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The QR Code for Airport Check-In: How Does It Work?

Published by Fare Compare on July 3, 2023

One of the newest mobile developments is the ability to check-in to a flight via a mobile device using a QR code, or mobile boarding pass. QR codes are those ubiquitous blocky barcodes that are starting to pop up on everything from magazine ads to baby food jars.

Smartphone and tablet users with a QR code reader can point their device's camera at the code and snap a photo. Once scanned, the code links you to more information about the product, story, person, etc.

Most smartphones come equipped with a QR code reader, but if yours does not have one, they are also available for download – just make sure you pick one that is compatible with your device.

 How to Use QR Codes as Mobile Boarding Passes

The mobile boarding pass is essentially a paperless e-ticket. Here is how it works:

  • The airline sends your boarding document, with a link to your QR code, directly to your mobile device via e-mail.
  • You click the link in the email to retrieve your QR code.
  • Anytime you need to present your boarding pass – at security checkpoints or at the gate – you hold up your QR code to a scanner, which reads the information.
  • The QR code acts as a unique link to all of your flight information.

If you have a seat change or upgrade, or a change in the departure gate, your boarding pass can be refreshed electronically to display the new information. The pass can also be used to check any bags at self-service machines, airline counters and curbside kiosks.

The TSA now has scanners that can read these electronic passes as well: just present your mobile device with the ticket on screen and your personal ID.

QR Codes Words of Warning

No so fast – there is always a catch. If you are planning to go completely paperless for your next flight, make sure your mobile device is fully charged – it will be tough to display your boarding pass on screen if the battery is dead.

Also, in the event that their scanners fail to read your pass, you might be sent back to the airline counter to get a printed boarding pass, which might require you to stand in the security line a second time.

The Bottom Line: A solution for both of these problems? Print a copy of your boarding pass as backup. Obviously, for passengers trying to go paperless, these would seem counter-intuitive, but it can save you from a potentially huge hassle. Hopefully, as the technology evolves and improves, these problems will become relics of our paper-filled past.

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