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Plane tickets dematerialized

Week 24, 2008

More than 10 years ago, there had been some experimentations to replace old-fashioned paper tickets by smart cards. Of course, at that time, only contact smart cards were considered, but if these experiments had succeeded, the airline industry could have evolved to contactless card. But, the switch from paper to smart cards did not happen. Why?

Airlines preferred an online system to an off-line one, such as smart cards, to keep the ability to access all plane tickets at once, and to be able to modify them, just through a network connection. Passengers were not more happy with the experiment: as they could not read anything from the smart card, they had to carry a piece of paper along with it in order to have a printout of their flight details, reservation details, etc…

The convenience that was missing from smart cards is now available with NFC applications. A NFC handset can be seen as a smart card (as it is secure and it can perform transactions), on which one has fitted a display, a keyboard, and communication capacities. This is all the airlines were missing in mid-1990s experiments!

Once plane tickets are all electronic, the next piece of paper airlines are considering to dematerialize is the boarding pass. This is where our industry has an opportunity again! A boarding pass loaded on a NFC handset brings the best functionality and flexibility at the same time. It is easily readable for the passenger, as the handset can display all the necessary information, it can be verified in a secure manner at boarding time, thanks to a NFC transaction, and, unlike paper, it can even be updated after it has been issued, in case of changes (delays, etc …). Additionally, a boarding pass on a NFC handset could allow to localize late passengers in airports, thus helping airlines to take off on time.

So will our industry be able to jump on this opportunity? Shall we be able to demonstrate to the airline industry this is feasible, economically sound, and welcomed by passengers. And, shall we have handsets available in time to fulfill the NFC promise?

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights