Tech-savvy travelers catching a Continental flight at Logan now have one less thing to worry about: printing out a boarding pass.
Starting this week, passengers carrying any kind of cell phone or PDA that receives emails and opens Web pages could choose to get an electronic version of the boarding pass when checking in online. They receive an email with a link to a Web page displaying their encrypted, two-dimensional bar code, which looks like a Dalmatian-spotted postage stamp and reveals their name and flight information when scanned at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint and Continental gate.
Continental began testing this "paperless boarding pass" at the Houston airport in December, expanded the pilot program to Reagan Washington National Airport last week, and will introduced it at the Newark International Airport in mid-May. It is only available to customers who are leaving those airports for another domestic destination and are the sole passengers on their reservation. Families and other groups traveling on a single reservation can't use the electronic boarding passes because it would take too long to pull up multiple barcodes on a single mobile device, the airline said.
Posted by Nicole C. Wong, Globe Staff
Continental, the only US airline employing paperless boarding passes at the moment, would not disclose how much it paid to develop this technology and provide the handheld scanners to the TSA. The airline said it does not expect to cut costs with this initiative, but hopes to improve passengers' travel experience.
"It saves customers the step of stopping by a ticket counter to pick up a boarding pass or printing it out at home," said Jared Miller, Continental's director of customer self-service marketing programs.
It also should save other customers time by reducing the number of customers lining up at the ticket counter or self-serve kiosks to print out boarding passes. "You hope the rest of the airlines will pick this up too because it'll help the airport flow," said Edward Freni, Logan's director of aviation.
In Houston, 500 to 600 Continental passengers a day are flashing their paperless boarding passes, Miller said. About 20 passengers did so today at Logan.
Business traveler Stef Witteveen, who was holding a paper boarding pass while in line at a Logan security checkpoint this morning, hadn't heard about the electronic initiative but said it sounds good because "you don't always have a printer available." The chief executive of Randstand USA, who was heading back to Atlanta on a Continental flight, typically checks in at an airport kiosk.
Continental and the TSA will evaluate the pilot program's usage at the four airports before deciding to expand it wider. They're also tweaking the technology, like improving the readability of the bar code on a wider variety of mobile devices. But one thing that likely won't change is the rule that neither the TSA checkpoint agents nor Continental gate agent hold passengers' iPhones, BlackBerrys, Treos or other mobile devices when scanning the electronic barcodes.
"We don't want to drop it," said Kevin Anzalone, a TSA supervisor at Logan. "Next thing you know is we're discussing how to replace it, and it's $600 or $700."