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Continental Airlines Paperless Boarding Passes

Continental Airlines is the first airline in the United States to test out using cellular phones as boarding passes for flight passengers. Similar programs have been tested successfully for transportation companies, like Chiltern Railways, in Europe and the United Kingdom. The pilot program, which is being tested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, began this week.

How does this technology work? Passengers can use cellular phones or PDA’s as boarding passes using encrypted bar codes. It cuts out all of the needless paper usage AND in totally in sync with the way technology is developing today. The barcodes are received by the passenger as an SMS text message. Passengers will receive their boarding passes electronically, then present the barcode to be scanned by the TSA at the security checkpoint. The idea is to provide additional security, as the barcodes are not as easily reproduced as counterfeit boarding passes.

The pilot program is currently underway only in the Houston airport. However, if the results are good the plan will be rolled out to other airlines in about three months. That’s pretty speedy.

Why Continental? Because they’re the best. And because they’ve been “working aggressively with the TSA for on the use of the technology.” Be aggressive! B-E aggressive….

The encrypted data found in the barcode is a summary of the passenger’s information, including name and flight information.

Each paperless boarding pass will display a two-dimensional bar code — which looks like a rectangle of TV snow, as opposed to parallel lines of a traditional bar code — along with passenger and flight information that will identify the traveler. TSA document checkers will have handheld scanners to validate the authenticity.

Pretty high tech, huh?

Continental maintains the program is meets the standards of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for bar coding of passenger boarding passes. The IATA is comprised of 240 airlines is requiring all airlines to stop using magnetic strip technology on paper boarding passes by the end of 2008 and to begin using the bar codes by the end of 2010.

“We have been in favor of this for a long time and had fairly consistent dialogue with TSA on our desire to do this,” said Mark Bergsrud, a senior vice president for Houston-based Continental. “We were ready technically and we are pretty nimble with our ability to develop software and test it.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, “Carraway [of the TSA] said the TSA, which has had a problem with people trying to use fraudulent paper boarding passes in the past, is confident the technology can’t be cracked.” Unfortunately, that sounds like an ‘unsinkable ship’ type of comment to me, but I certainly hope he’s right.

If you’re a frequent traveler and you DON’T have a text plan, it’s time to get one. Hotels are also looking in to technology in which guests will be automatically checked in to room that open in a similar fashion.