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Travel basics: mobile check-in (having your boarding pass on your smartphone)

Travel basics: mobile check-in (having your boarding pass on your smartphone)

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A few weeks ago, I was telling you all about what it is to do a check-in online. Today, I stick to the basics of traveling for all of you that are traveling for the first time (or for the first time in a long time) by plane.


1. What is a mobile boarding pass and why is it worth using it

A  mobile boarding pass is a digital version of the paper boarding pass that you can take with you on your smartphone or tablet and which will allow you to go through security control and access the plane.

It is a QR image (like the one below) that you have in your phone as a JPEG image or included in the airline or pkpass app. The machines at the airport scan that image and know who you are, your flight, seat and your frequent traveler card (among other data) and let you in.

mobile boarding pass
This is a QR sample pointing to my site. Airline ones have written on the side the flight number and your seat so you can see it  too


Access with this images are not available worldwide yet but if you can use it, it has many advantages: you don’t have to use paper and it can help you reduce your carbon footprint, it is harder to loose (only when you loose your phone)…

Plus, it has all the advantages of checking-in online: avoiding waiting lines, it is free, helps avoiding over booking… since one thing comes with the other (you must check in online to have your mobile boarding pass.)

* A few years ago, when you had your mobile boarding pass, they also provided with priority at the security control but now they are so common, they don’t.

2. How to get the mobile boarding pass

You can get it through online check-in. At the end of the check-in process, once you have your seat and proceed to print your boarding pass, you get the option to download a PDF (so you can print it) or get it sent to your phone and/or download through the airline app.

Even if you have chosen to print it, you can usually go back to the airline check-in page and select to get it sent to your phone or email. And most of the airline apps when you login with your ticket code also show the mobile boarding gate. So you can get both if you need to.

And as for how you get it, each airline has a different way:

  • Some send you the image with an SMS
  • Some give you a link so you can download the image (on the site or through an SMS or email)
  • Some are integrated with the Passbook iPhone / android apps
  • Some have their own apps where you can get the passes

But in general, you get an image that you store in your smartphone.

3. How do you use the mobile pass and when

As I was telling you before, the mobile boarding pass is only available for certain airports, as they need specific readers at security controls and boarding gates (and sometimes at duty free shops). Generally speaking, most international airports now have them, but if they don’t, your airline will not give you the option to get them, so there is no room for mistakes.

As for how to use these QR images, you select the image on your phone, show the screen on a device that reads it and if everything is ok, it lets you in. There is always someone checking that it works, so no room for mistakes here either.

If the reader doesn’t read it right and doesn’t let you in, my recommendation is:

  1. try again
  2. if it doesn’t work, make the image smaller and try again with different sizes.
  3. also, try adjusting the screen light so there is high contrast.

If you are traveling in groups, each traveler needs to have his/her own mobile pass. You could save them all on the same device, but you will go faster at security if each of you have your own. If you have them in just one phone app, you can do screenshots of each and share them with each of them, but make sure you send the right one to each traveler (they usually show names on them.)

Another tip is that each flight has its own mobile pass (just like the paper ones) so if you are connecting flights, make sure you have one for each leg of your trip (and flight).


4. What happens when your phone runs out of battery, you loose it…

As you have already checked in to get your mobile boarding pass, you just need to go to the check in desk of your airline to get a paper copy. Most airlines give them for free (some do prefer them in paper) but some as Ryanair charge you for this.

You can always look for an outlet at the airport, as some destinations also ask you to have enough battery to turn on the phone at security controls (to check it is a real phone).

And if none of them works, share your mobile passes with your travel mates so they can let you in with their smartphones.

Also, the airline crew at boarding gates and help desks can give you a copy under many circumstances (so you don’t have to go out and pass all the security and passport controls again when you are connecting flights.)

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