TSA tests PDA, cell-based electronic boarding passes

Domestic airline travelers soon will be able to flash electronic boarding passes from their cell phones, BlackBerries and other devices at U.S. airports under a program being tested by the Transportation Security Administration.

However, the next step might be installing portable fingerprint readers on the devices to confirm identity when the pass is displayed, according to Jeremy Grant, an analyst for Stanford Group Co. investment firm.

The program “saves trees and makes things easier to verify identity,” Grant said. Currently, travelers must show a photo identification card and a paper boarding pass to get on an aircraft.

Even without fingerprint scanners, the program likely will be popular with travelers, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

“It is a tremendous convenience for passengers,” Castelveter said. “It makes it possible to obtain a boarding pass without a printer.” 

That is handy for travelers on the return leg of the trip, when they might be at a hotel in a distant city without a printer, he added. Those passengers now must stand in line at the airport to get their boarding passes. 

The TSA is testing the paperless, encrypted boarding passes at nine airports with the help of several airlines and hopes to expand it nationwide in a year.

The paperless boarding pass is displayed on a cell phone or PDA as an encrypted two-dimensional bar code, along with passenger and flight information. TSA security officers use handheld scanners to validate the passes at the checkpoints. Passengers also must show photo identification to verify that the name there matches the one on the boarding pass.

TSA debuted the program last year with Continental Airlines at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It now operates at airports in Austin, Texas; Boston; Cleveland; Indianapolis; Newark; New York; Seattle and Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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