Real-World Assessment: Mobile Boarding Passes

Brian DeaganI recently had the opportunity to use Continental's mobile boarding pass. It worked. It was convenient. It saved time. As a clutter-phobe, it was a monumental step in eliminating one more piece of useless paper from my life. Nice job, Continental Airlines. I will use it again and recommend it to everyone, with some qualifiers.
Qualifier #1: Check the spam folder

After I did the online check-in, I didn’t receive the email containing the mobile boarding pass. I figured something like this would no doubt hit my inbox. I checked my junk mail folder and it wasn’t there. My junk mail folder is the equivalent of email purgatory. I have so many rules to keep my inbox clean (back to my clutter-phobia), that valid emails can easily end up there. The last possibility, my spam folder, is the equivalent of email hell. Three emails usually end up there in a week. To my surprise, my mobile boarding pass containing my scannable QR code, was one of them. This is a great example of why everyone – including savvy IT departments – needs to work with partners who understand email deliverability.

Qualifier #2: Be prepared

Organize your email so the boarding pass is readily accessible. If you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to show it to the security person and again when you’re boarding the plane.

Qualifier #3: Don’t use it if you have a mobile phone / device with a very small screen

My experience with the security guy was pretty telling in terms of the current state of scanning QR and bar codes on a mobile device. When I first showed the security guy my phone, he stared at the screen and said “I don’t see nothing.” Oops, the screen turned off. I turned it back on and gave it to him again.

At that point, he reached under his podium and pulled out a fancy-dancy scanner. He aimed it at the phone, scanned the QR code, and handed the phone back to me. When I enthusiastically said, “Hey, it worked!” he sarcastically replied, “This time.” When I questioned him further, specifically about why it works better on some phones than others, he explained that they have trouble scanning phones with small displays. If they can’t scan it, the customer has to go back and get a paper boarding pass, which would totally suck. So, if you think you have a small display you might just want to start off with a paper boarding pass.

Qualifier #4: It’s more complicated than it seems

It’s wild how little things like touch screens really can make this entire process more complicated than you’d initially think. For example, when I was boarding the plane I gave the lady my phone to scan the boarding pass. She looked at it and said, “It’s blank.” She handed the phone back to me. With people waiting behind me ready to board, I opted to step out of line and see what went wrong.

It turns out that when she was preparing to scan the phone she accidentally touched the display, and inadvertently scrolled the QR code off the screen. After scrolling it back into position, I got back in line and handed her the phone for the second attempt. This time, she typed the boarding pass number into her computer instead of scanning. When I asked why she didn’t scan it, she replied, “This is easier. I should have just typed it in, in the first place.”

As I mentioned, I think Continental did a great job with their mobile boarding pass. The above qualifiers (other than #1) should not be interpreted as gripes. They are definitely pushing the envelope and innovating. It’s extremely valuable for the direct digital marketing industry – companies and vendors alike – to look at (and experience firsthand, when possible) real-world implementations like Continental’s. It definitely provides a glimpse of the convenience and simplicity mobile can deliver when flying, assuming the screen isn’t too small, it doesn’t shut off, and it doesn’t scroll too much.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    We have recently done a series of posts on mobile marketing, and this is just the latest. If you missed them, here’s an easy link:

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