This year has been great for European and American travelers with mobile phones, with more airlines testing systems for boarding passes downloaded onto their browser-enabled handsets. Delta joined Continental in allowing domestic travelers to check-in and display their boarding pass on cell phone screens as a two-dimensional barcode. This furthers the trend begun by Air France, KLM and Air Canada, who began testing last year for short- and medium-haul flights. Air France's system began as a simple check-in process, with an option for the user to receive a text message reminder prior to the flight date, and a confirmation afterwards.
In countries like Japan, where cell phones are used for all sorts of daily activities, this isn't new at all. Since 2006, airlines such as ANA have enabled cell phones to manage booking, seat selection, and more. In an MSNBC article, Chris McGinnis, editor of Expedia Travel Trendwatch, says "...only a very small percentage of [US] airline passengers would ever really use their phones for this type of transaction." Such a blanket statement sounds incredible as proliferation for mobile games and iPhone apps continues to pick up momentum.
CTIA-Wireless Association shows cell phone penetration levels at 82 percent as of the end of last year. With such a high level of saturation, the development of a cellular-based check-in system was a natural next step. Busy fliers like it because they can avoid printouts altogether. The Transportation Security Administration likes it because the 2D cell phone barcode is harder to counterfeit than the standard barcode.
The new system has its limitations and drawbacks. The TSA banned boarding without ID, so only so much waiting time in the security process has been cut out. If a cell phone does not have browser capability or the cell carrier plan has no data-download, the cell phone cannot access the site or service. As for drawbacks, the paperless check-in means that if you need proof of your flight to qualify for frequent flier miles, than you're out of luck.