by Al Sacco

Continental Airlines Turns Mobile Phones Into Boarding Passes for Houston Travelers

Dec 05, 20073 mins
Data Center

Continental Airlines on Tuesday launched a pilot program that lets travelers departing from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport use their BlackBerrys or other mobile phones as paperless boarding passes, making it the first U.S. carrier to offer such an option

, according to USA Today.

Passengers currently need only valid identification and the cell phones to which Continental beamed their boarding passes to get through security gates and on board planes. Just think of the all the kiosk lines that could be avoided and reams of paper saved if the pilot proves successful.

Apparently Continental and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been working on the technology and process for years in an effort to boost security and cut down on the use of fraudulent passes, reduce the amount of paper employed and improve the overall travel experience for customers.

Image of a Palm Treo 750

The pilot will last for three months, after which it could be expanded to additional airports and airlines.

The technology in use includes an encrypted, two dimensional bar code that looks like a “jumble of squares and rectangles” and stores passenger names and flight information. TSA security screeners use scanners to confirm the authenticity of passes and allow access to terminals, and Continental agents also have scanners at gates.

TSA said Continental’s use of the encrypted bar code for cell phone boarding passes is the first such use of the technology in the world, according to The Houston Chronicle; however, USA Today says Air Canada has been offering paperless boarding passes for mobile phones since September. It’s unclear from the article what technology Air Canada is using, or if it’s different than Continental’s bar code tech.

An Air Canada spokesman said their use of paperless boarding passes has been extremely well received, with the number of passengers using the technology doubling each week. Most of those customers are using BlackBerrys or Treos as boarding passes, perhaps because folks with such smartphones are more tech-savvy than others with simple feature phones and are therefore quicker to experiment with new technologies.

Boarding passes printed on paper will still be available via kiosks or Continental agents should passengers’ cell phone batteries die.

There are currently limitations to the new mobile phone boarding passes, including the fact that multiple passengers travelling in a group cannot currently employ the system, but the new process seems promising.

Paperless boarding passes are in use in a handful of other countries in addition to Canada, according to USA Today.  Have any of you had a chance to use them?  If so, was the process as painless as it’s made out to be?

A video of the technology in action is available on