Electronic ticketing shortens the paper trail
May 26, 1998
Web posted at: 10:06 a.m. EST (1506 GMT)
(CNN) -- Everybody's talking about electronic ticketing -- or "e-ticketing" in the slick parlance of those in the know. It means you don't have an actual ticket for your flight, that all the information about the seat you booked is stored electronically in the airline's database.
This is not to be confused with "ticketless" airlines such as Western Pacific and a few others. On those carriers, you receive nothing except a confirmation number, unless you request that a receipt be faxed your way. Generally, ticketless airlines don't do advanced seat assignments, and the ticketless ticket is nonrefundable.
E-ticketing is different from the old way of airline ticketing in one way: the actual ticket, or flight coupon, isn't issued. You'll still call the travel agent or the airline or book your flight via the Internet just like you always have. You'll pay for the flight just like you always have. In most cases, especially if you ask for it, you'll still receive a passenger receipt and/or itinerary.
And some government regulations require that certain information be provided in hard copy format to passengers, so flyers will get some paper as a result.
But no ticket. The airline will issue a reservation number, or "record locator number," to confirm your reservation. Airline agents can access all the electronically stored information relating to your reservation, including that all-important advanced seat assignment, using that number.
The e-ticket option doesn't change airport procedures. If you normally check your bags with a skycap, you may do so with an e-ticket. Show the skycap your reservation number or a copy of your itinerary, and he or she can confirm your reservation at the curb. If you prefer to check your bags inside, do so. Once you've shown your ID at either the check-in counter or the gate, you'll be issued your boarding pass with your seat assignment.
Don't be afraid -- this is the future
E-ticketing is not a scary proposition, and it doesn't require anything extra on the traveler's part -- except to ask when making the reservations if it can be handled electronically. Most airlines do have an e-ticket option, and if the one you regularly use doesn't, it's almost certain to have it soon.
So what's the big deal about e-ticketing, then, if there's practically no difference between it and conventional ticketing? For starters, it's one less piece of paper for everybody to keep up with. And those pieces of paper add up when airlines are computing their costs. Industry analysts say e-ticketing will save airlines by speeding up accounting processes, and reducing handling costs.
But beyond that, e-ticketing is a harbinger of things to come in the reservations/ticketing end of travel -- and perhaps beyond.
Some airlines are already issuing "smart cards" to their frequent flyers. These smart cards act as ticket, boarding pass, credit card, telephone card and/or frequent flyer card. The possible applications for this technology are practically endless, and definitely spell radical changes in the way travelers and airlines do business.
A few problems will need to be ironed out before these new systems become the standard. Among them are difficulties travel agencies have in handling refunds for unused tickets and the lack (so far) of coordination BETWEEN airlines -- travelers can't be booked electronically from one airline to another, and should it be necessary to change carriers at the airport, the traveler has to have a ticket printed before dashing to the connecting gate.
But the future in air travel is here, and changing. Stay tuned -- electronically, of course.
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