How Airline E-Tickets Work

How to Use E-Tickets

Travelers can check flight information right from their computers.
Travelers can check flight information right from their computers.

Travelers can get e-tickets in a number of ways. They can contact a travel agency, which can make the arrangements. They also can contact the airline directly or use an online site.

Travelers must provide standard biographical and ticketing information, such as name and address, phone number and e-mail addresses, as well as destination and travel dates. In most cases, a credit or debit card is required for the actual purchase.

The seller or agency sends an e-mail to the purchaser's account, confirming the purchase and details of the trip. Sometimes they will send them the e-ticket (which the buyer can print) and sometimes they will send a link to an airline Web site, where the passenger can view or download the e-ticket and travel itinerary. It is a good practice to save these e-mails and print them out, as it can help confirm the ticket purchase in the event of a problem.

Some online e-ticketing services will save a traveler's flight information online, enabling that person to access it at any time from different locations simply by logging on to the site and entering a password. Printing this out will suffice as a paper receipt.

Airport security procedures usually call for e-ticket flyers to present government-issued photo identification to claim their ticket and receive a boarding pass. (International travelers: Don't forget your passport and/or visa.) In some cases, other documents or the credit/debit card used to make the online purchase may be required. Passengers should check with individual airlines for appropriate documentation requirements. It is recommended that passengers arrive and check in at the airport -- either at the airline counter or a self-serve kiosk, if available -- at least one hour prior to your flight. This allows time to iron out any last-minute issues. However, some e-ticket holders can check in for their flight from their home computer.

Once passengers satisfy these requirements, the airline issues a boarding pass, which will allow them through other security checkpoints and onto the aircraft.

The Future of E-Tickets

It is safe to say airline e-tickets are here to stay. They already make up a majority of the market, and the industry is committed to increasing that percentage. Airlines are moving toward a "self-service model," with passengers researching, booking, buying, checking in and boarding virtually without airline assistance.

As all this occurs, analysts foresee great improvements in standardizing e-ticketing among airlines. Continental Airlines, for example, this year announced it had implemented a standardized system with 77 carriers both domestic and internationally, allowing passengers to travel on any of them using a single, paperless e-tickets.

The industry also plans continued improvements in flexibility, reliability and real-time updates. Some of this will depend upon other advancements in Internet software and hardware advances, as well as improvements in wireless technology. The airlines, for instance, are working on plans to increase the number of multi-carrier self-serve kiosks at major airports. The industry also wants to adopt a standardized bar coding system to increase the speed and accuracy of check-in and boarding passes.

The public's comfort level with e-business transactions -- online bill paying, shopping and such -- is rising. Some hotels also are installing self-serve airline e-ticket kiosks in their lobbies, where travelers can make plans and receive updates on their flights. At the same time, some airlines already are charging passengers up to $20 for the "extra" service of providing them with a paper ticket. With these and other factors looming, there are many reasons to believe the paper ticket will be totally replaced by its electronic cousin, the e-ticket.

Read on for lots more information about airline e-tickets.

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