Tech to Help End Airport Lines

Coming soon to an airport near you: electronic boarding passes that use encrypted bar codes sent to mobile devices to move passengers from check-in through security and onto their flights.

Continental Airlines, working with the Transportation Security Administration, is testing a paperless boarding process on a limited number of domestic flights, and several other major carriers are poised to follow suit once the TSA gives approval. Many carriers in other countries already use this technology, which could save the domestic industry as much as $500 million a year.

Other businesses, including hotels and cruise lines, are also interested in this technology, says Henry Harteveldt, an airline and travel industry analyst with IT advisor Forrester. His research shows high consumer interest in this type of service.

However, setting up a mobile check-in system takes investment and requires a measure of industrywide cooperation. Hardware–including bar-code readers within turnstiles, kiosks or other sites–must be developed and deployed, and the readers must work with each company’s internal systems to recognize the ticket and account for the customer.

Industry standards for the two-dimensional bar codes used on mobile devices are necessary for any widespread adoption of the technology. “There is no competitive advantage to having different bar-code standards,” Harteveldt says. “In fact, the use of standards should translate into faster time to market and greater consistency among travel firms.”

As long as people can’t talk on their cell phones during flights, it all sounds like a promising development.

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