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Mobile check-in

Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a global standard paving the way for passengers to check-in for their flights using two-dimensional (2D) bar codes sent to their mobile phone (see: Global standard agreed for mobile check-in).

This development will be welcomed by many airport operators, because it enables passengers to travel without documents/completely paperless.

One of the main advantages of the development is its simplicity. When a passenger books a ticket, the airline simply sends a 2D bar code directly to their mobile phone, personal digital assistant or smart phone. The bar code becomes the passenger’s boarding pass. When the passenger arrives at the airport, the bar code is read directly from the screen of the mobile device, eliminating paper completely from the check-in process.

Passengers want the convenience of self-service options in a paperless environment. This standard is an important step in getting rid of the paper that bogs down processes and drives up costs.

Of course there will be some costs involved in the use of mobile bar codes. Scanners will be required to read bar codes from the screens of mobile devices, though many of the scanners already used by airports for paper-based bar code boarding passes, can also support mobile bar codes.

Their introduction may also produce savings for airports, since passengers using the technology will not have to queue in the check-in area to collect a boarding pass - in much the same way as on-line check-in. This will also have a positive impact on the efficiency of existing airport facilities.

Historically, airline global applications for mobile phone technology have been restricted due to different regional formats. The IATA standard uses the Aztec and Datamatrix codes, which are used extensively in Europe and North America, and the QR code, which is widely used in Japan. All three are proven technologies and can be read by a single, cost effective scanner.

Of course, the creation of a standard code is only part of the solution. In the coming months, IATA will be working with our members to develop standardised processes and guidelines to facilitate global implementation.

Effectively these break down into three further developments: Airlines will need to determine how to issue mobile barcodes to display on passengers’ mobile devices. Airports will need to support and enable the introduction of mobile bar codes, and security agencies will need to accept mobile bar codes as a valid boarding pass.  Already 69% of national security agencies accept paper-based barcodes at check-in.

The technology is certainly well-proven. It is now two years since the first mobile check-in and boarding took place in Japan, using a proprietary Japanese 2D code and Air Canada handled the first IATA-compliant mobile bar-code check-in last month.

The aviation industry has set a deadline of the end of 2010 for the full implementation of bar coded boarding passes and we estimate that the development will save the industry over US$500 million annually.

Agreement of a global standard for mobile bar codes, follows the agreement in 2005 of a 2D standard for paper-based bar coded passes, which is the basis for web check-in. Both standards (mobile and paper based) can be issued and accepted by airlines worldwide.

Though we do not have any prediction for the uptake of mobile bar codes, two years after the introduction of paper-based bar codes, the standard is being used by more than 80 airlines and over 200 airports are ready to process it. Passengers are keen on using mobile phones and prefer to travel without papers, so we believe the omens are good.



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