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Paperless Boarding Pass Program Kicks Off

Continental Airline passengers in Houston are the first to use their cell phone or PDA to help speed through the terminals.

Tired of fumbling with your boarding pass as you rush to catch your flight?

The Transportation Security Administration and Continental Airlines this week launched a pilot program that allows airline passengers to board planes with electronic boarding passes on their cell phones or PDAs.

The Paperless Boarding Pass pilot program, which was kicked off in Houston, Texas, is the first of its kind to be launched by a U.S. airline, according to the TSA.

Here's how the program works: Passengers receive boarding passes electronically on their cell phones or PDAs and they're scanned by TSA security officers with handheld scanners at checkpoints. The paperless boarding passes contain a two-dimensional bar code, as well as passenger and flight information. This helps identify the passenger.

There are several benefits to enabling electronic boarding passes, the TSA said. First, it eliminates the need for a paper boarding pass, which can easily be misplaced. Second, the technology will help detect fraudulent documents. Third, it will help improve customer service and speed up the boarding process.

"The deployment of the paperless technology signifies the TSA's ongoing commitment to develop and execute new technologies within aviation while enhancing security," said Mel Carraway, TSA's general manager for field operations, in a statement.

Both the TSA and Continental Airlines worked together to come up with a strategy that would enable the paperless process. The TSA created the concept of how to scan the paperless boarding passes, while Continental Airlines came up with a plan for encrypting the boarding passes on mobile devices.

Although it's still unclear if the pilot will go beyond Continental Airline passengers in Houston, the TSA has expressed interest to expand the use of encrypted bar codes.

In October, the International Air Transport Association, which represents over 240 airlines comprising 94% of international air traffic, introduced a global standard that paves the way for a check-in process using cell phones, smartphones, or PDAs and two-dimensional bar codes.

A two-dimensional standard for paper bar coded passes was created in 2005 and is currently used when passengers check in on the Web.

All airlines must adhere to an industry-set deadline to implement 100% bar coded boarding passes by the end of 2010. It's expected to save the airline industry over $500 million annually and replace the process of using magnetic strip technology on boarding passes.

The goal is to get airlines worldwide to use one of the two standards, whether it's mobile or paper-based.

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