Boarding Pass Breakdown

Anyone who travels much spends a good part of their travel day clutching their boarding pass.  We get it when we check in on-line, we make sure we’ve got it as we head to the airport, we present it to the TSA agent who peers intently at it for a nanosecond, then scribbles on it as we go through the security line, and then we give it to the gate agent.

american_airlines_boarding_pass_aa_198But how much attention do we really give this document that is, briefly, very important to the successful completion of our travel plans?  Other than glancing at it to remember our seat assignment or boarding group, does any traveler actually read their boarding pass?  For most people, at least, it’s as casually ignored as the tags on mattresses or the detailed agate-type agreements you immediately click yes to when you log on to the internet in a hotel.

The New York Post has an interesting article about some of the information on boarding passes — and specifically, how flight numbers are determined.  It turns out that, typically, airlines assign the lowest numbers to their most prestigious, long-distance routes.  Flights heading east or north usually get even numbers, and flights heading west or south get odd numbers.  Flight numbers with four digits starting with the numbers 3 and higher indicate flights operated by airline partners. And some airlines assign special numbers to reflect the destination, like American Airlines assigning the number 1776 to its flight from Boston to Philadelphia.

But I think the most interesting fact is that airlines at least give a nod to superstitions in assigning flight numbers.  If you’re flying to Asia, you’re likely to see an 8 in the flight number, because that number is considered lucky in many Asian cultures.  The numbers 13 and 666 are avoided, and when a flight crashes, the flight number gets quietly retired and replaced with another number.  The airlines might be superstitious, or maybe not, but they at least recognize that some of their passengers are.

Just something to think about the next time you’re twiddling you thumbs at the gate, waiting for your flight to board.

Paper Passes

I recognize that I am an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy in many ways.  I don’t have the latest gizmos.  I don’t keep up on new apps.  And when I travel, I like to have a paper boarding pass.

I recognize that continued use of paper passes is a Stone Age approach to travel.  The airlines are trying to get everyone to use apps.  Delta even puts a plug for “flying paperless” on its paper boarding passes.  And, obviously, avoiding unnecessary paper use is more environmentally friendly.

Still, I prefer the paper pass.  I like its tangible quality.  I’m admittedly the Uptight Traveler, so a paper pass provides the immediate reassurance I crave when I’m on the road.  I can reach into my suit coat pocket, fish out the paper, and see that I’ve got a seat assignment, check my boarding group, and use the flight number so I can find my connecting gate on the overhead monitor without muss or fuss.  I don’t have to worry about thumbing around on my phone or having the boarding pass app time out and the phone screen go dark just as I’m approaching the gate agent.

Increasingly, travelers are using boarding pass apps.  There are still a few dinosaurs out there with paper passes, though.  We’re not quite extinct yet.