Airlines inching closer to paperless boarding passes

travel In another huge victory for paperless enthusiasts everywhere, it appears that using your cell phone as a boarding pass is on the horizon. Since December, Continental has been testing a paperless option for flights out of Houston. The boarding pass “is an image of an encrypted bar code displayed on the phone’s screen, which can be scanned by gate agents and security personnel,” according to the New York Times.

Other airlines are waiting for approval from the Transportation Security Administration before launching similar programs. TSA spokesperson Andrea McCauley said, “We definitely see this as the wave of the future,” which is exactly the type of thing you’d expect to hear from a slow-moving, bureaucratic agency that calls the mundane act of scanning an image of a bar code “the wave of the future.”

The bar code used by Continental is two-dimensional and encrypted, making it difficult to fake, so agents are apparently able to detect bogus passes as they’re scanned. The codes are also less expensive to use than standard printable magnetic codes and can hold more information.

The TSA announced the two-dimensional standard last October and plans to have them used exclusively by 2010. Geez take your time, TSA. We don’t want something that’s less expensive, more secure, and more convenient to show up too soon.

Meanwhile, digital boarding passes have been used for quite some time by Air Canada, Japan Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, and Spanair — these boarding passes aren’t allowed for flights into the United States, though, until the TSA approves them.

Paper Is Out, Cellphones Are In [New York Times]