Flying without a ticket

cdg-04We had to try it – take a plane without a ticket or anything else printed which proves we had the right to be on that flight. The concept of the e-ticket has been widely in operation for about 10 years now, allowing passengers to skip the check-in queue. But they all show up with paper print-outs of their tickets, or have their passports or credit cards scanned by machines on arrival to obtain that print-out at the airport. We all know it must be possible to get on board completely without paper, say by flashing your phone, but does that actually work? Read on if you want to find out…

Last weekend, we were on a return trip from Paris to Amsterdam. On the way up, we mechanically went through our usual routine of printing out the pdf with our flight details as they had been issued to us by the web-site that sold us the ticket. On Saturday morning, we checked in on the Air France website before leaving for the airport, so that we would not have to queue up there. On arrival at the beautiful 2F Terminal of  Charles de Gaulle Airport, we could skip the check-in and walk through the checkpoints to our gate, showing the print-out of the ticket. Nothing remarkable there.

On the way back, however, we were no longer at home, so we were caught without a computer or a printer. Hence no printed ticket. After our sunny stroll along the Amsterdam canals on Monday morning, we got on a train to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. In the train, we logged onto Air France’s website to check-in on our mobile phone (iPhone in our case). We were checked-in and it sent us our boarding card electronically as a pdf. We arrived at the airport and had to show a ticket and identification to get passed the first hurdle: a pretty Air France-KLM staff member. She let us through as if we had been holding an old-fashioned ticket rather than an iPhone with a pdf on the screen. We must have arrived in the 21st century!

Naturally, the second step -security- kills off any of the joy of travel, even high-tech travel, as you are forced to walk through a metal detector holding up your trousers as your belt, shoes and iPhone are having their interior operations examined on a widescreen. Security staff is traditionally not impressed by anything, not even the fact that they just scanned our phone without noticing our invisible ticket on there…

But then the gate – the ultimate test. We are in line behind old people who may have invented the phone, youngsters who may be tweeting, YouTube-ing and facebook-ing themselves through life but they all pulled out their paper tickets as if it was KLM’s first flight in 1920. But then there was us – out comes the iPhone with the pdf on the screen ready to scanned and BEEP: my name appears on the scanner’s screen and I can walk through. Feeling positively cool with our success, we scroll through on the phone to the next ticket. Enlarge it a bit… and … nothing. The steward types something into the computer and we can walk through, but there was the stench of humiliation in the air.

Why did it not work the second time round? And then it struck me – the scanners are made to read bar codes which are always the same size (paper does not stretch). On the iPhone, you enlarge and reduce texts all the time, so you would have to get it just the right size for the barcode reader to read it. Hum. A little awkward. Walking onboard we were still feeling 21st century, but as always with new technologies, also a little displeased – it works, but it’s not quite there yet. Other cool developments flash through my mind, and I make a mental note not to be an early adopter of the Segway either… I do not want to be seen pulling that thing back home half way across the city…


Image of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. (c) David Guerrero. Source: // Segway in Paris image by Jen Chung.


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