How Airline E-Tickets Work

E-Tickets Advantages

E-ticket holders receive electronic boarding passes.
E-ticket holders receive electronic boarding passes.

An e-ticket offers many advantages for both travelers and airlines, including security, flexibility, cost and convenience. At the same time, it also provides the standard assurances of the traditional paper ticket, such as seating choice, travel time options and other flexibilities.

Unlike the traveler who leaves his ticket at the office, e-tickets are impossible to "lose" because they reside in a computer database network. For this reason, they are hard to steal, as well. Passengers typically print out copies of their e-ticket, including confirmation e-mails, itineraries and other documents. All those documents can be replaced by pulling them out of the computer again, and only a person with the proper identification can actually use the e-ticket. With the old paper tickets, passengers who lost or forgot them might be charged a fee for the airline to make new ones. In some cases, passengers were required to buy new tickets at full-price. E-tickets offer a distinct advantage in this area.

A passenger also may find it easier to make changes to their travel itinerary using an e-ticket, as the travel agency or airline need only update their database with the requested changes rather than incur the expense of physically issuing a new ticket. Dealing with e-tickets is much less costly to airlines -- the industry estimates a savings of $3 billion annually if it used e-tickets only -- which makes it possible for airlines to offer more competitive fares to passengers. The tickets also are booked and processed in a more timely way, saving labor hours and cutting down on traveler frustration.

After the sale, airlines can more easily track down passengers to inform them of itinerary adjustments, cancellations and other last-minute changes. Airlines and travel agencies also are plugging into the growing numbers of devices travelers use to communicate and manage their lives. E-ticket passengers can receive everything from gate assignments to cancellation or delays through e-mail and text messaging sent to their home or business computers or to their cell phones, personal data assistants (such as a Palm Pilot), pagers or some portable combination devices that handle multiple communication tasks and data management, such as a BlackBerry. For harried business travelers, this can be especially convenient, as it provides real-time updates on their travel arrangements without slowing them down. Airlines and travel agencies also can use the system to alert travelers to special discounts or promotions, possibly saving them money. E-tickets, in short, allow airlines and travel agencies to use the strengths of today's e-culture, both for their own and their passengers' benefit.

Travel agencies save on the cost of maintaining ticket printers and ticket inventory control. Using an e-ticket often gets the passenger through the gate and on the plane quicker and with less hassle than a paper ticket as airlines encourage passengers to use the e-tickets.

Finally, using e-tickets is a more environmentally friendly approach. The IATA estimates the industry would save the equivalent of 50,000 mature trees per year, about 3 square miles of forest, if it used e-tickets exclusively.