The airline has begun offering mobile boarding passes and check-in for customers who own smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and RIM BlackBerry.
First, mobile check-in: United has created a mobile website -- yep, mobile.united.com -- where you can enter your flight information to check-in (and avoid the full-featured website.) You'll also find flight status and availability, Mileage Plus statements, Red Carpet Club locations and airport codes.
Obviously, if you have luggage to check, you'll still have to visit the counter.
The mobile website is currently in beta.
As for mobile boarding passes: United passengers departing from one of eight U.S. airports will receive an e-mail with an encrypted two-dimensional QR barcode that stores their flight, seat assignment and gate information.
The barcode, visible on the phone's display, is scanned by Transportation Security Administration agents at the appropriate checkpoints.
(The TSA still requires flyers to show photo identification, however. Baby steps.)
- Chicago O'Hare
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New York La Guardia
- San Francisco
- Washington Dulles
Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle are slated to be included next.
The TSA has been urging carriers to roll out the program for several reasons: it's green, it's convenient, it's harder to lose and it's more secure, because it can't be printed at home.
Here's how the two-dimensional barcode works, according to the TSA:
Unlike the usual one dimensional single line bar code you would normally see on a box of Cap'n Crunch, this bar code is two dimensional. The encrypted code contains passenger information as well as authentication information from the airline that can only be decoded by a TSA scanner. TSA is also working with the airlines to create the same type of bar code for those who choose to use paper boarding passes. How is it tamper resistant you might ask? Well, I guess you could manipulate the code if you really wanted to, but the scanner will detect any sign of tampering.
United's program applies to passengers traveling within the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
United's not the only airline trying out paperless boarding passes: American Airlines recently announced that it is expanding its two-year-old program to 27 airports, from eight, including Washington Dulles International, New York La Guardia and San Francisco International.
Continental, Delta and Alaska Airlines also offer mobile boarding passes.
Last May, SmartPlanet correspondent Sumi Das visited San Francisco International to see how the airport was incorporating paperless boarding into its routine.
Here's the video: