs.

    I’ve been on numerous itineraries that lasted up to a full 36 hours from door to door and yet I don’t know of any smart phone that can last anywhere near that long without being fully recharged at least once.

    With my more recent phones I’ve needed to have a charger at home, another charger in the car, and yet another charger at work.

    All this for a supposedly “mobile” phone?

    Even all those chargers are not nearly enough juice to keep everything running smoothly unless I turn off half of my phone’s abilities as well.

    Why do we insist on designing hundreds of phones none of which can hope to power themselves through an entire journey in the age of jet travel?

    I don’t see how we can accurately judge electronic boarding as a whole until we have taken the time to address some of the more glaring holes in what we use as ID and how the staff react to it.

    The first time I ever used an electronic airline ticket it didn’t require me to carry any paperwork.

    Or any electronic device.

    All I needed to pass through the secure area and to board the plane was my driver’s license.

    Why (besides ignorance, fear, and greed) can’t it work that way today?

  39. Love mobile bp’s. Especially DL, UA and AA. Wish all US airports would support The technology. At DFW with AA mobile bp and pre-check now at 3 terminals, I save 15 minutes per departure.

  40. I only use it as a backup in case they can not find my PNR and it is proof that I have checked-in online. I always ask for paper but keep a screen shot on my iPhone just in case…it has saved my F class flight on Swiss on time when they said my booking was canceled.

  41. Mobile BPs are a true PITA. It’s fine to allow people to check in on their mobile devices so that they get their time priority or make same day changes, etc. But for navigating the airport, paper is so much easier. Paper doesn’t go to sleep. Paper doesn’t need a scanner and can be read by a human. Etc. I’ve experienced every problem you described, and I’m routinely delayed behind people with mobile BPs. When you can print out the BP in 30 seconds at an office, business center, kiosk, so many options, why introduce all the technology risks of the mobile BP. Compared to all the environmental costs of flying – driving to the airport, aircraft fuel burn, all the plastic garbage on board the aircraft – one sheet of paper has ann isignificant environmental impact.

  42. Mobile BPs can be a fine replacement for the paper version. Requirement is that the airline and airport are prepared to handle them – meaning all personell and scanners should be ready.

    Of course one has to be prepared for the event of not having connectivity, so it’s always a good idea to keep a PDF or screenshot on your phone just in case.

    Mobile Bps have been used within Europe for ages, and I hardly ever notice any issues with them. Having said that – I usually stick to the paper version, it’s just less hassle.

  43. I kind of like them. I suppose it depends on the airlines/airports and, of course, your mobile phone. I always use them with Lufthansa, and my phone (Samsung Galaxy S2) has one of the largest screens on the market.

    Sometimes it doesn’t scan on the first try at the gate, but it never took me more than 5 seconds. Also no problems with security or anything else.

    The Lufthansa android app is also great: when you do your mobile check in, it syncs the boarding passes to the app. You don’t need to worry about internet access or findind them in your email. You just open the app, touch boarding passes, and there they are.

    Overall, pretty good experience.

  44. LX and LH use a very efficient mobile BP system where you can autoscan you own way through security and gates (wow, that must amaze US people: we don’t have terrorists here…).

    I do stick to paper BP’s on long haul though. I collect the F ones and for any revenue flight I keep them for crediting safety.

  45. The United app is pretty good for the mobile BPs, I’ve been using them all the time. The only time I had an issue was my mistake, I had the wrong BP open. GA handled it quickly and easily. I don’t even bother with paper anymore.


  46. I’m with Alex re the Qantas frequent flyer card method of boarding. I’ll check in online or on an iDevice and maybe save the boarding pass or take a screenshot. My card is scanned for lounge access or sometimes just sighted.

    When it comes time to board I present my card, the barcode on the back is read and I get a little receipt before walking down the aerobridge.

    I’ve also used a mobile boarding pass on my iPhone domestically in Australia and it has worked each time (maybe 6 or so sectors) without fiddling with screen brightness.

  47. I use UA mobile BP on by BB whenever I can. Only once have I had to go back and get a paper BP b/c the TSA machine wasn’t working. Otherwise, it’s been fine. The other 70 or so times, the biggest “issue” has been either waiting a few seconds while the TSA turns on the scanner (always PIT for some reason) or my screen going black b/c I waited too long.

    I have found that you need to select the “email boarding pass” option which sends a pdf and a link, rather than just the “go paperless mobile bp” option. This allows you to retain the ticket number in your email in case you need it later, but still use the mobile BP.

  48. Sorry to hear that you suffered from poor handling and operations. I think the issue was not the BP itself..

    I use it almost exclusively for my flying, which is mostly ZRH to somewhere in Europe on LX or LH and it works fine. However, there are automatic gates like in metros both at the entry to security and at the gate here in ZRH and some other airports, so that eliminates the point where somebody more or less qualified has to check it. Of course no TSA-whatĀ“s-your-name here, either.

    With that, I can make it from the ZRH train station to the gate in less than 15 minutes.

    So IMHO not a matter of the BP but more of execution and regulations.

  49. It makes it relatively hard to mail in my boarding pass when the miles and segment don’t credit (UA of course) so now I print screen the BP to an image. Also before I got a smartphone it was pretty funny handing my iPad to the TSA person or Gate Agent.

  50. One time I was at DCA on an elite security line. The BP scanner at the non-elite line wasn’t working, so a TSA agent escorted a passenger from that line to the front of our line after she showed him that she had an electronic BP.

    This meant that the man at the front of the elite line had to wait about 15 seconds for this person’s BP to be scanned. He shouted, “What is going on? This line is for first class passengers!” It was one of the more obnoxious DYKWIA experiences I’ve seen.

    I personally have tried the mobile boarding pass once, at IAD, and remember being shuttled around from TSA agent to TSA agent until we could find one with a working scanner. That was over a year ago, though — maybe they’ve worked out the kinks by now?

  51. The tech has a tendency to leave you stranded. On my last time using mobile, the first flight went flawlessly, but then there was a server error with my second mobile boarding pass at the gate. I couldn’t pull it up and they has to print me a paper one. It was more trouble than it was worth.

  52. As I don’t have a printer at home I love mobile boarding passes, especially since every TSA station at DEN has a scanner. Coming back to DEN it depends on where I am. When I come out of SFO or SEA I use the mobile passes, but that isn’t as often as when I’m flying out of little airports. Then I get a printed copy using the client’s printers of course.

    I have heard lots of people having issues with mobile passes on the Android and iPhone, but I’ve never had an issue with my Windows 7 phone. The Windows 7 phone lets me store the webpage as an image file so I don’t need to keep a connection or worry about the page refreshing on me.

  53. Used a UAL mobile boarding pass from MSP -> ORD.

    It worked fine at security, but it wouldn’t work for the agent at the gate. He then had to manually enter it, and proceeded to drop my iPhone on the floor. So lucky the glass didn’t crack – who is responsible for that?

  54. Use the mobile boarding pass on the UA iPhone app every time a fly, never had a problem.

  55. TSA and airline agents have actually told me they won’t handle people’s phones. I saw people try to hand phones to gate agents on multiple occasions and every time were instructed to keep the phone and scan it themselves. Ditto at TSA.

    I must be LUCKY in this case. I’ve had just 1 significant issue with mobile BP in about 80 segments.

  56. Crank up the brightness on your phone! That’s usually the reason the scanners don’t read it correctly. Never had problems since learning that trick. Personally I love the convenience of not having the extra step of printing a boarding pass at the kiosk if I’m on the road. It’s the little things.

  57. I always take a screenshot of the mobile boarding pass on my iphone (by clicking the button and top button at same time). I never have a problem with my boarding pass at LGA, ORD or DFW.

  58. Amazing number of comments.

    Just wait until near field communications is standard on phones (iphone 5??) then this becomes much smoother. Travel in Japan and you will see this all the time as an excellent implementation.

    A trick I use (on an iphone) for safety is when you check in and get the barcode displayed press the home and ‘on’ key simultaneously. This will take a snapshot of your screen saved to your photos. That way if the app hangs of you have connectivity issues you will always have an image of your boarding pass code.

  59. @ question — Almost always not (with the exception of domestic flights where they have the $2 headphones).

  60. I’m a bit late to this post, but I found it on Google. I love it. United automatically checks me in and sends me the boarding pass a day before the flight (they asked my permission to do this once before). Without having to do anything, I go to the airport and use the mobile boarding pass. I really like it because all I need to do is buy a ticket and show up, automatically checked in with a boarding pass.

  61. I just wonder what happens if your mobile device drops on the ground and its get broken.

    You dont know your seat nr. nor any other details.

    Would they still let you get by?

  62. I didn’t use my mobile boarding pass at all. The reason? I was a first-time flyer (June 26th, 2014), so I fastidiously read up on everything about it. I didn’t want a problem at all. I also didn’t trust my mobile network to act properly when I needed it. And, not knowing how my printer would perform, I used a kiosk at the airport to print everything. It was good because of the time I did it (leaving at 6am, so I checked in at 3:30am). I waited 15 minutes for the ticket counter to open, gave them my bag and left for my vacation. The “crowd” arrived after I did, so I didn’t have a problem. Boarded from my home airport with no problems, made connection without problems.

    Returning home, I went to the airport early, printed from the kiosk, went to the counter … dropped off my bag and viola! Again, no boarding problems.

    I too am for saving paper, but from your experiences … I think I’ll stick with the kiosk at the airport to PRINT my boarding pass. Besides, I actually kept them as a souvenir. Some people still don’t believe I flew to New Jersey and back home since I had a post-9/11 phobia of planes and airports.

    In addition, if the TSA folks don’t have a scanner, as you said … it holds up the line. So, I wouldn’t use a mobile boarding pass at all.

  63. I would like to add that most if not all of the above issues have been rectified.. I used a mobile boarding pass for the first time yesterday and noticed that approximately half the flyers were also using them. For the flight down I had printed passes from home “just in case” but there were no issues. Everyone had scanners and they worked flawlessly. They can text or email a pass so you can open and close it as often as you wish. No problems at all.

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