Posted by: Mark Ashley

Do-it-yourself boarding passes — either printed on your own computer or on your phone — are par for the course these days. I can’t remember the last time I used a kiosk, much less a check-in staff member…) But there are self-printed boarding passes, and then there are BOARDING PASSES.

A traveler by the name of William Bryson decided to see if a poster-sized boarding pass would be honored. He succeeded, and his blog has the photos to prove it. He made it through TSA — even getting some laughs — and onto his flight. He even hit the lounge. One photo is below, but check his site for the full photo timeline.

This isn’t 2011 — he actually did this over three years ago — but it’s new to me, and probably to you as well. (To put even more age on it, his boarding passes were on Northwest, which isn’t even a brand anymore…)

bryson giant boarding pass Now THIS is a boarding pass

(Via Zug. Thanks, Andy!)

Categorized in: boarding passes

lufthansa self service gates New to the USA: Turnstile gates at the airport
If you’ve flown through major international hubs outside the United States in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed that some airlines offer self-service turnstiles at the gates. Passengers either slide their magnetic-stripe boarding pass or swipe their barcoded passes over the scanner. The turnstile opens, and off you go. And now, Continental is bringing the concept to Houston, where it’s testing a single self-service gate.

The image above shows a Lufthansa self-serve gate — the German airline has been doing this since 2003. 13 other airlines in Europe and Asia do this as well.

You may be thinking, “How will this ever meet the often-arbitrary standards of the TSA?” Well…:

The Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of air security, “determined it does not impact the security of the traveling public,” says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, adding all passengers are screened at airport checkpoints prior to arriving at boarding gates.


With self-service, you’ll also be more likely to sneak an extra or oversized carry-on. Just sayin’.

The self-service option won’t be the only way to board. Customers who can’t (or won’t) use self-service can typically hand their boarding pass to a human being, as before.

Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken says while loading customers at self-boarding gates is “a little faster” than traditional gates, the airline’s primary goal was to free agents from the mundane task of scanning boarding passes. It frees them to handle other customer issues that require individual attention, such as upgrading seats, he says. The number of agents assigned to automated gates isn’t different from other gates: one or two agents for short-haul flights, three or four for longer ones, he says.

I’ve used these gates at Munich and Frankfurt; they’re loveless but efficient. I don’t mind the self-service option, since the taking of boarding passes isn’t really a deep, meaningful interpersonal interaction that I am going to miss. But I realize that others might feel different.

I’ll look forward to hearing the details of how Continental will change their boarding process at the gate. For example, what does this do to zones? Better enforcement of the zone, or the opposite? And if you add a self-service line, though, that makes it harder to leave room for red carpeted (or in Continental’s case, blue-carpeted) lines for early elite boarding.

Thoughts? Is this something you’d want to use, or something to avoid? Hit the comments.

Categorized in: airports

Downgraded: The Chongqing Hilton
If you’ve got reservations for the Chongqing Hilton in the next few days or weeks, you’ll want to look into alternatives: Chinese authorities have closed the hotel as part of a prostitution bust. “A statement by Chongqing police said that an investigation had uncovered ‘a complete chain’ of people involved in prostitution ‘involving the hotel managers, security guards, luggage carriers, receptionists and staff.’” The karaoke bar was the epicenter. For branding purposes, perhaps they should have advertised “HHookers”… But did customers get both points and miles for the transaction?…

Upgraded: Spirit Airlines
Upgraded: Passenger awareness, hopefully

Yes, Spirit is upgraded! But only because their strike is on hold for the time being. If you were a passenger during the strike, it sucked. And if, at this point, you decide that you’re willing to be a Spirit customer in the future, you know where you stand with this company. You will have only yourself to blame.

Upgraded: Discount airlines in Japan
Japan’s ANA is reportedly launching a new discount airline, with fares at express bus prices.

futurama disembodied heads Upgrades & Downgrades: Karaoke with benefits, disembodied heads, boarding passes, moreUpgraded: Heads fly free on Southwest!
Three suspicious boxes in the cargo hold of a Southwest flight were opened by airline employees, to reveal 45 human heads. While the airline’s internal packaging policies — and best practices in packing human body parts for cross-country shipment — were violated, no laws were broken, and the heads were actually being shipped for legitimate medical purposes. Paging Matt Groening!

Upgraded: Recycling of fake boarding passes
Reader Nick sends in this story of a boarding pass that appeared in a British Airways/London Heathrow in-house magazine. What struck my eye was the fact that I had seen this boarding pass before… I had even published a copy of that boarding pass on this very site, here. Compare the pictures: Exhibit A. Exhibit B. I particularly enjoy the irony that a controversial fake boarding pass generator rises again, to be repurposed as a phony mobile boarding pass. Who says the airline industry doesn’t recycle enough?


mobile boarding pass More paperless boarding passes on domestic US flightsBoth American and United have expanded their paperless boarding pass programs within the United States in the past week. If mobile boarding basses are your cup of tea, you’ll be able to check in wirelessly and receive an e-mail containing your boarding pass, which is scanned right off your phone at the gate.

