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Delta Mobile Check-in

2010 January 13
Mobile boarding passes are a step toward mobile commerce

Delta Mobile Boarding Pass

It’s been at least four years since I first heard an airline talk about developing mobile check-in. Despite all the time and energy I spend thinking about mobile commerce and using my phone, until today I had never successfully completed the entire airport check-in and flight boarding process using only my cell phone as a boarding pass.

When Delta first announced mobile boarding passes, I missed the “at selected airports” caveat. This created some interesting travel humor in San Juan, Puerto Rico when I tried to get through security with only my phone. Hijinx ensued in Philadelphia the next day. I promptly gave up.

So, today when I tried it, I made sure I had my paper boarding pass in my pocket – just in case. I didn’t need it though. I went through the Expert Traveler line in Atlanta’s new North Terminal security lanes. There were only a few other travelers in front of me. When it was my turn the TSA agent took me back about 15 feet in the line to the special reader which wasn’t turned on. It took me a few tries to get it right, but it worked fine. Next time I’ll likely get it right in one tap.

I started getting concerned while unpacking and undressing in the security lanes. Today was probably the first time in five years that I’ve gone through the metal detector without showing my paper boarding pass. As I put my things on the belt I noticed that no one was showing their paper ticket.

Have I been showing my boarding pass unnecessarily all these years? I’m pretty sure I recall more than one surly TSA agent telling people to keep their boarding pass out. I’m wondering if they’ve removed that requirement to facilitate mobile. It never made a lot of sense to me anyway. Paper is so easy to forge, and it’s already been checked at that point in the process.

Lastly, when I got to the boarding door, the gate agent happily scanned the image on my phone. It took him a few tries too. I knocked over my suitcase and briefcase trying to hand him my phone and hold a cup of coffee and keep track of my bags. With the coffee, paper would have been easier honestly. But this was for science!

So, all in all, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well the process worked. I’m sure there are more bumps in the road as they add more airports, but the system works. Getting TSA approval and adapting their processes must have been a big task, but it works. I’m sure the process is repeatable around the country.

Personally, my biggest complaint about the process is the web interface. I constantly had to open Safari on my iPhone and refresh the page to get the image to appear. Or if I lost my page, I had to dig through my email to find the message and click the link again and wait for it to load. I imagine an airline application could make this process much more user friendly. More advanced web interfaces could probably solve the usability issues as well. But that’s for 2.0.

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One Response leave one →
  1. Anonymous Flier permalink
    September 14, 2011

    It sounds good in theory. I tried to use it recently. Unlike you, I didn’t bother to print a paper boarding pass (what’s the point? isn’t this device supposed to reduce the use of paper, not duplicate it?). I waited in line for security, and when I got to the TSA checkpoint, the agent attempted to read my mobile boarding pass with a handheld device. He tried valiantly, several times. No luck. Finally, after 5 minutes of frustration, he told me to go back to Delta and get a paper boarding pass. So I had to trot back to the Delta check in counter, and then go back through a wait in the security line again. No more mobile boarding passes for me, I don’t see the point of it. The mobile boarding pass caused me trouble and didn’t save me any time.

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