Could COVID Kill The Paper Boarding Pass?

COVID-19 is upending the way people travel. Between masks, new screening procedures, social distancing, and limited inflight service, passengers are facing new regulations and restrictions. But, could a staple of travel, the paper boarding pass, make its way out of the travel world? Simple Flying takes a look.

Paper boarding passes
Cutting paper boarding passes would reduce the number of touchpoints. Photo: Getty Images

Why COVID could kill the paper boarding pass

The recent trend in passenger air services is about reducing touchpoints. This is why airlines are removing things like inflight magazines and paring back services. And, for things that require personal interaction like check-in kiosks, airline employees are taking special care to disinfect those multiple times a day. Some airports are even using UV technology.

But, the paper boarding pass is a bit of a stickler. Airlines are continuing to issue them. In the US, the TSA altered its policies where passengers scan their boarding pass themselves and hold it up for visual inspection by an agent.

TSA Facemasks
For now, the TSA agents will not handle boarding passes. Photo: Getty Images

One of the reasons that airlines are becoming more vigilant is because of asymptomatic carriers. Some people may not have any symptoms, so things like temperature checks may not be effective. Beyond this, while airports and airlines are mandating masks, gloves are a different story. This leaves boarding passes vulnerable to passing on a viral illness. Plus, between gate agents, ticket agents, security screeners, and flight attendants, paper boarding passes could pass on diseases to a scary number of people.

Mobile boarding passes are on the rise

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, airlines began moving away from physical boarding passes. Some low-cost carriers, like Spirit Airlines, have begun charging people who arrive at the airport without a mobile boarding pass and have to get one printed.

Airline apps hold a passenger’s boarding pass. The apps are more convenient, use less paper, and are less likely to get lost. TSA agents, for example, do not handle mobile boarding passes. Passengers are supposed to scan their devices themselves.

Airline apps
Airline applications already hold boarding passes– some even for multiple passengers. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Mobile boarding passes also reduce the need for human interaction. People can check-in for their flight at home. Some apps even do this automatically for passengers. Then, if you are traveling without check-in bags, you can head straight to the security checkpoint.

It would not be a radical travel change

Aside from people who save their boarding passes in scrapbooks or else frame them, there are few disruptions for scrapping paper boarding passes. Airlines already have the infrastructure in place to handle paper boarding passes. The same is true for airports.

Passenger wearing masks near deaprtures boarding in Rome Airport
Smartphones are becoming more common. Photo: Getty Images

With the rise of smartphones, accessibility would not be a major problem. Although, in a few instances, the lack of paper boarding passes could create headaches for some travelers removed from technology. Still, airlines could continue to offer print before you come boarding passes for those limited cases. Or else, maintaining a few self-use kiosks would not be a significant hassle.

Do you think airlines should ditch paper boarding passes? Let us know in the comments!