American’s announcement brings their count of cities to 27 airports. United’s count is thirteen. Continental is still the leader, with 48 airports (including 2 overseas, in London and Frankfurt.) The TSA’s website lags reality, it seems, listing 43 airports in the US currently participate, across all airlines.

The expanded service is being pitched as a convenience to customers. And it is convenient, if you’re not able to print your passes. But be sure to save that e-mail or text message on the phone: If your miles don’t post, you’ll need to find a way to print that message to prove you actually took the flight.

This is only available at those airports where both the airlines and the TSA are linked up and able to scan the boarding pass. That’s what’s really holding this up from more widespread adoption nationwide.

Taking the convenience equation out of the picture for a moment: For you to move through security with one of those mobile boarding passes, you need to have it scanned by TSA first. What bugs me about this is the TSA’s involvement in the equation makes “revenue protection” the U.S. government agency’s job, in the name of security. (As I’ve argued ad nauseam, checking ID’s and passes does nothing to make you safer; true airport security does not hinge on holding a boarding pass or having an ID.)

This will be more and more widespread, going forward. But it’s still not truly widespread in its adoption — yet. In a reader poll back in November, 38% of readers had used a paperless boarding pass. That’s pretty high, but let’s face it, the readers of this site are highly travel-savvy, frequent-fliers. The general flying public is far less likely to have gone paperless. But not to worry, that will change.

Reader Richard T. writes:

The incident where the guy snuck through security to see his girlfriend off on a flight got me thinking: Is there a legal way for a person to go through airport security without having a boarding pass? I’m happy to submit to all manner of screenings, wandings, pat-downs, etc.

Yes, actually, there are a couple.

1. Request a gate pass from the airline
Under certain circumstances, you can obtain a gate pass, essentially a permission slip issued by an airline, which allows you to pass through security and to the gates. (Of course, you’re subject to inspection, like everyone else.) Gate passes are typically issued to parents/guardians of a minor traveling alone, to a medical assistant, to an interpreter, or to someone designated as accompanying an elderly person, usually for health reasons. And under TSA Security Directive 1544-01-10w, family of military personnel may get passes to “sterile concourse areas to escort the military passenger to the gate or to meet a military passenger’s inbound arrival at the gate.” Gate passes are free, but are issued at the airline’s discretion. Just saying you’d like to meet your friends and family? Not good enough, typically, but take your best shot!

2. Buy a refundable ticket.
Buy a fully-refundable ticket — to anywhere. Somewhere cheap, somewhere expensive, it doesn’t matter. Buy it, then check in. Print your boarding pass. Walk through security, with a perfectly legal boarding pass. Wave goodbye (or hello) to your friends from the gate. Exit the secure area of the airport. Refund the ticket, by phone or at the counter. (Remember, it was fully refundable. FULLY. But do it before the flight leaves.) It’s an annoying step, but there’s nothing illegal about it.

Richard, you asked about the legal options. So I know you’re not interested in illegal methods, like printing your own forged boarding passes. Phony passes won’t work to get you onto a plane, but they might get you through the security checkpoint. They could also get you a visit from the FBI, since they violate the U.S. code, title 18, part 1, chapter 47, ยง 1036. Needless to say, NOT RECOMMENDED unless you want to go to jail. But it’s been done…

Any other techniques out there? Hit the comments!


When you get your boarding pass, regardless of when or where, check the name.

Septuagenarian comedienne Joan Rivers got stuck in Costa Rica, blaming the Continental gate agent in Costa Rica for being “an idiot, a moron,” for not letting her on the plane. In an interview with Larry King (another septuagenarian!) on CNN, Rivers implied that the name on her passport (“Rosenberg, aka Rivers”) caused her problems. And CNN ran tickers asking “Joan Rivers: A Security Threat?” Oy. But as the interview proceeds, it’s clear that the dual name on the passport was never a problem.

Rather, she had someone else’s boarding pass. Instead of “Joan,” it was “Joseph.” And when the vigilant gate agent compared the boarding pass to the passport, there was a problem.

Granted, Rivers (or Rosenberg) has a point that there were other points along the way when this could have been caught. At the check-in counter. Or at security. But if I dare use a phrase that’s gotten others into trouble of late, “the system worked.” The gate agent was there to do a final check, and she caught it. She was right to raise a flag, especially given the hypersensitive security environment we’re in.

Should Rivers have been stranded in Costa Rica? Probably not. I’m sure there is some way the airline could have handled this in a way that didn’t create a ruckus, and that verified that Joan, not Joseph, should have been traveling. But I am not privy to the details of her ticket PNR.

The bottom line, and the lesson here: Check the name on your boarding pass. Mistakes happen. And you don’t want to be caught at the gate, trying to fix it. Check the documents as soon as you receive them, and verify things immediately.

Here’s the whole insufferable interview, if you feel like torturing yourself. Masochistic? Well, alright: Around 2:19 is where she is asked about the name on the boarding pass.

Categorized in: boarding passes