How to Use Your Smartphone to Make Boarding an Airplane a Breeze

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These days, it’s easier than ever to board many of the most popular airlines using nothing more than your smartphone and a little know-how to boot. Today we’re going to give you a few tips and tricks to do just that.

In order to streamline the process of getting all of their customers processed, many of the most popular airlines these days have begun offering a digital boarding services which allow you to easily check-in through an app or email, get your bags where they need to go, and leave the rest of the stress to the flight attendants at the front of the cabin.

Because as we all know, the next time you forget to pack a toothbrush, nobody’s eaten breakfast, and the kids are screaming bloody murder — that’s when your plane ticket goes missing. And no matter how frantically you search through the bags, your wallet, and the wife’s purse, somehow during the runaway train that is trying to fly from one part of the country to the other, the most vital part of the puzzle somehow fell by the wayside, and was left on the dresser at home.

That’s the problem these apps and the email service were designed to fix, but knowing how and when to use them properly isn’t always as simple as it seems on the surface.

Using Smartphone Apps to Make Boarding Easier

To get started, first you’ll need to find your airline’s app in the Google Play or iOS App Store. In this example, we’ll be showing off what you should expect to encounter while flying with Alaska Airlines, though the experience is nearly identical for American Airlines, United, Virgin, et al.  You should also take into account that while most of the larger airlines do offer their own apps, not all have that kind of money to throw around, and will opt for the email route instead.

Be sure to verify that your specific airline has a smartphone offering before you get to the airport, and if not, then a standard paper pass will be your only option to board once you get into the terminal.

Once you find the app that matches your airline, you can either create an account within the program itself, or log in under a “guest” pass if you’re in a hurry, which only uses your last name and confirmation number to pull up your information.

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From here you’ll be greeted with a page that contains all your flight data, everything from the name on the ticket to the seat you’ll be sitting in. Certain apps even include a handy map of the seating chart so you won’t be stuck counting row numbers on your way down the aisle.
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In the middle of this page you should see a button which says “Check In.” Click this once you’re at the airport (or at any point 24-hours beforehand) and get ready to head to the gate. This will take you through to your official boarding pass, containing a scannable QR code that the ticketing counter, TSA agents, and boarding assistants can use to track your status throughout the process.

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We’ve included a sample QR code above as an example of the screen you should be looking at when the pass is ready to be approved. Once the QR code has been scanned at your gate, it will automatically de-activate within one day in case you lose your phone, so no one will be able to impersonate you or a member of your family.

Using Email to Board a Plane

But what if you don’t want to clog up your mobile device with extra programs, yet still want to experience the convenience that digital boarding has to offer? For anyone who might be weary of giving a foreign app permissions they don’t recognize, or just want to get on the plane as fast as possible, airlines will also email you with a link to their web-based check-in service that can be used entirely through your phone’s internal browser.

To use this service, first you’ll need to access your email, and find the confirmation letter you received from your airline. Tap in, and from there, you can scroll down to find  a button which says “Web Check-In.”

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Click the highlighted button, and you’ll be taken to a page that looks something like this.

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This route of finding your information features three extra identifiers beyond the confirmation code and last name, including the option to look up your details by credit card number, e-ticket number, or mileage plan number. When paired with the city you’re flying out from, the system can automatically find your ticket and display the QR code you’ll need to get past security and into your awaiting seat.

This option can also be accessed on any tablet or mobile laptop, in case the battery on your phone is a precious resource that can’t be wasted on the way to your eventual destination.

Is it Right for Me?

This type of convenience is hugely helpful for anyone who’s flying without checking a bag, though those who have extra luggage might be better off simply using the pass that’s handed out when your suitcase is processed at the front counter.

Installing an extra app that you might only use once a year or bringing up an email on your phone may not be the most feasible or fastest method of preparing your boarding materials if you’ve already picked up a paper version first, and this process only gets more complicated if there are multiple members of your family who all need their information scanned at once.

Almost all of the major airports in the US support the app/email method, however in case you’re flying out of a smaller two-strip hub, be sure to either call your airline or the airport itself ahead of time to be sure they’ll be able to use your information with the app or email alone. The general rule is that as long as they’ve got the tools to scan your physical paper-based pass, your smartphone will work just the same.

The last key factor to keep in mind is that these services won’t work if you attempt to check in 30 minutes or less before your plane is set to depart, so be sure to get there early, and have a safe flight!

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to How-To Geek to contribute his knowledge on both. You can follow him on Twitter here.